The war crimes conviction of former Liberian President Charles Taylor is a victory for the children involved, and a warning for other war-time leaders, according to UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake.

Taylor was found guilty of aiding and abetting war crimes, often involving children, carried out by rebels in Sierra Leone by a court in The Hague on 26 April. 

"For the thousands of children brutalised, scarred and exploited as weapons of war, today’s verdict against Charles Taylor may not wipe out the atrocities they suffered, but we hope it will help to heal their wounds", said Lake. 

"This is the first conviction of a former head of state for aiding and abetting such crimes. It is a clear victory year for children - and against impunity, even for the powerful."

The verdict against Taylor follows the conviction of former Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga last month.

During the civil war in Sierra Leone, children were used as human shields, sex slaves and as labourers in diamond mines. After the end of the war, 7,000 children were released and reintegrated into society. Ninety-eight per cent were reunited with their families. 

UNICEF intervened directly to rescue children who had been recruited. In some cases children who had been branded and scarred by rebel forces received plastic surgery to help them to be accepted into their communities.

The prosecution argued that Taylor was one of those bearing the greatest responsibility for crimes committed by rebel forces between 1996 and 2002.

"Those who exploit children for military gain violate their rights and rob them of their childhood", said Lake. 

Find out more about UNICEF's work in Sierra Leone

 
Nearly 40 per cent of Sierra Leone's population were forced to flee during the country's civil war. These children are in a UNICEF-supported makeshift school for displaced children. © UNICEF/NYHQ2001-0136/Roger LeMoyne
Nearly 40 per cent of Sierra Leone's population were forced to flee during the country's civil war. These children are in a UNICEF-supported makeshift school for displaced children.© UNICEF/NYHQ2001-0136/Roger LeMoyne

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