Charles Taylor Sentenced to 50 Years for War Crimes

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor on trial at the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague, Netherlands.

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor on trial at the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague, Netherlands. (AP Photo/Michael Kooren, Pool-File)

May 30, 2012

Convicted war criminal Charles Taylor was sentenced to 50 years in prison Wednesday, marking the end of a years-long legal process to hold the former Liberian president accountable for atrocities committed during the 1990s civil war in Sierra Leone.

Taylor was convicted [PDF] in April on 11 counts of crimes against humanity, including rape, murder, sexual slavery and “other inhumane acts”; violations of the Geneva conventions, and conscripting children to fight as soldiers. Taylor, the court ruled, had aided, abetted and planned “heinous and brutal crimes” in a conflict that left tens of thousands dead.

During the trial, which began in 2007, the prosecutor cited a FRONTLINE/World interview with Taylor’s former defense minister.

In the May 2005 interview, Daniel Chea said that Taylor knew his militias were involved in the atrocities in Ivory Coast:

On the Ivorian issue, when I realized that militia forces from Liberia were involved, I talked to him one day, and I said, “Look, before going into one area, you must have an objective, either military or political, and in this case, we have none. We have our own issues; we are under attack by LURD [Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy] forces.” And he said to me, “Well, Dan, sometimes there are things that you do not understand. There are too many things happening in this region, and sometimes you get consumed. And you can be assured that whatever it is it will get under control.

Chea added: “In most African countries, if you are assured by the Head of State that he’s in control, that he knows what he’s doing, if he tells you, ‘Look, I will never do anything to harm my nation’, you have to give him the benefit of the doubt.”

When the prosecutor read Chea’s remarks in court, Taylor dismissed them, according to the trial transcript [PDF]. “That is not right,” he said. “This is an interview. No one knows who conducted the interview, no one knows this paper,” he said. “My Minister of Defence, knowing that I was fighting a war, could not have said this to me at all.”

Taylor maintained his innocence throughout the trial.

At his sentencing hearing on May 16, he expressed his “sadness and deepest sympathy for the atrocities and crimes that were suffered by individuals and families in Sierra Leone,” according to a release from the court. But Taylor maintained that he was still not responsible for the crimes, and that during the conflict, he had only been trying to keep the peace.

His lawyers plan to appeal the sentence, which they argue would leave Taylor, who is 64, in prison for life. The prosecution, which had asked for an 80-year sentence, and said it might also appeal to lengthen the sentence. Meanwhile, some of Taylor’s victims think he should spend the rest of his life in prison.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone is one of the last remaining tribunals dedicated to a particular conflict. Once these conclude, the International Criminal Court at The Hague will be the remaining arbiter for global justice.  Earlier this month, we looked at its mixed record here.

Sarah Childress

Sarah Childress, Former Series Senior Editor, FRONTLINE

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