50-year term for Charles Taylor heralds 'new era of accountability'

Rights groups hail jailing of Liberia's former president for horrific war crimes in Sierra Leone

The former Liberian President Charles Taylor has been sentenced to 50 years in prison for aiding and abetting some of the worst war crimes in history.

Judges at the first international tribunal to convict a former head of state since the end of the Second World War said the decision meant the world was entering a "new era of accountability".

The former warlord fought his way to the presidency of Liberia during a maelstrom of interlinked civil wars in West Africa during the 1990s funded by illegal timber and diamond sales and marked by horrific mutilations, sexual violence and the use of child soldiers. Six years after being arrested and handed over to a UN-backed tribunal he was convicted for his role in supporting a rebel group fighting in neighbouring Sierra Leone.

Prosecutors had pushed for 80 years and may appeal the sentence. Mr Taylor is also expected to appeal. Should that effort fail he will be transferred from the Netherlands to a prison in Britain.

The 64-year-old's conviction by the Special Court for Sierra Leone, and the severity of his sentence, has prompted a debate over what message is being sent to current heads of state accused of war crimes. Sudan's Omar al-Bashir has been indicted by the ICC for alleged war crimes in its Western region of Darfur; Ivory Coast's Laurent Gbagbo will soon go on trial at The Hague and members of the Gaddafi regime in Libya have also been investigated.

Mr Taylor's lawyer, Courtenay Griffiths, said that the judges' refusal of leniency – even though his client had stepped down and moved into voluntary exile in Nigeria in 2003 – was sending the wrong message to leaders like Syria's Bashar al-Assad. "Maybe the lesson is: if you are a sitting leader and the international community wants to get rid of you either you get murdered like Colonel Gaddafi or you hang on until the bitter end," Mr Courtenay said. "I'm not so sure that's the signal this court ought to be transmitting."

But most rights advocates hailed the sentence as an important precedent for an emerging international justice system. "It is really significant that Taylor's status as a former head of state was taken as an aggravating factor as far as his sentence was concerned," Geraldine Mattioli-Zeltner, of Human Rights Watch, said. In passing sentence, the judges said Mr Taylor's "special status" as a head of state was a factor in his sentence. Ms Mattioli-Zeltner welcomed a "very important precedent" that she hoped Syria's and Sudan's leaders would take note of.

The jailing of Mr Taylor has been broadly welcomed in Sierra Leone but there has been criticism in his native Liberia, where some see him as the victim of selective justice. There has been no equivalent tribunal to look into Liberia's own civil war and the recommendations of a locally run Truth and Reconciliation Commission have largely been ignored. Patrick Alley, of the watchdog group Global Witness, said the Taylor trial should be followed by a similar court for Liberia that would also allow for the prosecution of those who profited from the African wars.

Doing time in the UK: War criminals in jail

Charles Taylor joins a select group of convicted war criminals who will spend time inside the British prison system – though the date when he is taken through the jail gates is likely to be delayed for months by an appeal.

No decision has yet been made on where Taylor will eventually go, but the experiences of those who have gone before him suggests it will not be a comfortable experience. Three men convicted of war crimes in the former Yugoslavia have served time in Britain and two of them remain behind bars. They include the Bosnian-Serb general Radislav Krstic who was stabbed in his cell by three Muslim inmates in 2010 at Wakefield Prison where he was serving a 35-year jail term.

Krstic survived the attack – apparently in retaliation for the massacre of Muslims in the UN safe haven of Srebrenica in 1995 – but he was left with a deep wound in his neck. He played a prominent role in the wars that led to the break-up of the former Yugoslavia.

His three attackers, all of them convicted killers, had plotted the attack after learning he was heading to the prison. They were given concurrent life sentences.

Momcilo Krajisnik, a prominent member of the Bosnian-Serb leadership during the war, is also serving 20 years for murder and other crimes during the war.

What arrangements will be made for Taylor is unclear. The Foreign Office said there had been no decision on whether the former warlord will be held in a top security prison or held in a solitary cell.

The deal to take Taylor to Britain followed an offer by then foreign secretary Margaret Beckett. The Dutch government had offered to host the trial but said that it would only do so if another country offered to imprison him if he was convicted.

Paul Peachey

News
Clare Balding
peopleClare Balding on how women's football is shaking up sport
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
Life and Style
Small winemakers say the restriction makes it hard to sell overseas
food + drink
News
i100
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Sport
Tony Bellew (left) and Nathan Cleverly clash at the Echo Arena in Liverpool
boxingLate surge sees Liverpudlian move into world title contention
Voices
Neil Findlay
voicesThe vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
food + drinkMeat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin