For murder, rape, abduction and using child soldiers, former President of Liberia Charles Taylor’s sentence of 50 years in prison has been upheld by appeal judges at a special war crimes court in The Hague.
Presiding judge George Gelaga King said: “Taylor’s acts and conduct did not only harm the victims of the crimes and their immediate relatives, but fuelled a conflict that became a threat to international peace and security in the West-African sub-region.”
The Special Court for Sierra Leone last April convicted the Liberian former president of 11 crimes, including aiding and abetting rebels, during Sierra Leone’s 1991-2002 civil war. He was the first former head of state convicted by an international court since the Second World War.
The rebels paid him in diamonds mined by slave labourers – so-called ‘blood diamonds’. The conflict became associated with extreme cruelty. In addition to the some 50,000 people who were killed, thousands more were mutilated. Rival rebel groups hacked off their victims’ limbs and carved their initials into opponents’ bodies. They would ask their victims their preference: “long sleeves’‘ or “short sleeves’‘, before taking away their hands or their arms above the elbow.
The former Liberian leader was arrested in 2006. Throughout the trial he said he was innocent. The guilty verdict was hailed as historic: It proved that people at the highest level of power can be held to account. For Taylor’s opponents, his punishment showed that African warlords weren’t above the law any more. Taylor is expected to serve his sentence in a British maximum security prison.