Liberia ex-leader Charles Taylor get 50 years in jail


Judge Richard Lussick reads out the sentence in court

Liberia's ex-President Charles Taylor has been sentenced to 50 years in jail by a UN-backed war crimes court.

Last month Taylor was found guilty of aiding and abetting rebels in Sierra Leone during the 1991-2002 civil war.

Special Court for Sierra Leone judges said the sentence reflected his status as head of state at the time and his betrayal of public trust.

Taylor, 64, insists he is innocent and his lawyer has told the BBC he will appeal against the sentence.

Start Quote

While Mr Taylor never set foot in Sierra Leone, his heavy footprint is there”

End Quote Judge Richard Lussick

In Sierra Leone, where victims of the war gathered in silence to watch the hearing on a large screen in a courtroom in the capital, Freetown, the sentence was welcomed.

The chairman of the country's Amputees' Association, Edward Conteh, told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme it came as a "relief" as Taylor was likely to spend the rest of his life in jail.

"It is a step forward as justice has been done, though the magnitude of the sentence is not commensurate with the atrocities committed," AP news agency quotes Deputy Information Minister Sheku Tarawali as saying.

'Heinous crimes'

Taylor, wearing a suit and yellow tie, showed no emotion during the hearing.

"The accused has been found responsible for aiding and abetting some of the most heinous crimes in human history," Judge Richard Lussick said.


Sentencing the 64-year-old former president to 50 years means in effect that Charles Taylor will spend the rest of his life locked up in jail.

His defence team were hoping judges would take into account the fact that Taylor has a family: he is a father of 14 children and an educated man.

But the judges decided his role in aiding and abetting the RUF rebels in Sierra Leone was serious enough to warrant 50 years.

It is a sentence that human rights groups say will set a precedent and send a message out to other world leaders - that if they commit crimes against humanity they will be forced to face the consequences, regardless of how powerful they are.

The crimes - which took place over five years - included cutting off the limbs of their victims and cutting open pregnant women to settle bets over the sex of their unborn children, he said.

The prosecution had wanted an 80-year prison term to reflect the severity of the crimes and the central role that Taylor had in facilitating them.

But the judge said that would have been excessive - taking into account the limited scope of his involvement in planning operations in Sierra Leone.

However, Judge Lussick said in return for a constant flow of diamonds, Taylor provided arms and both logistical and moral support to the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels - prolonging the conflict and the suffering of the people of Sierra Leone.

"While Mr Taylor never set foot in Sierra Leone, his heavy footprint is there," the judge said.

"The lives of many more innocent civilians in Sierra Leone were lost or destroyed as a direct result of his actions," he said.

In its landmark ruling in April, the court - set up in 2002 to try those who bore the greatest responsibility for the war in which some 50,000 people were killed - found Taylor guilty on 11 counts, relating to atrocities that included rape and murder.

He became the first former head of state to be convicted of war crimes by an international court since the Nuremburg trials of Nazis after World War II.

This "special status" had put Taylor in a "different category of offenders for the purpose of sentencing," the judge said.

His sentence was in line with others handed down by the Special Court for Sierra Leone. One of the convicted RUF leaders, Issa Sesay, received a 52-year jail term and a rebel from the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC) group, Alex Tamba Brima, was given 50 years.

"But the difference is that those two - Brima and Sesay - are direct perpetrators: They carried out the crimes themselves," Taylor's defence counsel Morris Anyah told the BBC.

"The 50-year sentence pronounced today effectively is a life sentence for someone that age - the rules of the court prohibit expressly the imposition of a life sentence," he said.

These concerns - and other mitigating facts rejected by the judges, such as Taylor's role in ending the conflict - would be brought before the appeals chamber, the defence lawyer said.

'No remorse'

Taylor timeline

Sierra Leone-Liberia map

• 1989: Launches rebellion in Liberia

• 1991: RUF rebellion starts in Sierra Leone

• 1997: Elected president after a 1995 peace deal

• 1999: Liberia's Lurd rebels start an insurrection to oust Mr Taylor

• June 2003: Arrest warrant issued; two months later he steps down and goes into exile to Nigeria

• March 2006: Arrested after a failed escape bid and sent to Sierra Leone

• June 2007: His trial opens - hosted in The Hague for security reasons

• April 2012: Convicted of aiding and abetting the commission of war crimes

• May 2012: Sentenced to 50 years in jail

Taylor, who accused the prosecution of paying and threatening witnesses in his war crimes trial, had asked judges to consider his age when making their decision, saying he was "no threat to society".

But the trial chamber said that, given his social background and standing, "rehabilitation" was not likely.

The fact that he had not expressed remorse or apologised for his part in the conflict also affected the sentence, the judge said.

Earlier, his lawyers had urged the court not to support "attempts by the prosecution to provide the Sierra Leoneans with this external bogeyman upon whom can be heaped the collective guilt of a nation for its predominantly self-inflicted wounds".

In Liberia, Taylor's brother-in-law in Liberia, Arthur Saye, maintained the whole process had been "politically motivated".

"The sentence is outrageous. How can you give a man 50 years for only aiding and abetting?" he told the BBC.

