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War criminal Charles Taylor appeals for 'reconciliation not retribution'

The former Liberian president at the special court for Sierra Leone in Leidschendam, outside The HagueWar criminal Charles Taylor appeals for 'reconciliation not retribution'

Ex-Liberian president shows no contrition or remorse as he addresses judges at Hague sentencing hearing

Associated Press

The convicted war criminal and former Liberian president Charles Taylor has told judges at his sentencing hearing he sympathises with victims of the civil war in Sierra Leone he helped foment, and urged them to decide their sentence against him in a spirit of "reconciliation, not retribution".

However, he stopped short of admitting any wrongdoing, apologising for his actions, or expressing remorse.

In a landmark ruling in April, judges at the special court for Sierra Leone found Taylor guilty of 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, and conscripting child soldiers. Judges at the UN-backed court said his aid was essential in in helping rebels across the border in Sierra Leone continue their rampage during the west African nation's decade-long civil war, which ended in 2002 with more than 50,000 dead.

The conviction was the first of a former head of state since the aftermath of the second world war.

Taylor is due to be sentenced on May 30, with prosecutors demanding an 80-year prison term; defence lawyers are planning an appeal and arguing he should be given a sentence that leaves him some hope for life after release.

"I express my sadness and sympathy for crimes suffered by individuals and families in Sierra Leone," Taylor said. He said he had acted in an attempt to help stabilise the region, and claimed he had never knowingly assisted in the commission of crimes.

"What I did … was done with honour," he said. "I was convinced that unless there was peace in Sierra Leone, Liberia would not be able to move forward."

Judges found Taylor had helped the rebels obtain weapons, knowing they would probably be used to commit terrible crimes, in exchange for payments of "blood diamonds", often obtained by slave labour.

Prosecutors said there was no reason for leniency, given the extreme nature of the crimes and Taylor's position of power.

"The purposely cruel and savage crimes committed included public executions and amputations of civilians, the display of decapitated heads at checkpoints, the killing and public disembowelment of a civilian whose intestines were then stretched across the road to make a checkpoint, public rapes of women and girls, and people burned alive in their homes," said prosecutor Brenda Hollis before the hearing.

Defence lawyer Courtenay Griffiths argued for a sentence reflecting Taylor's indirect role: he was found guilty only of aiding the rebels, not leading them as prosecutors originally charged.

He said Taylor's conviction has been "trumpeted … as sending an unequivocal message to world leaders that holding office confers no immunity" from war crimes prosecution. But the reality was that while many western countries had funded militias that committed atrocities, no western leader had ever been indicted by a war crimes tribunal, he said.

Griffiths said the lesson was: "If you are a small, weak nation, you may be subject to the full force of international law, whereas if you run a powerful nation you have nothing to fear."

Griffiths also said the 80-year sentencing demand was "manifestly disproportionate and excessive" for Taylor, who is 64.

In court, Hollis scoffed at that.

She said Taylor's involvement in the crimes was "more pervasive than that of the most senior leaders" of the Sierra Leone rebels, who have already been sentenced. The longest sentence so far, 52 years, was handed down to rebel leader Issa Sesay, who testified on Taylor's behalf in 2010.

Taylor fled into exile in Nigeria after being indicted by the court in 2003, and remained at liberty for three years. While the Sierra Leone court is formally based in that country's capital, Taylor's trial is being staged in Leidschendam, a suburb of The Hague, in the Netherlands, for fear holding it in west Africa could destabilise the region.

Source: The Guardian UK



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