Former Liberian President Charles Taylor might well spend the rest of his life in a British prison after losing the final appeal against his convictions for crimes against humanity.
The head of an international tribunal will shortly rule where Taylor will serve his 50-year sentence, nearly 18 months after he was convicted of 11 counts of aiding rebels in neighbouring Sierra Leone during that country’s brutal civil war in the 1990s which left 50,000 people dead.
The UK Government agreed he could be incarcerated in a British penal instiution as part of an international deal. Sweden, Finland or Rwanda have also offered to take him in.
The final verdict handed down by the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) on September 26th draws a line under the seven-year trial of the 65-year-old Taylor who was sentenced in May last year for “some of the most heinous crimes in human history”.
“The appeals chamber… affirms the sentence of 50 years in prison and orders that the sentence be imposed immediately,” judge George King said.
The tribunal ruled that Taylor knew that the rebel groups he was supporting were committing grave atrocities. Children were drugged and forced to fight, while rival rebel groups raped, mutilated and tortured as they battled for supremacy in the 11-year-conflict.
Taylor provided financial, material and tactical support for the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) rebels, despite being fully aware of their methods, the chamber found. His 2012 historic sentence on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity was the first handed down by an international court against a former head of state since the Nazi trials at Nuremberg in 1946.
“Taylor’s conviction sends a powerful message,” Elise Keppler of Human Rights Watch said after the verdict.
Victims spoke of their relief after his conviction was upheld. “As a government, we believe that justice has been done and impunity is over,” Sierra Leone government spokesman Abdulai Bayraytay told AFP.
“The message for sitting heads of state not only in Africa but beyond is that when you are in power you must exercise it judiciously, have respect for the rule of law and human rights and uphold the dignity of others.”
The Liberian government welcomed the verdict. “We hope that as he serves his jail sentence he will be treated in line with the law,” said deputy information minister Isaac Jackson.
A number of headline-grabbing witnesses took the stand during Taylor’s trial including actress Mia Farrow and former supermodel Naomi Campbell, who told of a gift of “dirty” diamonds she received in 1997 after a charity ball hosted by then South African president Nelson Mandela.
Charles Taylor – Key Dates
- 1977 Taylor graduates from Bentley College, Massachusetts, USA.
- 1980 Supports the 12 April coup led by Samuel Doe which saw the murder of President Tolbert. He is appointed Director General of the General Services Agency, a position that makes him responsible for purchasing for the Liberian government.
- 1983 Sacked for embezzlement of $1m, Taylor flees to America.
- 1984 Arrested in the US, Taylor is imprisoned and fights extradition.
- 1985 He escapes from the Plymouth County jail. Unconfirmed claims of CIA help continue to circulate.
- 1986 -89 Taylor is in Libya, where he undergoes guerrilla training and becomes Colonel Gaddafy’s protégé.
- 1989 Taylor sparks the first Liberian civil war (1989-96) when he leads a rebellion to oust Samuel Doe. His Libya-funded National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) is known for its extreme violence, conscripting child soldiers and terrorising citizens of certain ethnic groups.
- 1997 Following a peace deal to end the war, Taylor is elected president of Liberia. He famously campaigned on the slogan “He killed my ma, he killed my pa, but I will vote for him.” While president (1997 to 2003), he supports Revolutionary United Front rebels in neighbouring Sierra Leone by supplying them with guns and ammunition in exchange for blood diamonds.
- 1999 The second Liberian civil war erupts.
- 2003 Taylor resigns and flees to Nigeria.
- 2006 Taylor is finally arrested and transferred to The Hague
- 2012 Taylor is convicted of aiding and abetting the rebels during the Sierra Leone conflict.
- 2013 The 50-year sentence is upheld.