The case was heard in The Hague for fear that a trial in Sierra Leone could destabilise the region.

The Dutch government agreed only if Taylor would serve any sentence in another country.

He will serve any prison term in the UK but will be held in The Hague until the results of his appeal - a process that could last up to six months, the BBC's Anna Holligan in the Netherlands reports.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 43.


    What is more of a war crime.

    Bombing a weapons manufacturer where the blast kills civilians or building a weapons manufacturing unit in the school playground??

    Some people's anti-western blinkers are too much to bare sometimes. Get your head out of your backsides and see who the real war criminals are on this planet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Frankly I do not want to have to pay for this criminal to be housed in jail in this country. Why should he get the benefit of hot showers, tv, computers, hot meals, work etc when we have thousands of residents here who cannot get any of those things and they have done nothing wrong. Were we as a nation asked whether we wanted to house him? I was never asked.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    @wirral 18

    I am unashamedly one of the "what about Blair and Bush" lot.
    And what about them? They killed thousands in an illegal war.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Great News for some and not for all those who seek justice as the UN is more political. Rajapakase regime has committed war crimes against the Tamils, over 100 thousand Tamils were massacred. As the Western leaders' complicity to the crimes, there is no investigation, alleged war criminals are entertained. Shame on the International Justice system and it tarnishes the images of the ICC as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Perhaps Tony Blair should be his neighbour in the next cell ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Heinous crimes were committed by Taylor, barbarous to the very core! There was not a chance in the world that he would have been given a lighter sentence considering the magnitude of his crimes. There were no mitigating factors for a lesser sentence. His arrogance considering his circumstances was puzzling. He showed no remorse at all. Liberians will have to turn the page despite bitter memories!

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    #35 Agreed 100%. Its worth pointing out that in bringing peace in the way he did Blair massively overstepped the UN mandate he had (rightly so in my opinion... for minimal effort he stopped a very nasty, very protracted war which is what the UN SHOULD do) . I do wonder if the success of Sierra Leone encouraged him to try the same in Iraq though........ ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    OK how about we get president bashir of the Sudan for the genocide of 2 million christian Africans in a mass genocide ,but we wont because hes friends with the saudis and Bahrain's because hes a radical Sunni Muslim salafist and he travels there with impunity hes probably invited to the jubilee celebrations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.


    It is interesting that you name Tony Blair as a war criminal. In Sierra Leone, Blair would be welcomed as a hero and a bringer of peace. In May 2002, Blair sent 1000 Royal Marines and Paratroopers to Sierra Leone. The intervention of these troops was mainly responsible for driving the rebels out of the capital, Freetown, and subsequently bringing peace to the country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    When will these rulers start to realise they cannot keep treating their people like cattle? They should be there to protect and make their people prosper; not kill them... Other tyrants of the world beware - the world is watching!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Taylor told Sierra Leoneans, "they will taste the bitterness of war". Now Sierra Leonean can say, "he will taste the bitterness of 50 years in prison". I pray he finds time to repent and appologise to Sierra Leoneans before he dies. At least his soul may rest in peace.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    The simple fact being Tony Blair and George W Bush both committed war crimes, in which innocent civilians were killed. We don't see T Blair or Bush being tried and convicted. I don't disagree with what the court has ruled in this case,however I do find it slightly concerning that people aren't taken action against other members of authority.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    The upside is that this excuse of a human being has now got his just deserts, the downside is that he will serve his time at the British taxpayers expense. As he enriched himself by supporting the regime which mutilated men, women and children all his assets should be confiscated and used to fund his time in one of our prisons.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    A fitting end to a career of monumental evil of a scale that boggles the mind. Everyone who helped bring this day of reckoning about deserves credit for their contribution. We look at Assad and wonder how such wickedness is to be overcome -- and then we look at Taylor and realise it does get done. A lot of intervening steps, yet, in the end, some Justice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Great news. I now can't wait for the wave of emails from various Barristers world word, who need my assistance to move Taylors funds overseas, and all for only the cost of a few hundred pounds document fees!

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    50 years is good, but not enough. He can be released in 35 on parole, and counting his timed served, thats 29 years for now. Still late, but to think that someone goes to jail for life for murder, but the president behind massacres only gets 50. lets hope an appeal brings more years

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    I wonder what's there for Sierra Leone in this whole issue????... diamonds are still going by the way and the people are still suffering, sad joy for Sierra Leone, they got the wrong man for the wrong charges...

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    @ 2.Matt93
    "Because they don't have anything that could come close to being called a judicial system, either free and fair or otherwise."

    It's not about the judiciary. It's because his fighters are still around hoping to cause havoc at his behest or on his behalf. Otherwise he needs to answer for the death of 250,000 Liberians, five times the casualty in Sierra Leone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Does he like gardening? I recommend Ford, his wife(wives) and children can live in nearby Arundel, a very pleasant town. Meanwhile the rest of you can keep working, keep paying your taxes to support this humane gesture on the part of our Government. I despair.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Prison in Britain can't do enough harm to someone this age given what hes done. I really think he should simply be handed over to a crowd of his victims!


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