An international court in the Hague has convicted former warlord and Liberian president Charles Taylor of aiding and abetting horrific war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during Sierra Leone's civil war. Taylor had pleaded not guilty to the charges and has the right to appeal.
Looking somber in a dark blue suit, former Liberian leader Charles Taylor stood silently while Presiding Judge Richard Lussick read out the verdict by a special United Nations tribunal in The Hague.
"The trial chamber unanimously finds you guilty of aiding and abetting the commission of the following crimes pursuant to article 6.1 of the statute; planning the commission of the following crimes in the attacks on Kono and Makeni in December 1998, and in the invasion of and retreat from Freetown between December 1998 and February 1999," said Lussick.
More specifically, the judges found the 64-year-old Taylor guilty of helping Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels who killed tens of thousands of people during Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war.
The court said Taylor received so-called "blood diamonds" in return for providing arms, ammunition, communications equipment and planning help to the rebels, who committed crimes that included murder, rape, conscripting child soldiers and sexual slavery.
But judge Lussick said the prosecution failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Taylor was part of a joint criminal enterprise - or that his influence on the rebels amounted to effective command and control of them.
"The trial chamber has found that while the accused held a position of authority among the RUF, the instruction and guidance which he gave to the RUF and RUF-ARFC were generally of an advisory nature and at times were, in fact, not followed by the RUF-ARFC leadership," Lussick said.
The two-hour reading of the judgement - in which judge Lussick offered graphic details of the war crimes - was closely followed around the world. Crowds packed the Hague courtroom, sending a torrent of Twitter messages across the Internet. Many in Liberia and Sierra Leone followed the events on TV and radio.
Human Rights Watch spokeswoman Geraldine Mattioli-Zeitner said she was pleased with the verdict. "We think this is an historic moment," she said. "It's the first time a former head of state is prosecuted and judged for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed while he was in office."
Taylor has denied the charges against him. The Hague court has set another hearing on May 16 for additional oral arguments by the prosecution and defense - and for Taylor to address the court if he wants to. The sentencing is set for May 30, with Taylor expected to serve any prison sentence in Britain.