On 26 April the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) handed down its landmark judgment against Charles Taylor. The court found Taylor guilty of aiding and abetting and planning crimes against humanity and war crimes during the brutal Sierra Leonean civil war.
The case demonstrates that those who commit the most serious of international crimes can and will be held to account. It demonstrates that international justice is patient and its reach is long. And it demonstrates to Taylor's many victims that impunity can and will be challenged. Yesterday, the SCSL sentenced Taylor to 50 years' imprisonment. He is likely to serve this sentence in a British prison.
Some will criticise our decision to stand by our commitment to imprison Taylor in these difficult economic times. But it is vitally important that we do just that. Honouring our commitment is a clear indication of our support for justice, for the process and the principle. Our commitment to international justice means that we too must share in the responsibility of imprisoning those found guilty. And in this case, our decision is a reflection of our deep-seated connection and commitment to post-conflict Sierra Leone.
In West Africa, where the scars of Taylor's crimes are healing, the judgment has been welcomed as the final step in securing justice following the SCSL's inception in 2002; a symbolic watershed between the past and a more prosperous and peaceful future. In Monrovia and Freetown, the people and their governments can now move on, building on the Special Court's legacy. Both governments can refocus attention on economic growth, improving social justice and, in Sierra Leone's case, preparations for the presidential election in November.
Over the past year, we have seen countless examples that demonstrate why leaders must be held to account for their actions, and why we need to invest in the institutions to do that. Beyond the SCSL the Government's support for international criminal justice is exemplified by our strong support for the International Criminal Court, which, in its 10th anniversary year, is regarded as a cornerstone of international criminal justice.
The ICC delivered its first verdict in March – convicting the Congolese militia leader, Thomas Lubanga, of war crimes. Last year it handled the UN Security Council's referral of the situation in Libya with speed and efficiency. This referral showed just how relevant the ICC is and demonstrated what can be achieved when the international community acts together swiftly and determinedly. We will continue to challenge impunity and to shine the light of accountability in all areas which it has not yet reached.
We send a message to the leaders of those countries who believe themselves immune from prosecution for criminal acts like those that took place in Houla, Syria, last weekend: we will not turn a blind eye. We will continue to challenge impunity and hold those, like Charles Taylor, who commit the most serious of international crimes to account.
Henry Bellingham is the British Government's minister for Africa