A U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, convicted Taylor of aiding and abetting in the commission of 11 war crimes or crimes against humanity during overlapping wars in Liberia and neighboring Sierra Leone.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, in a statement Thursday, described the verdict as historic.
"The days when tyrants and mass murderers could, even when they had been deposed, retire to a life of luxury in another land are over," she said. "And so they should be."
The court found Taylor knew of rebel atrocities committed in Sierra Leone during the country's 1991-2002 civil war. He was accused of using so-called blood diamonds to purchase weapons to fuel the rebellion.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague called for a residual special court to continue working in order to protect witnesses in the trial, oversee the detention of any suspected convicted at The Hague and protect the archives kept by the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
Taylor pleaded innocent. Sentencing is scheduled for May 30.
An estimated 50,000 people were killed in the 11-year civil war. Taylor is the first sitting or former head of state to face prosecution by a U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal.