An international tribunal convicted former Liberian president Charles Taylor of aiding and abetting rebels who committed war crimes during Sierra Leone's bloody civil war in the 1990s.
The tribunal found Taylor guilty of 11 counts of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and other international violations, though it said the prosecution failed to prove Taylor had command of rebels. Rebels murdered, raped, and mutilated civilians and used child soldiers during the war.
The conviction is the first for a former head of state since the Nuremburg Trials after World War II. Taylor's trial began in 2007; he will be sentenced next month. International criminal law does not have a death penalty, and any prison sentence would be served in Great Britain, The New York Times reported.
Taylor was elected president of Liberia in 1997 after a peace agreement ended a brutal civil war started by an uprising from the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, which Taylor led. By 1999, anti-government fighting had resumed in Liberia, and other neighboring countries, including Ghana and Nigeria, accused Taylor of backing rebels in Sierra Leone.
In 2003, international pressure forced Taylor to step down as president, and he went into exile in Nigeria. That year, Pat Robertson stirred up controversy for supporting Taylor on his show The 700 Club after President Bush and other U.S. officials called for Taylor's resignation.
"We're undermining a Christian, Baptist president to bring in Muslim rebels to take over the country," he said. "And how dare the president of the United States say to the duly elected president of another country, ‘You've got to step down.'"
Robertson's critics noted his financial interest in Liberia; at the time, Robertson had a four-year-old, $8 million agreement with Taylor to mine gold in the country. Robertson told the Washington Post that the mining operation, called Freedom Gold, was meant to fund humanitarian and evangelical efforts in Liberia.
In the upcoming June issue, Christianity Today will look at the effort to declare Liberia a "Christian nation" in its constitution. The country was founded as a "Christian nation" by freed American slaves–and has a long (and troubled) history of figuring out what that designation might mean.
After Taylor's exile, CT connected with churches and religious organizations in Liberia, who were beginning the process of rebuilding and recovering after the war. Though churches have reported improvement since then, tensions between Christians and Muslims were brought to the forefront after the killing of a Christian student led to violence in the north.
Last week, CT interviewed Leymah Gbowee, a founder of the Christian Women's Peace Initiative and one of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winners for her reconciliation work in Liberia.