Former Liberian President Charles Taylor was sentenced to 50 years in prison for supporting rebels who committed atrocities in neighboring Sierra Leone during an 11-year civil war.
“The accused is being found responsible for aiding and abetting as well as planning of some of the most heinous and brutal crimes recorded in human history,” Presiding Judge Richard Lussick said at the Special Court for Sierra Leone in Leidschendam, near The Hague. Prosecutors requested he be imprisoned for 80 years.
Taylor, 64, is the first former head of state to be convicted by an international court for war crimes since the Nuremberg trials after World War II. He was charged with 11 counts, including terrorizing civilians, murder, rape and kidnapping children to use as soldiers, according to the tribunal, which was set up by the West African nation and the United Nations in 2002.
“Mr. Taylor was functioning in his own country at the highest level of leadership which puts him in a class of its own when compared to the principal perpetrators who have been convicted by this court,” Lussick said. The court has now convicted nine people.
Sierra Leone’s civil war left 50,000 people dead and displaced 2 million before the government and rebels agreed to a cease-fire in 2000. The Revolutionary United Front guerrillas, backed by Taylor, gained notoriety for amputating the limbs of their victims.
The court, which on April 26 found Taylor guilty, said the former president provided the rebels with arms and ammunition in exchange for so-called blood diamonds, regularly found by slave laborers.
Taylor led a group of rebels who invaded Liberia from neighboring Ivory Coast in 1989, starting a civil war that lasted until 1996. He won an election in 1997, becoming president until he resigned in 2003. Taylor then went into exile in Nigeria as pressure mounted following his indictment and he was arrested in 2006.
Taylor pleaded not guilty and he may appeal the verdict. The time he has served in The Hague since 2006 will be deducted from the sentence. The longest sentence handed out by the court was 52 years for Revolutionary United Front leader Issa Sesay.