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UN Human Rights Chief says Taylor verdict “immensely significant”

GENEVA (26 April 2012) – The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay welcomed Thursday’s judgement by the Special Court for Sierra Leone in the Charles Taylor case, and said the guilty verdict against the former Liberian President for planning, aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity marked a major milestone in the development of international justice.

“It is important to recognise that Taylor may appeal the verdict, and that his guilt is not fully established until the end of the judicial process,” Pillay said. “Nevertheless, whatever the final outcome, this is undoubtedly a historic moment in the development of international justice. A former President, who once wielded immense influence in a neighbouring country where tens of thousands of people were killed, mutilated, raped, robbed and repeatedly displaced for years on end, has been arrested, tried in a fair and thorough international procedure, and has now been convicted of very serious crimes.”

“That is immensely significant, and a stark warning to other Heads of State who are committing similar crimes, or contemplating doing so,” she said. “This is the first time since Nuremberg that an international tribunal has reached judgment in the trial of a former Head of State.”

The High Commissioner noted that others leaders – namely Laurent Gbagbo and Radovan Karadžić -- have also been charged with international crimes and are either already on trial or will be soon. President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan has also been indicted. And Slobodan Milošević and Muammar Gaddafi were also at various stages of international proceedings at the time of their deaths.

“The days when tyrants and mass murderers could, even when they had been deposed, retire to a life of luxury in another land are over,” Pillay said. “And so they should be. Few things are more repugnant than seeing people with so much blood on their hands, living on stolen money with no prospect of their victims seeing justice carried out.”

Pillay noted that while the delivery of justice was of immense importance to victims, and a key part of the national healing process, reparations were also necessary for people to pick up their lives and move on.

“Just because their suffering is out of the headlines, it doesn’t mean it is over,” she said. “Sierra Leoneans suffered so much during the terrible conflict that wracked their country for some ten years, and so many vicious crimes were committed. The victims, and their families, will continue to need help from the current Government and the international community for many years to come.”

“Nevertheless, there will be a very emotional reaction in Sierra Leone as a result of today’s judgment,” Pillay said. “I understand local communities have been gathering at crime scenes and sites of mass graves throughout the country to listen to the court proceedings over the radio. I wish all those who doubt the value of these international courts, or who think justice should be sacrificed in the search for peace, were present to watch those scenes in Sierra Leone today.”

ENDS

For more information or media requests, please contact spokesperson Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org) or press officers Ravina Shamdasani (+ 41 22 917 9310 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org) and Xabier Celaya (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org).