Former Liberian President and warlord, Charles Taylor, has just been handed a 50 year jail sentence by the International Criminal Court at The Hague for war crimes.
With the conviction, Mr Taylor becomes the first former President to be convicted of war crimes by an international court since the Nuremburg trials of Nazis after World War II.
Last month, Mr. Taylor was convicted after the court found him culpable in an 11-count charge relating to various atrocities, including aiding and abetting Sierra Leonean rebels to commit rape and murder, the use of child soldiers and amputation of the limbs of opponents during the 1991-2002 civil war in the country.
The trial Judge Richard Lussick, in handing down the sentencing said the crimes Mr. Taylor committed in Sierra Leone were some of the most heinous in human history.
According to Mr. Lussick, in return for a constant flow of diamonds, Mr. Taylor provided arms and ammunitions as well as logistical and moral support to the Revolutionary United Front rebels to kill and maim tens of thousands of civilians and soldiers during the Sierra Leonean civil war.
“While Mr Taylor never set foot in Sierra Leone, his heavy footprint was there,” the judge said.
“The purposely cruel and savage crimes committed included public executions and amputations of civilians, the display of decapitated heads at checkpoints… public rapes of women and girls, and people burned alive in their homes,” prosecutor Brenda Hollis noted.
Though the prosecution called for a stiffer penalty for Mr. Taylor, the trial judge argued that passing an 80-year imprisonment term would be excessive, considering the limited scope of his involvement in planning and execution of the war operations in Sierra Leone.
The trial chamber said that given his social background and the fact that Mr. Taylor refused to show remorse throughout the trail for the offence, his sentence would not include “rehabilitation”.
The 64-year old former Liberian warlord, who insisted throughout the trial of his innocence, condemned similar acts of violence across the world for which he was being prosecuted, saying his “deepest sympathy” goes for victims in Sierra Leone.
He accused the prosecution of threatening witnesses and paying them to give false testimonies against him, adding that the judges should consider his age in whatever decision they are to take, as he constitutes “”no threat to society”.
The defence lawyers in their submission said that the recommended sentence is “manifestly disproportionate and excessive”, as their client has only been found guilty of an indirect role of aiding, rather than leading the rebels.
They said Mr. Taylor should not be made to shoulder the blame alone for what happened in Sierra Leone’s war.
“The court should not support ‘attempts by the prosecution to provide the Sierra Leoneans with this external bogey man upon whom can be heaped the collective guilt of a nation for its predominantly self-inflicted wounds’,” the defence attorneys said.
In their reaction to the sentence, the Special Court for Sierra Leone judges said the conviction reflects Mr. Taylor’s status as head of state at the time and his betrayal of public trust.
The defence team has already indicated interest to commence the appeal process, which could take up to six months, the BBC correspondent at The Hague reported.