The first former head of state to be convicted of war crimes since World War II was sentenced to 50 years in prison Wednesday by an international court in The Hague, Netherlands.
The Special Court for Sierra Leone convicted former Liberian president Charles Taylor last month of supplying and encouraging rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone in a campaign of terror, involving murder, rape, sexual slavery and the conscription children younger than 15.
He was also found guilty of using Sierra Leone’s diamond deposits to help fuel its civil war with arms and guns while enriching himself with what have commonly come to be known as “blood diamonds.”
Taylor directed his gaze downward while Presiding Judge Richard Lussick read the sentencing statement, which began with a horror cabinet of carnage committed in Sierra Leone by rebels from the Revolutionary United Front, which the former president backed.
“The accused has been found responsible for aiding and abetting as well as planning some of the most heinous and brutal crimes recorded in human history,” said Lussick, who described one RUF military operation as the “indiscriminate killing of anything that moved.”
He spoke of amputations with machetes — some carried out by child soldiers forced to do so — and read accounts by witnesses who suffered under the violence.
“Witness TF1064 was forced to carry a bag containing human heads,” Lussick said. “On the way, the rebels ordered her to laugh as she carried the bags dripping with blood.”
Upon arrival, “the bag was emptied, and she saw the heads of her children.”
A former child soldier, conscripted at age 12, in his testimony told of “having the letters RUF carved into his chest,” Lussick said. “When ordered on a food-finding mission to rape an old woman they found at a farmhouse, the boy cried and refused, for which he was punished.”
The prosecution had asked the Special Court for Sierra Leone to sentence Taylor, who was president of Liberia from 1997 to 2003, to 80 years behind bars, but the judges found the recommendation “excessive,” citing the “limited scope” of the conviction in key attacks.
The prosecutors had failed to prove that Taylor assumed direct command over rebels who committed atrocities.
There is no death penalty in international criminal law, and Taylor, 64, will serve out his sentence in a British prison.
The former Liberian president is appealing his conviction and will receive credit for time already served since his apprehension in March 2006.
The atrocities he was convicted of supporting occurred over the course of five years — almost his entire presidency — and reached a peak in 1998 and 1999. Sierra Leone’s civil war lasted from 1991 to 2002, ultimately leaving 50,000 dead or missing.
To read the entire story by Ben Brumfield, go to CNN