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Guilty verdict for leader who brought chaos to Sierra Leone

Today, the judges of the International Criminal Court in The Hague have found Charles Taylor, the former leader of Liberia, guilty of aiding and abetting war crimes in neighbouring Sierra Leone.

The verdict of this five-year trial will come as a huge relief to many in Sierra Leone, where Mr Taylor’s financial backing of rebel groups led to the deaths of tens of thousands between 1991 and 2001. Mr Taylor was convicted on 11 counts, including being connected to war crimes which involved murder, rape and the conscription of child soldiers. One man who had had his arms hacked off by rebels during the civil war told the BBC “today I am happy”.

The guilty verdict fittingly came a day ahead of Sierra Leone’s independence day, giving double cause for a celebration in a country which faces an uphill task to recover from all the years of rebel-sponsored civil war. During a decade of fighting, tens of thousands were killed and around two million people (more than a third of the population) displaced. Military intervention from Britain in 2000 finally put an end to the conflict.

Sierra Leone is rich in diamonds and Mr Taylor used his backing of rebels there to get hold of gems. Revenue from diamond mining is now vital to the future economy. Mines formerly operated by rebels or mercenaries are now being run by Sierra Leoneans. Other natural resources such as bauxite and aluminium ore also offer great potential. However, charities such as Christian Aid, have recently expressed concern that one mining company was given the go-ahead to operate in Sierra Leone without meeting all the stipulations laid out in the country’s Mines and Minerals Act. This legislation aims to ensure that much of the revenue made from mining stays within Sierra Leone.

This revenue is badly needed, since Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world; over half of people live on less than a dollar a day. The country suffers from high infant mortality rates. Almost two out of every 10 children can be expected to die before they reach the age of five (according to 2009 data from the World Health Organization). And this year, as in many years, a cholera outbreak has added extra strain on limited health services. Over 2,000 cases of cholera have been reported and the water-borne disease has claimed over 30 lives.

Nevertheless, despite the many problems faced by the country and the urgent need for better sanitation and more health facilities, progress is slowly being made. And with today’s guilty verdict on Charles Taylor, Sierra Leoneans will be in a hopeful and celebratory mood tomorrow.

Laurinda Luffman signature