THE HAGUE: The former Liberian president Charles Taylor has been sentenced to 50 years in prison for helping fighters to commit atrocities during an 11-year civil war in neighbouring Sierra Leone.
The ruling was handed down yesterday by presiding Judge Richard Lussick of the Special Court for Sierra Leone near The Hague, the first sentence against a former head of state in an international court since the Nazi trials at Nuremberg of 1945-46.
Earlier this month, the court’s chief prosecutor, Brenda Hollis, argued for 80 years behind bars for Taylor, once one of the most powerful men in western Africa and a driving force behind Sierra Leone’s brutal, decade-long war in which 120,000 lives were lost.
His defence considered that sentence ”excessive”, arguing that it would condemn Taylor to life behind bars. Throughout the trial Taylor maintained his innocence and insisted he was instrumental in eventually ending Sierra Leone’s 1991-2002 civil war.
Taylor was convicted on April 26 on all 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for aiding and abetting Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels and their alliance partners.
In return the court said Taylor, 64, was paid in diamonds mined by slave labour in areas under the control of rebels who murdered, raped and kept sex slaves while hacking off limbs and forcing children under 15 to fight.
Should Taylor be jailed, he will serve his sentence in a British prison. The court’s judges cannot impose a life sentence, only a definite number of years.
His lawyers and the prosecutors have two weeks to appeal the sentencing.
Taylor’s four-year trial ended in March 2011. A number of high-profile witnesses testified, including British model Naomi Campbell, who told of a gift of ”dirty diamonds” she received in 1997 while attending a charity ball hosted by the then South African president, Nelson Mandela.
Handing down the verdict last month, Judge Lussick stressed that although Taylor had substantial influence over the RUF, including its feared leader, Foday Sankoh, ”it fell short of command and control” of rebel forces.
Sankoh died in 2003 before he could face trial.
Authorities in Nigeria arrested Taylor in March 2006 as he tried to flee from exile after being forced to quit Liberia three years earlier, under international pressure to end that country’s own civil war.
He was transferred to The Hague in mid-2006 amid fears of security breaches should he go on trial in the Sierra Leone capital of Freetown.