Charles Taylor's sentence upheld at war crimes tribunal

Former Liberian president Charles Taylor. (AFP)

Former Liberian president Charles Taylor. (AFP)

The former Liberian president Charles Taylor has had his 50-year prison sentence for aiding and abetting war crimes in west Africa upheld at a UN-backed tribunal.

The decision by the court means that the 65-year-old is likely to be sent to the UK to serve out the rest of his life in a British jail.

There had been speculation that the tribunal could overturn Taylor's convictions, following stricter precedents set in the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia about what constitutes "aiding and abetting". A series of recent judgments in that court required proof that senior military commanders had "specifically directed" atrocities.

But the judges in the Sierra Leone tribunal dismissed the Balkans precedents as irrelevant and said Taylor had known at the time that atrocities were going to be committed by rebel forces attacking the Sierra Leone capital, Freetown.

They found that the former warlord and political leader had not demonstrated "real and sincere remorse" for his actions.

The judgment was delivered by the appeal chamber of the special court for Sierra Leone in The Hague. Taylor had challenged the 50-year sentence imposed on him for supporting rebels who carried out atrocities in Sierra Leone in return for "blood diamonds".

He had been found guilty on 11 counts that included participating in the planning of murder, rape, sexual slavery and enforced amputations.

Taylor's lawyers argued that the original trial chamber made systematic errors in the evaluation of evidence and in the application of the law governing what constitutes "aiding and abetting" sufficiently serious to "reverse all findings of guilt entered against him".

Terror being waged
The prosecution, however, also appealed against the original decision, saying that Taylor should have been found individually criminally responsible for ordering and instigating crimes committed by rebels in Sierra Leone. It maintained a 50-year sentence was not "reflective of the inherent gravity of the totality of his criminal conduct and overall culpability" and should be increased to 80 years.

Last year the three-judge panel unanimously found that Taylor had been criminally responsible for "aiding and abetting" the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and other factions carrying out atrocities in Sierra Leone between 1996 and 2002.

The court heard that the Liberian leader knew from August 1997 about the campaign of terror being waged against the civilian population in Sierra Leone.

Among the atrocities detailed was the beheading of civilians. Victims' heads were often displayed at checkpoints. On one occasion a man was killed, publicly disembowelled and his intestines stretched across a road to form another checkpoint. "The purpose," Judge Richard Lussick said, "was to instil terror".

Taylor was the first former head of state to face judgment in an international court on war crimes charges since judges in Nuremberg convicted Karl Dönitz, an admiral who led Nazi Germany for a brief period following Adolf Hitler's suicide.

His conviction was widely welcomed in Sierra Leone but the response in Liberia, where Taylor was once seen as a freedom fighter, was more critical.

The prison authorities in England and Wales have made preparations for Taylor's arrival. A foreign office spokesperson said: "We have agreed to enforce any sentence handed down to Charles Taylor." A special act of Parliament, the International Tribunals (Sierra Leone) Act 2007, had to be passed – a demonstration of what the government said at the time was its "commitment to international justice". – © Guardian News and Media 2013 



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