A UN-backed court sentenced former Liberian leader Charles Taylor on Wednesday to 50 years in jail for war crimes.
The Special Court for Sierra Leone found Taylor guilty last month of supporting rebels who murdered, raped and mutilated thousands of people during the West African country’s civil war.
Presiding Judge Richard Lussick said the length of the term reflected the serious nature of the charges against Taylor and his position as head of state.
He said Taylor “was found responsible of aiding and abetting some of the most heinous and brutal crimes in recorded history”.
Lussick added: “The lives of many more innocent civilians in Sierra Leone were lost or destroyed as a direct result of his actions. Leadership must be carried out by example by the prosecution of crimes, not the commission of crimes”.
The 64-year-old warlord-turned-president showed no emotion as the sentence was handed down. It means Taylor will effectively spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Taylor supplied arms, ammunition and other supplies in return for ‘blood diamonds’ mined using slave labour.
Global Witness, a group that campaigns against the corrupt exploitation of natural resources, welcomed his jail term.
“It will ensure that people who are eventually held to account and are tried will know that the international community is taking this seriously and will continue to take this seriously,” said Andie Lambe, campaign leader of the international justice team at Global Witness.
At a hearing earlier this month, Taylor expressed “deepest sympathy” for those who suffered during the conflict.
But he insisted that he sought only to stabilise the region and that he did not knowingly assist the rebels’ crimes.
Taylor stepped down and fled into exile in Nigeria after being indicted by the court nine years ago.
Sierra Leone’s civil war raged from 1991 to 2002 and left more than 50,000 people dead.