Liberia's Charles Taylor guilty of aiding, abetting war crimes

LONDON -- In a landmark case, former Liberian President Charles Taylor has been convicted of aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity through his arming of ruthless rebel groups in neighboring Sierra Leone in exchange for so-called blood diamonds.

An international war crimes tribunal announced Thursday that it had found Taylor guilty of "sustained and significant" support for the rebels who engaged in a long campaign of terror, murder, rape, sexual slavery and enlistment of child soldiers. However, he was found not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of ordering those abuses himself.

Still, it was a milestone verdict in a case that has been seen as an important test of the international justice system. Taylor, 64, is the first former head of state to have a judgment brought against him by an international court since the Nuremberg trials after World War II.

The verdict followed a year of deliberations by the judges of the Special Court of Sierra Leone just outside The Hague. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for May 16; Taylor could be imprisoned for life.

His trial lasted five years, during which the court heard a catalog of horrific acts committed by rebels whom Taylor helped arm in Sierra Leone’s civil war. The war ended in 2002 after more than a decade of fighting and more than 50,000 deaths. The rebels backed by Taylor became particularly known for hacking off the limbs of their perceived enemies and carving words onto their bodies.

They also recruited children to fight and terrorized the civilian population through rape, looting and burning down homes. Crucial to their campaign were the weapons they bought from Taylor and paid for with what came to be known as “conflict" or "blood" diamonds, because of their role in fueling conflict in Africa.

At one point during the trial, supermodel Naomi Campbell testified to receiving diamonds from Taylor at a banquet hosted by South African President Nelson Mandela. Actress Mia Farrow also testified regarding that incident.

Taylor, a warlord-turned-elected president, was indicted in 2003, arrested in 2006 and eventually flown to The Hague for trial. Conducting the proceedings in Sierra Leone itself was deemed potentially too destabilizing for West Africa.

Taylor pleaded innocent to 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He testified for seven months in his own defense, portraying himself as a statesman, peacemaker and victim of a witch hunt by “vindictive” former colonial powers intent on keeping him out of power. His lawyers acknowledged that terrible abuses took place during Sierra Leone’s civil war but argued that he was not responsible for them.

The prosecution disagreed, describing him as the “godfather” of the rebels. Prosecutors called 94 witnesses and backed up its case with nearly 800 exhibits admitted into evidence. Taylor’s defense team called 21 witnesses.

Another former African leader, Laurent Gbagbo of Ivory Coast, is now awaiting trial at The Hague.


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Photo: A journalist records the speech by former Liberian President Charles Taylor (on screen) during his trial at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, based in Leidschendam outside The Hague. Credit: Peter Dejong / AFP Photo, Pool

U.S. must join mine ban convention, land mine survivor says

Land mine survivor Firoz Ali Alizada

When he was 13 years old, Firoz Ali Alizada lost both his legs to a land mine while trying to take a shortcut to school north of Kabul, Afghanistan.

Sixteen years later, he is the campaign manager for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which marks the International Day for Mine Awareness on Wednesday. The Times asked him to share his story.

What happened after you stepped on the mine?

I did not expect to survive. We were about three hours' walk from the main road. It took me about six to seven hours to get first aid. We had to go to the home of the doctor because it was late and there was no clinic. He just tried to stop the bleeding with a tourniquet. Then we went to the proper hospital, which was [about 40 miles] away.

On the way to the hospital I lost consciousness. I didn’t know what happened. Later they told me the Taliban was very close to the hospital and they were approaching, and everybody was running away. It was difficult to keep the doctors. My brother had to pay a lot of money to the surgeon for him to do the operation. The next day, around 4 o’clock, I woke up and discovered that they already did the amputation -- my right leg below the knee and the left above the knee.

I was kind of surprised that I was still alive. When I was in the hospital, I saw another person who was close to me and he died in front of my eyes. Not because he was severely injured but because nobody was taking care of him.

Before you were injured, what did you know about land mines?

We did not receive any kind of proper education about land mines. Since I grew up, from the very beginning I used to see -- not land mines per se, maybe because it was all hidden -- but I used to see the sub-munitions, unexploded ordnance and all types of explosives that [remained from]  the war. I used to play with some of them; it looked quite attractive when I was around 7 or 8 years old.

Now I know it’s called BLU-97, a ... cluster bomb. My family used to say, “You have to be careful, don’t touch these things.” But nobody told us, “Don’t go in this place because it is contaminated by land mines.” People were not scared or anything until there was an explosion or an accident. It was a kind of part of people’s lives. People would see it as very normal.

How did your injuries affect your life?

It totally changed my life. I used to be a very naughty teenager. I was with a bunch of friends, always out, playing around the village, volleyball, football. But all those things were taken away.

Continue reading »

India amputees run, ride bicycles with prosthetic device [Video]

The Jaipur Foot has changed lives in India, Mark Magnier writes for The Times. The low-cost prosthetic device can be attached to an artificial leg of any length, allowing amputees to walk. More than 1.2 million devices have been handed out to impoverished people over the last three decades.

Want to see it in action? The civic group behind the Jaipur Foot provides the video above, which shows people running, climbing and riding bicycles with the device. It also shows how the simple prosthetic is made. Bonus: The video even has the stirring musical strains of Eastern strings. 


3-year-old gets prosthetic arm bone 

India group's prosthetic leg a boon to thousands of amputees

Electrical stimulation creates images that could help blind see

-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles


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