Former Liberian President Charles Taylor was sentenced to 50 years in prison Wednesday for war crimes he committed by arming and supporting murderous rebels in Sierra Leone in exchange for "blood diamonds."
From 1997 to 2003, Charles McArthur Ghankay Taylor, a trained guerilla fighter in Libya, served as president of Liberia. Throughout his tenure, the Liberian leader was accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity for being involved in the Sierra Leone Civil War and supported the rebels for which he was paid for in “blood diamonds.”
Taylor, 64, received a 50-year prison sentence Wednesday for arming and supporting rebels, who murdered, mutilated and raped tens of thousands of innocent civilians during the 11-year civil war that finally came to an end in 2002.
The special war crimes court presiding judge Richard Lussick, who handed down the half a century sentence, said it was a reflection of the Liberian president’s ghastly and horrendous crimes during his time as an authority figure.
“He was found responsible for aiding and abetting some of the most heinous and brutal crimes in recorded history,” said Judge Lussick as he was reading out the sentence in front of Taylro, who sported a blue suit and yellow tie with a grim look. “Leadership must be carried out by example by the prosecution of crimes not the commission of crimes. While Mr. Taylor never set foot in Sierra Leone, his heavy footprint is there. The lives of many innocent civilians in Sierra Leone were lost or destroyed as a direct result of his actions.”
Upon the judge’s announcement, there was silence and a few gasps in and outside the courtoom of The Hague. As Lussick read out the sentence, there were many cheers of joy – the audience included civil servants, victims and leaders.
Initially, prosecutors demanded at least 80 years, noted Reuters. The defence said Taylor shouldn’t be a scapegoat for a decade-long war. It also asked for clemency because of Taylor’s age and sympathy he had expressed for the victims of the civil war.
The court reiterated a quote the former president told the court, “I was president of Liberia -- I was not some petty trader on the streets of Monrovia.”
He will serve his time in a British prison. Taylor will be imprisoned until the age of 108. However, his supporters have confirmed that they will appeal the guilty verdict. Taylor still maintains a level of support throughout many parts of Liberia. Despite the support, though, many in Sierra Leone have welcomed the sentence.
Agence-France Presse reported of a man, who had his upper limbs cut off by rebels in 1999 leaning next to a mango tree, having tears rolling down his face upon the announcement that Taylor would spend the rest of life in prison.
“At last, justice has been done and Taylor has paid the price for the sufferings and pain he caused us,” said Al Hadji Jusu Jarka, who wears a prosthetic arm. “The curtain has now been drawn on Charles Taylor. I hope he will be haunted by his deeds as he languishes in jail.”