Charles Taylor's 50-year sentence for war crimes shows that no man is above the law, writes Owen Bowcott.
Liberia’s former president has been sentenced to 50 years in jail for being “in a class of his own” for war crimes committed during the civil war in neighbouring Sierra Leone.
Judges at a United Nations-backed tribunal in The Hague in the Netherlands said his leadership role and exploitation of the conflict to extract so-called blood diamonds meant he deserved one of the longest prison sentences the court had handed down so far.
Taylor (64) was found guilty last month of 11 counts of aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity committed while he supported rebels between 1996 and 2002 in return for gems.
The offences included murder, rape, sexual slavery, recruiting child soldiers and enforced amputations.
Delivering the decision at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, Judge Richard Lussick said Taylor’s crimes were of the “utmost gravity in terms of scale and brutality”.
“The lives of many more innocent civilians in Sierra Leone were lost or destroyed as a direct result of his actions. The special status of Mr Taylor as a head of state puts him in a different category of offenders for the purpose of sentencing.”
Taylor gave no response as Lussick handed down what would in effect be a life sentence. His lawyers have 14 days to lodge an appeal.
Adama Dempster of the Liberian Human Rights Protection Forum said: “Fifty years is a lot, but it’s about bringing redress for the victims. It’s also about reinforcing the principle that no man is above the law. It serves as a precedent to dictators and those who encourage war.”
Taylor’s sentence is likely to be served in the United Kingdom. – © Guardian News & Media 2012