Civil war victims in Sierra Leone hope to draw a line after ex-Liberian leader is found guilty of war crimes.
Judges at an international war-crimes court have handed a 50-year prison sentence to Charles Taylor, the former Liberian president, following his conviction for supporting rebels in Sierra Leone who murdered and mutilated thousands during their country’s civil war.
“The trial chamber unanimously sentences you to a single term of imprisonment for 50 years on all counts,” Special Court for Sierra Leone Judge Richard Lussick told Taylor at the court based just outside The Hague on Wednesday.
Last month, the tribunal found Taylor guilty on 11 charges of aiding and abetting the rebels who went on a bloody rampage during the decade-long war that ended in 2002 with more than 50,000 dead.
The 64-year-old American-educated warlord-turned-president became the first former head of state convicted by an international war crimes court since World War II.
Prosecutors had asked judges at the Special Court to impose an 80-year sentence; Taylor’s lawyers, however, urged judges to hand down a sentence that offered him some hope of release before he dies.
Taylor will serve his sentence in a prison in the UK.
He is expected to appeal his convictions and is likely to remain in jail in the Hague while the appeals process plays out.
Al Jazeera’ Paul Brennan, reporting from The Hague on Wednesday, said the length of Taylor’s sentence was crucial to public’s perceived sense of justice.
“The prosecution is demanding that Taylor receive an 80-year term, but the defence argues that would amount to a de-facto life sentence on the 64 year old defendant,” our correspondent said before the sentencing.
Brennan said it was highly likely that over the next 14 days, one or other of the legal teams would appeal the sentence, “thus postponing closure of a case which has already run for 6 years”.
“The accused has been found responsible for aiding and abetting some of the most heinous crimes in human history,” Judge Lussick said in handing down the sentence.
“The trial chamber noticed that the effects of these crimes on the families and society as a whole in Sierra Leone was devastating,” he added.
Our correspondent said the conviction and sentencing of Taylor was “an important milestone for the International Criminal Court”, that will soon begin the trial of Laurent Gbagbo, the former Ivory Coast president, who faces charges of crimes against humanity.
At a sentencing hearing earlier this month, Taylor expressed “deepest sympathy” for the suffering of victims of atrocities in Sierra Leone, but insisted he had acted to help stabilise the West Africa region and claimed he never knowingly assisted in the commission of crimes.
“What I did … was done with honour,” he said. “I was convinced that unless there was peace in Sierra Leone, Liberia would not be able to move forward.”
However, judges ruled that Taylor armed and supplied the rebels in full knowledge they would likely use weapons to commit terrible crimes, in exchange for payments of “blood diamonds” often obtained by slave labour.
Prosecutors said there was no reason for leniency, given the extreme nature of the crimes, Taylor’s “greed” and misuse of his position of power.
Taylor stepped down and fled into exile in Nigeria after being indicted by the court in 2003. He was finally arrested and sent to the Netherlands in 2006.