Who is Charles Taylor?

President Charles Taylor pledges to hand over power in 2003. He fled to Nigeria days after this picture was taken. Credit: Ruters

Charles Taylor is the former president of Liberia. From 1989 to 1997 he led the rebel group, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) who fought successfully to unseat Liberia's then-president Samuel K Doe and take control of the country.

The conflict ended on the 2nd August 1997 when Taylor was sworn in as president after elections that were part of a peace agreement.

Taylor was then president until 2003.

His forces were implicated in supporting and participating in armed conflicts, cross border raids and human rights atrocities in a number of neighbouring countries including Sierra Leone.

Taylor was unseated by a rebellion that began in 1999. he stepped down as president in August 2003 after the success of the rebels in capturing the Liberian capital, and his indictment by the Special Court of Sierra Leone (SPSL)

He was offered a safe haven in Nigeria where he remained until he surrendered to the court in 2006.

He is charged a total of 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international law in his role in supporting the rebel Sierra Leonean rebel group the Revolutionary United Front (RUF).

The charges date from when he was the head of the NPFL and president of Liberia.

  • 5 counts of war crimes: terrorising civilians, murder, outrages on personal dignity, cruel treatment, looting

  • 5 counts of crimes against humanity: murder, rape, sexual slavery, mutilating and beating, enslavement

  • 1 count of a serious violation of international law: for recruiting and using child soldiers

Child soldiers from the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) the group responsible for committing atrocities against civilians: date unknown. Credit: Reuters

The international court has argued that Taylor was responsible for planning, instigating, and ordering the execution of these charges.

It also argues that he was responsible for participating in the planning of atrocities (criminal joint enterprise) and that he had "command responsibility" over the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) alliance.

A young man from a village outside Freetown has the initials of the RUF marked in his chest and his ear cut off in 2003. Credit: Reuters

The prosecution does not allege that Taylor entered Sierra Leone during the time of the conflict: rather that he directed the crimes from outside and made money from them. The court says:

From the outside he was responsible for those crimes through his participation, involvement, concerted action with and command over the criminal conduct of proxy armies

Taylor pled not guilty to all counts. During the seven months he stood on the witness stand testifying in his own defence he portrayed himself as a statesman and regional peacemaker.

A young man with his arms amputated in a refugee camp in Freetown in 2003 Credit: Reuters

If he is found guilty he will have fourteen days to appeal. If convicted he will serve his sentence in Britain.

Prosecutors Brenda Hollis and David Crane say they are hoping for a "just sentence" after a fair trial.