War crimes court hands Liberia's Charles Taylor 50-year jail term
CHARLES Taylor, the Liberian warlord who became president of his country, received a 50-year prison sentence on Wednesday for his part in fuelling civil war in neighbouring Sierra Leone.
Taylor, the first head of state to face international justice since the Nuremberg trials, sat in the dock in The Hague as the sentence was passed. He was convicted last month by a United Nations Special Court charged with trying those accused of responsibility for Sierra Leone’s conflict between 1991 and 2002.
Taylor was found guilty of arming and funding a rebel army, styling itself the Revolutionary United Front, which laid waste to Sierra Leone during this bloody period. That made him responsible for “aiding and abetting” war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by RUF fighters, the court found.
Taylor, 64, is expected to serve his term in British jail. However, he has the option of appealing against the sentence and he will remain in The Hague until any such proceedings are complete. Taylor is expected to be classed as a “category A” high security prisoner if and when he reaches Britain.
Richard Lussick, the presiding judge of the UN court, described his crimes as being of the “utmost gravity in terms of scale and brutality”. He added: “The lives of many more innocent civilians in Sierra Leone were lost or destroyed as a direct result of his actions.”
Mr Justice Lussick noted there was no precedent for sentencing a former head of state, describing Taylor as being in a “different category of offenders”. The judges had considered 80 years before concluding that this would be excessive given that his offence was “aiding and abetting” war crimes, not directly carrying them out. They agreed unanimously on 50 years as the most appropriate punishment.
Taylor showed no emotion as sentence was passed. He was elected president of Liberia in 1997 after waging a bloody guerrilla war for eight years. He then led a government notorious for brutality and corruption. Taylor supplied the RUF rebels in Sierra Leone with guns and recruits in return for diamonds illegally mined in the neighbouring country.
He was eventually overthrown in 2003 and went into exile in Nigeria, before being handed over for trial. Taylor, a hate figure in Sierra Leone, still has supporters in Liberia where a new government under President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is trying to rebuild what was once a failed state.