It was the first time since the Nuremberg trials that a former head of state has ever been convicted by an international court.
Taylor was accused of supporting and directing members of a rebel movement in neighbouring Sierra Leone during an 11-year civil war that left 50,000 dead.
Between 1996 and 2002, the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF), which Taylor supported, was found by the court to have committed crimes involving terrorising civilian populations, murder, rape, sexual slavery and enforced amputations in Sierra Leone.
Judge Richard Lussick of Samoa said more than 1,000 children had the letters “RUF” carved into their backs to prevent them escaping. Children were used to amputate limbs, guard diamond mines and hunt for food. Some were involved in fighting.
Taylor continued privately fuelling the conflict by providing arms and ammunition to the RUF in Sierra Leone, the judge said. His clandestine dealing helped undermine the peace process even when there was a regional arms embargo in force.
I spent my morning in Monrovia waiting for the verdict at an impromptu rally of pro-Taylor supporters that formed nearby a BBC News camp.
Less than 20 minutes before the verdict’s delivery, a rainbow halo appeared around the sun over Monrovia.
In Liberian folklore, a rainbow is a sign of an unusual happening such as the death of an important person or something terrible for the nation. The meteorological event sent crowds into excited frenzies.
Taylor was found guilty on 11 counts of “aiding and abetting” war crimes and crimes against humanity. He was scheduled to be sentenced on May 30.
Sando Johnson, the self-described Taylor-family spokesperson, reacted to the verdict with calm silence. He later decried the court as illegitimate, and vowed that the the judge’s decision would be appealed.
That response was typical of many Liberians. Most people we spoke with on the streets of Monrovia today labelled the court a foreign conspiracy orchestrated by the United States and Britain.
“There was a force behind this entire thing to bring down an African leader,” argued a man at the BBC camp. Those around him nodded in agreement. “We stand by Mr. Taylor, we remain by him until death do us part,” another shouted.
Taylor is also widely blamed for the worst atrocities committed during Liberia’s own civil war, which, between 1989 and 2003, killed 250,000 people. According to a 2009 report published by the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the violence included widespread forced conscription including the use of child soldiers, looting, torture, sexual slavery, rape, and cannibalism. Taylor has never been charged for any crime committed against Liberia.
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