An international tribunal sitting 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 innocent to the charges, pressed by the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone, formed in 2002. He reserves the right to appeal.
The conviction is the first by an international tribunal against a head of state since the Nazi trials at Nuremberg. It is also the first against a former African leader.
The tribunal was moved from Sierra Leone to the International Criminal Court in Netherlands due to security concerns.
Looking somber in a dark blue suit, Taylor stood silently as judge Richard Lussick read out the verdict. Charges against him included murder, sexual enslavement, rape, use of child soldiers and other war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Prosecutors argued that Taylor provided arms to the Revolutionary United Front rebels in Sierra Leone in exchange for so-called "blood diamonds." The arms were used in a civil war that killed more than 500, 000 people.
African leaders, led by long-ruling Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe have regularly criticized such international tribunals and the ICC for allegedly targeting leaders from third world nations, especially in Africa.
Mr. Mugabe has himself been accused by critics of committing crimes against humanity during a military campaign in Matabeleland during the 1980s, in an operatioin code-named Gukurahundi, meaning the early rains that wash away the chaff.
At last years U.N General Assembly, Mr. Mugabe accused the court of turning a “blind eye” to crimes against humanity committed by Western leaders.
But lead ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has rejected the charges saying his office has a mandate to go after anyone accused of wrongdoing and deliver justice.
Some of the high-profile individuals on the ICC radar include Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who faces 10 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes. He remains free and in power, enjoying the full support of the African Union.
Notorious commander of the Lord's Resistance Army, Joseph Kony faces 33 counts. He is on the run. Former Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo is in the ICC custody awaiting trial.
Executive Director, Irene Petras, of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights told VOA the Taylor verdict is a victory for justice. "It's a positive step for those who have been fighting against impunity for international crimes."
Her sentiments were echoed by political analyst Effie Dlela Ncube who added that the Sierra Leone tribunal has sent a clear message to leaders violating human rights.