Former Liberian President Charles Taylor has been sentenced to fifty years in prison for “some of the most heinous crimes recorded in human history” following a hearing at the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague today.
By Richard Walker in The Hague
Taylor sat downcast as Presiding Judge Richard Lussick made it clear the Court did not feel that the former President's age or having a family were mitigating factors that would help lighten his sentence.
Taylor had argued his role in the Sierra Leone peace process should be taken into account, but judges decided those efforts on the ECOWAS peace committee masked his continued support of rebel-led violence.
Taylor's defence counsel had argued that despite the gravity of the underlying crimes the 80-year term sought by the prosecution was disproportionate. But Lussick said that the impact of the crimes on victims had to be taken into account. He then read out a brief selection of witness testimony, underscoring the horrific brutality meted out at the hands of the rebel RUF militia.
“The trial chamber has taken into account the enormous suffering of the impact on the victims, inlcuding the loss of life, the loss of limbs, amputees without arms who now have to live on charity because they can no longer work...”.
There was, in relation to the use of child soldiers, a “rape of childhood, a rape of innocence, possibly even a rape of hope,” he said.
Some of the horrors read out by Lussick were sickening enough to shock journalists in the Court's busy press room, hardended to such graphic detail.
Many observers before today's hearing had expected the former head of state to receive a much lighter sentence since he had been acquitted of being in “command and control” of the murderous militias at the centre of Sierra Leone's 11-year civil war.
"The special status of Mr. Taylor as a head of state puts him in a different category of offenders for the purpose of sentencing," said Judge Lussick.
But the root of the sentence lies in the guilty verdict delivered back in April. Taylor was acquitted of ultimate responsibility for waging war in Sierra Leone and was convicted only of the lesser charge of aiding and abetting those crimes.
Andie Lamb from the pressure group Global Witness told RNW, “Given that the court acknowledged that his role was unique in this conflict it's a slight disappointment that he received less than some of the other people convicted by the court but 50 years is significant enough to reflect the severity of the crimes”.
Lawyers expect this sentence will ensure Taylor, at the age of 64, will remain in prison for life, despite one who wished to remain unnamed who told RNW he expected Taylor to make parole at the age of 91 and that seeking a longer term might have been more prudent.
Taylor's role as head of state was described by judges as an aggravating factor in the opinion of the Court. Judge Lussick quoted Taylor back to him in today's sentencing, “As Mr Taylor himself said 'I was President of Liberia, not some petty trader on the streets of Monrovia' “.
Taylor's Defence Counsel are planning to appeal today's sentence and the guilty verdict.
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.