Former Liberia strongman handed 50 years in jail for crimes against humanity


Judge Gives Taylor 50 Years for ‘Heinous’ Crimes in War

Pool photo by Toussaint Kluiters

Charles G. Taylor in court Wednesday outside The Hague ahead of his sentencing for war crimes. More Photos »

By and
Published: May 30, 2012
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LEIDSCHENDAM, Netherlands — Charles G. Taylor, the former president of Liberia and a once-powerful warlord, was sentenced on Wednesday to 50 years in prison over his role in atrocities committed in Sierre Leone during its civil war in the 1990s.


The judge presiding over the sentencing in an international criminal court near The Hague said Mr. Taylor had been found guilty of “aiding and abetting, as well as planning, some of the most heinous and brutal crimes recorded in human history” and that the lengthy prison term underscored his position at the top of government during that period.

“Leadership must be carried out by example by the prosecution of crimes, not the commission of crimes,” the judge, Richard Lussick, said in a statement read before the court.

Mr. Taylor was the first head of state convicted by an international court since the Nuremberg trials after World War II.

Prosecutors had sought an even longer sentence of 80 years. If carried out, the term decided on Wednesday would likely mean the 64-year-old Mr. Taylor will spend the rest of his life behind bars. Asked to stand as the sentence was read, he looked at the floor.

His legal team said it would immediately 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,” said Morris Anya, one of the lawyers representing Mr. Taylor.

The prosecution said it was considering its own appeal, both to lengthen the sentence and to broaden the responsability attributed to Mr. Taylor for crimes committed under his leadership.

After more than a year of deliberations, the Special Court for Sierra Leone found Mr. Taylor guilty in late April of crimes against humanity and war crimes for his part in fomenting mass brutality that included murder, rape, the use of child soldiers, the mutilation of thousands of civilians, and the mining of diamonds to pay for guns and ammunition. Prosecutors have said that Mr. Taylor was motivated in these gruesome actions not by any ideology but rather by “pure avarice” and a thirst for power.

The tribunal began in Sierra Leone and is still formally based there, but out of concern that holding hearings in West Africa would cause unrest among those who still support Mr. Taylor, it was moved to the town of Leidschendam outside of The Hague.

Eight other leading members of different forces and rebel groups have already been sentenced by the tribunal. Mr. Taylor is the special court’s last defendant. His trial began in 2006 and since then, 115 witnesses have given testimony.

Mr. Taylor himself spent seven months in the witness chair during which time he said that he would “never, ever” have permitted atrocities.

Mr. Taylor did not speak at the sentencing on Wednesday, but in a hearing earlier this month he offered his sympathy – but not an apology – to the victims and their families for a gruesome conflict that left an estimated 50,000 dead. “I express my sadness and sympathy for crimes suffered by individuals and families in Sierra Leone,” Mr. Taylor said during a roughly 30-minute address to the court.

But he also defended himself and seemed to explain his actions in the context of a desire for regional stability. “What I did was done with honor,” he said. “I was convinced that unless there was peace in Sierra Leone, Liberia would not be able to move forward.”

Marlise Simons reported from Leidschendam and J. David Goodman from New York.

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