Taylor is the first former head of state to be found guilty of war crimes since World War Two and the Nuremburg conviction of Admiral Karl Doenitz, the naval commander who led Germany briefly after Adolf Hitler’s suicide.

Elise Keppler of Human Rights Watch said: “Taylor’s conviction sends a powerful message that even those in the highest level positions can be held to account for grave crimes.

 “This is a victory for Sierra Leonean victims, and all those seeking justice when the worst abuses are committed.”

In a court case that has lasted two years, the leader was tried on 11 counts of war crimes, including charges of murder, rape and sexual slavery.

More than 120,000 people were killed and two million were displaced during Sierra Leone’s civil war, which was known for its use of enslaved child soldiers and amputation as a means of terror.

The war, in the world’s poorest country, took place between 1996-2002, but Liberia backed rebels, who were trained in Libya, from as far back as 1991.

Judge Richard Lussick said Taylor had sold diamonds and bought weapons for the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels, with full knowledge that they were committing crimes.

The judge said: “The chamber finds beyond reasonable doubt that the accused is criminally responsible… for aiding and abetting the commission of the crimes 1 to 11 in the indictment.”

He added that Taylor accused had substantial influence over the RUF, but not total command and control.

A sentence hearing will be held on May 16 and the sentence will be handed down on May 30.