31 May 2012

Taylor jailed for 50 years

6:01 am on 31 May 2012

Liberia's former president Charles Taylor has been sentenced to 50 years in jail by a United Nations-backed war crimes court.

In April, Taylor was found guilty of aiding and abetting rebels in Sierra Leone during the civil war from 1991-2002.

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, the BBC reports.

Taylor, 64, insists that he is innocent and is likely to appeal against the sentence.

During the sentencing in The Hague, Judge Richard Lussick said the crimes in Sierra Leone were some of the most heinous in history.

The prosecution had wanted an 80-year prison term, 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 logistical and moral support to the Revolutionary United Front 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.

In its landmark ruling in April, the court 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.

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

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

The case was heard in The Hague for fear that a trial in Sierra Leone could destabilise the region. The Dutch government only agreed if Taylor would serve any sentence in another country, so he will serve any jail term in Britain.