On May 40, former Liberian President Charles Taylor was sentenced to 50 years in prison by a U.N.-backed court, which will more than likely turn into a life sentence for the 64-year-old political leader. Taylor was convicted of trading arms with the Revolutionary United Front rebels in Sierra Leone, who were responsible for the 1991-2002 reign of terrorism, which included murder, mass limb amputations, and widespread rape of women and young girls. In return for Liberian weaponry, the Rebels provided Taylor with “blood diamonds,” mined by slave labor. Taylor sought to advance his political and financial power with these diamonds.
Presiding Judge Ricahrd Lussick of Samoa hoped to make an example of Taylor’s case by reminding the rest of the world’s despots that war crimes and terroristic leadership will not be tolerated. Patrick Alley, the director of Global Witness, says, “Today’s sentence not only reflects the severity of Taylor’s crimes but sends a clear message that individuals who aid and abet war crimes can no longer act with impunity.”
Taylor was officially convicted on eleven counts, which included murder, sexual slavery, terrorism, enlisting child soldiers, pillage, enslavement, torture, and outrages on personal dignity. Since World War II, Taylor is the first former head of state to be convicted by an international court.
Taylor wore a blue suit, a gold tie, and a sullen expression while he received the sentence. While Taylor is expected to die in prison, his defense attorneys are already working towards fighting the sentence, which they have declared as “excessive.” Courtenay Giffiths, Taylors lead attorney, believes the court should have taken into account Taylor’s decision to step down from his position upon his 2003 indictment when defining the sentence (even though he illegally fled to Nigeria where he was eventually arrested). At the time, Taylor voiced “deepest sympathy” for Sierra Leone’s victims. He claimed he was acting with West Africa’s best interest in mind and was unaware of his contributions to the rebel’s crimes. Taylor’s current sentence commits him to a British jail, but such appeals will only keep him in temporary lockdown in The Hague, Netherlands (the site of Taylor’s trial) for at least several more months.
What his attorneys may be calling “excessive” doesn’t seem justice enough for the thousands of victims affected by Taylor’s reign. Sierra Leone survivors gathered in the country’s capital, Freetown, to watch and celebrate the sentencing. Eleven-year-old Alimani Kanu, who lost his right hand to the rebels, admits Taylor’s recent sentence “makes me the happiest person on earth.”
Brenda Hollis, the U.N.-backed court’s chief prosecutor states, “The sentence that was imposed today does not replace amputated limbs. It does not bring back those who were murdered… It does not heal the wounds of those who were victims of sexual violence and does not remove the permanent emotional and psychological and physical scars of those enslaved or recruited as child soldiers.”
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