By Lisa Bryant
Former Liberian president Charles Taylor has been sentenced to 50 years in prison for aiding and abetting horrific war crimes committed during Sierra Leone’s civil war. Both defense and prosecution are expected to appeal the sentence by an international court in The Hague. Taylor is expected to serve any jail term in a British prison.
Dressed in a dark blue suit and yellow tie, Taylor listened somberly to his sentence that was read by presiding judge Richard Lussick.
“Mr. Taylor, for the forgoing reasons, the trial chamber unanimously sentences you to a single term of imprisonment of 50 years for all the counts on which you have been found guilty,” said Lussick.
Found guilty on 11 counts
Last month, the Special Court for Sierra Leone found Taylor guilty on 11 counts of aiding and abetting rebels who killed, raped and mutilated thousands of people during Sierra Leone’s civil war. He is the first African leader to be convicted by an international court and, more generally, the first head of state to face such a conviction since World War II.
The prison sentence handed to Taylor is less than the 80 years the prosecution requested. But the court also dismissed a slew of mitigating factors the defense argued should lighten his sentence, noting his special status as a former head of state.
“The trial chamber wishes to underscore the gravity it attaches to Mr. Taylor’s betrayal of public trust. In the trial chamber’s view, this betrayal outweighs the distinctions that might otherwise pertain to the modes of liability discussed above,” said Lussick.
‘Heinous’ crimes, culture of impunity
Reacting to the sentence, Sierra Leone’s government said some justice had been done. Sierra Leone researcher for Amnesty International, Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus, also expressed satisfaction.
“But what I think is more important to remember today is that while Taylor has been handed a 50-year sentence, for a lot of the survivors of the war in Sierra Leone and Liberia, justice is still not complete. Most of them are still struggling to make a daily living. There’s still a culture of impunity,” said Sherman-Nikolaus.
Judge Lussick’s remarks during the sentencing reflected that sentiment.
“For those who survived these crimes, the long-term impact on their lives is devastating. Amputees without arms who now have to live on charity because they can no longer work. Young girls who have been publicly stigmatized and will never recover from the trauma of rape and sexual slavery to which they were subjected,” he said.
Lussick described the crimes in Sierra Leone as some of the most heinous in history.