By Emilee Gaebler
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa
FREETOWN, Sierra Leone — Today Charles Taylor, the ex-President of Liberia, was sentenced to 50 years in prison for his crimes committed in Sierra Leone during the country’s civil war in the 1990s. The judgment handed down this morning in The Hague, Netherlands, is the first conviction of a head of state by an international tribunal, since the Nuremberg trials following World War II.
Taylor’s conviction was based on the crimes he committed during his presidency which lasted from 1997 until 2003; specifically the crime of trafficking weapons to rebels in Sierra Leone in exchange for “blood diamonds.” The presiding judge said that Taylor was guilty of “aiding and abetting, as well as planning, some of the most heinous and brutal crimes recorded in human history.” As the 50 year conviction was handed down, Taylor stood in front of the court with his eyes cast down to the floor.
The original indictment laid out specific crimes including conscription of children under the age of 15, multiple instances of mass rape, and sexual assault. Taylor’s provision of weapons allowed for the rebel soldiers of Sierra Leone to rampage the country, committing numerous war crimes including: rape, sexual assault, sexual slavery, murder, terrorism, and looting. Although Taylor was not convicted for these crimes, and likely never will answer for them, human rights activists were optimistic about the sentence. Ibrahim Sorie, a lawmaker in Sierra Leone, stated, “It restores our faith in the rule of law, and we see that impunity is ending for top people.”
Prosecutor’s, who originally asked for an 80 year sentence, said they might choose to appeal the sentence both to lengthen the time Taylor will spend behind bars and to broaden his responsibility for the crimes committed by the rebel soldiers in Sierra Leone. Peter Andersen, a spokesperson for the Special Court of Sierra Leone, said that the prosecution had hoped the court would find Taylor guilty of being a “superior leader” and having a direct influence on the atrocities committed. Andersen also noted that the sentence was a major step forward for the people of Sierra Leone and may help them move closer towards reconciliation.
Taylor’s defense counsel plans to appeal the sentence immediately. They believe it is clearly disproportionate and excessive, especially considering that Taylor is 64 years of age and a 50 year sentence means he will spend the remainder of his life behind bars in a British prison. Morris Anya, one of Taylor’s lawyers, noted that Taylor voluntarily stepped down from office; a fact that the court overlooked in reaching their sentence. Prosecutor’s contest this last fact, stating that Taylor did not voluntarily leave but was pushed out by an African leaders delegation and a rebel offensive; both urging an end to the bloodshed.
For further information, please see;
ABC News — Charles Taylor Sentenced to 50 Years in Prison — 30 May 2012
CNN — Charles Taylor Sentenced to 50 Years for War Crimes — 30 May 2012
New York Times — Taylor Receives 50 Years for Heinous Crimes in War — 30 May 2012
Wall Street Journal — Court Sentences Liberian Dictator — 30 May 2012