The very slow progress towards international justice and an end to impunity worldwide took a major step forward this week when Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia in West Africa, was found guilty of eleven counts of war crimes committed by forces under his control in neighbouring Sierra Leone during its civil war in the 1990s. The tribunal which reached this verdict after five years and hearing from 115 witnesses was set up by Britain, the United States, Sierra Leone and the United Nations as a forerunner of the International Criminal Court (ICC) which will hear such cases in the future. The charges against Taylor ranged from murder, rape and brutal enslavement to the use of child soldiers; during the Sierra Leone civil war 120'000 lives were lost before British military intervention in 2001 brought it to an end.
The difficulties of establishing international criminal justice are shown by the fact that Taylor's conviction this week is the first of a head of state by such a court since the Nuremberg trials after World War Two when Karl Donitz, Hitler's successor, was tried for war crimes. The ICC has several investigations under way but it has also come under criticism because almost all of those suspected of international crimes so far are African, leading to the accusation that the ICC is guilty of practicising a form of neo-colonialism.