Former Liberian President Charles Taylor was sentenced to 50 years in prison by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for his role in atrocities during Sierra Leone’s civil war, including receiving blood diamonds in exchange for arming Sierra Leone rebels in the 1990’s.
In a sentence handed down May 30 by the ICC’s Special Court for Sierra Leone, Taylor became the first former head of state to be convicted by an international tribunal since the Nuremberg trials at the conclusion of World War II.
According to ABC News, the judge in the case said 50 years was an appropriate sentence because Taylor had “aided and abetted, as well as planned, some of the most heinous and brutal crimes recorded in human history.”
The sentence by the United Nations-affiliated ICC came after a five-year trial conducted in the Netherlands near The Hague that included testimony by victims of gruesome crimes, including sexual slavery, rape and the hacking of limbs.
The trial even involved testimony from entertainment celebrities, including film star Mia Farrow and supermodel Naomi Campbell, who reluctantly testified she received uncut diamonds from Taylor while she and Farrow were visiting South Africa. Prosecutors said Taylor received diamonds from Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) militia leader Foday Sankoh for weapons used in Sierra Leone’s civil war. More than 250,000 Sierra Leoneans were killed in the 14-year struggle. Sankoh died in prison while awaiting trial on war crimes charges.
Taylor was convicted on April 26 on 11 charges including rape, murder, terrorism, enslavement and the use of child soldiers.
In Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, where a live feed of the sentencing was aired, people rejoiced over the lengthy sentence.
“That makes me the happiest person on earth,” said Alimami Kanu, who was 11 when rebels backed by Taylor hacked off his right hand according to the Associated Press.
Others share Kanu’s feelings saying it’s time that Taylor and other men like him pay for their crimes.
“Today’s sentence not only reflects the severity of Taylor’s crimes but sends a clear message that individuals who aid and abet war crimes can no longer act with impunity,” Patrick Alley, director of Global Witness, an organization that campaigns to prevent conflicts erupting around exploitation of natural resources, told the AP.
Taylor said he was unaware of the savage slaughter and sexual atrocities and that he acted to stabilize West Africa. Meanwhile, Taylor’s attorneys say they will file an appeal.
“The sentence is clearly excessive, clearly disproportionate to his circumstances, his age and his health, and does not take into account the fact that he stepped down from office voluntarily,’’ Morris Anya, one of Taylor’s lawyers, told the New York Times.