Charles Taylor, former president of Liberia, lost his appeal against a war crimes conviction yesterday.
Taylor, 65, will now have to serve a 50-year jail term handed out by the United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague for encouraging rebels in neighbouring Sierra Leone to mutilate, rape and murder people during its civil war.
Presiding judge George Gelaga King said Taylor aided and abetted two rebel groups, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), while knowing they were committing atrocities.
“Their primary purpose was to spread terror. Brutal violence was unleashed against civilians with the purpose of making them afraid, afraid that there would be more violence if they continued to resist,” he said.
“Governments and the international community were also afraid that unless RUF and the AFRC demands were met, thousands more killings, mutilations, abductions and rapes of civilians would follow.”
Taylor sat impassively throughout the reading of the appeals judgment.
He is the first head of state to be convicted of war crimes by an international court since the Nuremberg trials of Nazi leaders after the Second World War.
Taylor was also found guilty of crimes against humanity committed during the 11-year conflict in Sierra Leone, in which some 50,000 people were killed and left tens of thousands mutilated, their fingers, hands or limbs chopped off. Prosecutors said he used the proceeds from “blood” diamonds mined in the conflict zone to finance his activities, which included advising and helping the rebels.
“This verdict shows no person, no matter how powerful, is above the law,” said Brenda Hollis, the court’s prosecutor.
In Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown, victims were jubilant.
“It’s a victory for me against tyranny,” said Edward Conteh, whose hand was cut off by rebels. “I’m happy Charles Taylor is behind bars for 50 years because I’m a victim of the war.”
Morris Anyah, Taylor’s lead defence lawyer, said: “If Charles Taylor had had a friend among the permanent members of the UN Security Council, this case would not have had the traction it has had.”
The UK has agreed Taylor can serve his sentence at a British maximum-security prisonbut Mr Anyah said Taylor hoped to serve his term in Finland, Sweden or Rwanda – the other three countries which have enforcement agreements with the court. During Taylor’s four-year initial trial, judges heard accounts from Sierra Leone civilians n mutilated by rebels or who had seen relatives murdered.
They also heard evidence from model Naomi Campbell, who was questioned about blood diamonds Taylor was accused of having sent to her hotel room. She described the objects she received as looking like “dirty pebbles”.
In Liberia, Taylor’s supporters denounced the court and its permanent successor, the International Criminal Court.
“This is international gangsterism,” said, Cyril Allen, former secretary general of the National Patriotic Party. “The ICC was set up for Africans, to intimidate them and get their resources.”
Taylor’s brother-in-law Arthur Saye said he was not surprised by the verdict. “From Day One the trial was orchestrated by the powers that be – the western powers,” he said. “This was an international conspiracy.”
The ICC has been accused of meddling in Kenya as it pursues cases against its president Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto for their role in attacks on political opponents after the 2007 elections. Some claim the court is targeting Africans.