By Faith Karimi and Moni Basu
(CNN) -- In a landmark ruling, an international tribunal found former Liberian President Charles Taylor guilty Thursday of aiding and abetting war crimes in neighboring Sierra Leone's notoriously brutal civil war.
It was the first war crimes conviction of a former head of state by an international court since the Nuremberg trials of Nazi leaders after World War II.
Prosecutors, however, failed to prove that Taylor had direct command over the rebels who committed the atrocities, said Justice Richard Lussick of the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
A three-judge panel issued a unanimous decision that Taylor, 64, was guilty on all 11 counts of the indictment against him. The judges found him guilty of aiding and abetting rebel forces in a campaign of terror that involved murder, rape, sexual slavery, conscripting children younger than 15 and mining diamonds to pay for guns.
Prosecutor Brenda Hollis hailed the verdict as a milestone in accountability and said it "made clear the central role Charles Taylor played in the horrific crimes against the people of Sierra Leone.
"This judgment affirms that with leadership comes not just power and authority, but also responsibility and accountability," she said. "No person, no matter how powerful, is above the law."
Taylor will learn what penalty he'll be forced to pay on May 30, two weeks after a hearing to argue the most appropriate terms of his sentence. There is no death penalty in international criminal law, and Taylor would serve out any sentence in a British prison.
Taylor's lawyer, Courtenay Griffiths, suggested the trial was politically motivated. He claimed his client's conviction was "obtained on tainted and corrupted evidence" based on the testimony of witnesses from Sierra Leone who were paid to appear in court.
Griffiths portrayed Taylor as a legitimate leader who aided rebels in a neighboring nation. Those rebels, not Taylor himself, should be held accountable for their actions, the lawyer contended.
"If such behavior is to be deemed illegal, then I'd like to see it be deemed illegal across the board," Griffiths said, referring to leaders of the United States or Britain potentially paying the price for crimes committed by covert groups they have supported.
"But let's be frank, ladies and gentlemen," Griffiths said, "do you honestly see that ever happening?"
Throughout Lussick's reading of a long list of chilling crimes, Taylor remained stoic. Dressed in a charcoal gray suit, a white shirt and a burgundy tie, the former warlord stood quietly as the judge delivered the guilty verdict.
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