Former Liberian leader Charles Taylor jailed for 50 years

 

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor was jailed for 50 years today for helping rebels commit what a court in The Hague called some of the worst war crimes in history.

Taylor, 64, was the first head of state convicted by an international court since the trials of Nazis after World War Two and the sentence set a precedent for the emerging system of international justice.

In an 11-year war that ended in 2002, Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front rebels murdered, raped and mutilated their way across Liberia's West African neighbour, helped by Taylor as he profited from a trade in so-called blood diamonds.

"He was found responsible for aiding and abetting some of the most heinous and brutal crimes in recorded history," said the Special Court for Sierra Leone's presiding judge Richard Lussick, emphasising that the world was "entering a new era of accountability."

Although shorter than the 80 years that prosecutors had sought, the sentence set a precedent for an international justice system aimed at deterring future war crimes. The court rejected defence appeals for leniency.

"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," said Geraldine Mattioli-Zeltner of Human Rights Watch.

"That is a very important precedent and I hope that Syria's Bashar al-Assad and Sudan's Omar Hassan al-Bashir take note."

Accused of genocide in Darfur, Sudan's President Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court. The court will soon start the trial of Ivory Coast's ex-president, Laurent Gbagbo. President Assad does not currently face charges over the bloody suppression of an uprising.

Dressed in a blue suit and yellow tie, Taylor sat impassively through the roughly 45-minute sentencing.

Hands clasped in front of his mouth and brow furrowed, Taylor shifted uneasily when the camera broadcasting proceedings settled on him.

For Edward Conteh, a Sierra Leonean whose left arm was hacked off by the rebels, the sentence was welcome.

"Taylor is now 64 years old, I know that he cannot do 50 years in prison, so I'm satisfied," Conteh said in the muggy and dilapidated capital, Freetown, scene of mass amputations during some of the heaviest fighting of the war.

Sierra Leone's average life expectancy dipped to 37 years during the war, in which an estimated 50,000 people were killed.

Lussick described some of the most hideous atrocities: the amputations of limbs which became a hallmark of the conflict, the gang rape victim whose eyes were torn out so she could not identify the perpetrators, the mother forced to carry a bag of human heads - including those of her children.

"She was forced to laugh while carrying the bag dripping with blood," he said. "She saw the heads of her children."

Taylor is due to serve his sentence at a high security prison in Britain. The six years he spent detained during the trial will count against his term.

The lawyer who led Taylor's defence said that rather than promoting international justice, the sentence would only encourage embattled leaders to fight to the end rather than give in and face possible trial.

Taylor stepped down as Liberian president under a peace deal in 2003 when rebels overran his capital, Monrovia.

"Not even the fact that he stepped down to save lives in Liberia was accepted as a mitigating factor. What kind of a message does that send to President Assad?" Courtenay Griffiths said.

In Monrovia, the Taylor family called the trial a mockery of justice.

"They did this because America and Britain want to use our resources," spokesman Sando Johnson said, pointing to recent offshore oil discoveries.

Not all Sierra Leoneans agreed with the sentence either, some arguing that it was not only Taylor to blame for a war in a country that had for decades been as wracked by corruption, tribalism and neglect as any in Africa.

"Let them leave Charles Taylor free, God will judge him," said John Kamara, a 31-year-old motor parts dealer.

The defence said it would appeal against the sentence. Its focus is on payments the prosecution made to its witnesses, which it said were prejudicial. Chief prosecutor Brenda Hollis says all payments were disclosed to the court and were legitimate expenses.

The prosecution could appeal to seek Taylor's conviction for direct criminal involvement, a more serious crime.

Reuters

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicHunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original  manuscripts
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
lifeAiming to show breasts in a non-sexual way for cancer awareness
New Articles
i100... while following the referendum
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special
tvNick Frost, Natalie Gumede and Michael Troughton step up
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Beard, Ben Schnetzer, Douglas Booth and Jack Farthing in ‘The Riot Club’
filmReview: Sheer nastiness of Riot Club takes you aback
Arts and Entertainment
tvBut something’s not quite right
New Articles
i100
News
people
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

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week