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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  • Comment number 303.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 302.

    #298 -The SC resolution was drafted by the UK…Resolution 1688 was passed unanimously on June 16, 2006. On 15 June 2006 the British Government made public its agreement to allow Charles Taylor, former President of Liberia, to be imprisoned in the UK should he be convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 301.

    so why now do the UK tax payers need to foot the bill for keeping this person in a UK prison for ex amount of years WHY, in my opinion please send him back to the country where he has caused so much pain and suffering, he sat in the courtroom yesterday very smug and contented knowing he will be safe and looked after in the UK prison system for many years to come

  • rate this

    Comment number 300.

    299.TheGlobeView: Too true. Dictators always buy lots of weapons, none of which are intended for internal repression of course. They can also offer trade deals, mining concessions, and drilling blocks without having to trouble constitutional lawyers. They're a very short cut to a country's resources but also useful pawns to use against other sponsors of dictators. They're practically indispensable

  • Comment number 299.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 298.

    I'm not in any way against him serving his term in the UK, I'm just curious as to how this decision was reached. Does anyone know?

  • rate this

    Comment number 297.

    There's no doubt, he deserves the sentence, but we in the west seem to have a selective blindness when it comes to the crimes of dictators.If a regime murders, tortures and detains innocents, it's alright so long as he's "our" dictator. Bahrain, Saudi Arabia. Libya (when the leader was useful to the west), Indonesia, the list is endless. And many will be in Chantilly, for Bilderberg this Thursday.

  • rate this

    Comment number 296.

    Why is Britian having to pay? As he's made an 'illegal' fortune he should pay for his bed and board in prison to save the overburdened British taxpayer paying. Furthermore, we are continually being told that this country is broke and everyone has to suffer as a result while he lives out his remaining days in a 'holiday camp' ...err..I mean prison.

  • rate this

    Comment number 295.

    #290 – On the contrary. It would seem the UK was very interested in jailing this African leader. See my comment at #263.

  • rate this

    Comment number 294.

    To be able to threaten people like Assad, his family, and those who maintain him in power, it's necessary to have already prosecuted and convicted some really big fish. Taylor, Mladic, and Hussein are a reasonable start, but just imagine how powerful a threat it would be if Blair, Bush, Kissinger et al had been brought to book. A creditable conviction but more ambition is required.

  • rate this

    Comment number 293.

    It's a bit disappointing that Taylor will be spending the rest of his life in a UK prison. Better he should spend it in a US prison where the atmosphere of violence should be much more to his liking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 292.

    Go on......UK prison and no doubt expense. Can someone enlighten me as to why and at what cost. It doesn't surprise me really, just wondered why (if it's the case) my tax pounds yet again go on stuff like this...?

  • Comment number 291.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

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    Comment number 290.

    While we have african's like Malick all that will happen is the worlds great powers will play out their 'Great game'. Take responsibility for yourselves, we European tax payers are not interested in jailing random african leaders. We don't have the money. Sort your own problems out and stopping being abused by everyone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 289.

    When people are posting about bringing Bush to Justice which one are they talking about. George Bush or his son George Bush, or 1980s singer Kate Bush?
    What's their connection to Taylor?

  • rate this

    Comment number 288.

    When there is a predominant culture of tribalism these kinds of things can happen more easily: Taylor was taking advantage of that. This is one reason why these things so often happen in Africa (remember Bokassa and many others?). When you can reduce people to objects because you've been convinced they are different than you, you're more likely to think it okay to kill them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 287.

    The verdict shows that truth always matter haw lat it is. The sad thing is those who participated in the atrocity at the base are still around and Taylor being at the top paid all the price. Like wise the verdict does not change the suffering of those who lost their arms and legs and hope the Court will look in to this.This Trial will be a message TO those who do EVIL cannot ignore.

  • rate this

    Comment number 286.

    "Why are readers down grading comments made about the war crimes of Bush and Blair? Clearly bias BBC news readers that haven't woken up yet!"

    Because they want to use africa as pretext for their "western" hate and encourage impunity in Africa with muderous Dictators like Yahya Jammeh who aided taylor with those weapons to sell the diamonds for him with "victor butt". They the footsoldiers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 285.

    TheMarvellousOne (254),

    "... all the other suspects are being tortured without trial ..."

    Do you have any evidence to support this claim?

  • rate this

    Comment number 284.

    Why are readers down grading comments made about the war crimes of Bush and Blair? Clearly bias BBC news readers that haven't woken up yet!


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