‘In a class of his own’: Charles Taylor gets 50 years for terror reign
FORMER Liberian president and convicted war criminal Charles Taylor has been sentenced to 50 years in a British prison after he was found guilty of supporting rebels in Sierra Leone who murdered and mutilated thousands during the country’s brutal civil war.
Delivering the historic sentence today, presiding judge Richard Lussick said the crimes were of the “utmost gravity in terms of scale and brutality”.
The 64-year-old warlord-turned-president is the first former head of state to be convicted by an international war crimes court since the Second World War.
Last month, he was found guilty of 11 charges of aiding and abetting the rebels who went on a bloody rampage during the decade-long war that ended in 2002 with more than 50,000 dead.
His lawyers are expected to appeal his convictions, which is likely to keep him in a jail in The Hague, Netherlands, for months. If the appeal is unsuccessful, he will be moved to a British prison, in line with an international agreement.
Prosecutors say Taylor funnelled arms, ammunition and other supplies in return for “blood diamonds” mined using slave labour. Mr Lussick said: “The lives of many more innocent civilians in Sierra Leone were lost or destroyed as a direct result of his actions.”
Taylor showed no emotion as the judge handed down what will effectively be a life sentence.
Prosecutors had asked judges at the Special Court for Sierra Leone to impose an 80-year sentence, but Taylor’s lawyers urged a sentence that offered him some hope of release before he dies.
Mr Lussick said an 80-year sentence would have been excessive because Taylor was convicted of aiding and abetting crimes and not direct involvement.
But the judge added that Taylor was “in a class of his own” compared with others convicted by the United Nations-backed court.
At a hearing earlier this month, Taylor expressed “deepest sympathy” for the suffering of victims of atrocities, but insisted he had acted to help stabilise the West Africa region and claimed he never knowingly assisted in crimes.
Prosecutors said there was no reason for leniency, given the extreme nature of the crimes, Taylor’s “greed” and misuse of his position of power.
“The purposely cruel and savage crimes committed included public executions and amputations of civilians, the display of decapitated heads at checkpoints, the killing and public disembowelment of a civilian whose intestines were then stretched across the road to make a check point, public rapes of women and girls, and people burned alive in their homes,” prosecutor Brenda Hollis wrote in a brief appealing for the 80-year sentence.
Taylor fled into exile in Nigeria in 2003. He was arrested and sent to the Netherlands in 2006.
While the Sierra Leone court is based in that country’s capital, Freetown, Taylor’s trial was being staged in Leidschendam, a suburb of The Hague, for fear that holding it in West Africa could destabilise the region.
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