Charles Taylor won't say sorry

2012-05-16 22:49

Leidschendam - Convicted war criminal and former Liberian president Charles Taylor said during his sentencing hearing on Wednesday that he sympathises with victims of the civil war in Sierra Leone he helped foment, and asked judges to render 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 helping rebels in Sierra Leone continue their bloody rampage during the West African nation's decade-long civil war, which ended in 2002 with more than 50 000 dead.

It was the first time a former head of state had been convicted of war crimes since the aftermath of World War II.

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


"I express my sadness and deepest sympathy for the atrocities and crimes that were suffered by individuals and families in Sierra Leone," Taylor said. He insisted his actions had actually been done to help stabilise the region and claimed he 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 helped the rebels obtain weapons in full knowledge they would likely 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, Taylor's "greed" and misuse of his 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 check point, public rapes of women and girls, and people burned alive in their homes," wrote prosecutor Brenda Hollis in a pre-hearing brief.

Defence attorney Courtenay Griffiths argued for a sentence that reflects 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 " sending an unequivocal message to world leaders that holding office confers no immunity" from war crimes prosecution". 

Western countries

But the reality is that while many Western countries have funded militias that have committed atrocities, no Western leader has ever been indicted by a war crimes tribunal, he said.

The lesson is "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 said.

Taylor added that once Britain and the US decided they wanted him out of power, his conviction was a foregone conclusion. "The conspiracy was born, all systems put into motion, and here I stand today," he said. "I never stood a chance."

Leaked WikiLeaks diplomatic cables admitted into evidence appeared to show the US government hoped Taylor would never return to power, but the cables did not prevent his conviction.

Griffiths said the 80 year sentencing demand is "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 wasn't arrested 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, Netherlands, for fear holding it in West Africa could destabilise the region.

  • manaf.abubakari - 2012-05-17 00:57

    if charles taylor is a war criminal what about bush and tony blair and the israelis

      AnthonyfromAfrica - 2012-05-17 06:26

      Manef, Please explain something.......... Why are you more concerned with Bush and Blair, than what has happened to your African brothers and sisters. It just does not make any sense, unless of course you just felt like p.ssing on the West!!!! The people in Sierra Leone would be horrified, you having that attitude. Let me just remind you, that there are 33 African States, who are signatories to the ICC !!!!!! What a pity, that for logistical reasons, this court , at present, can not be anywhere in Africa. Than maybe this silly childish anti Western BS would ease, and this court would get the respect it deserves !!!!

      Kevin - 2012-05-17 08:04

      You are stupid for justice to prevail ALL war criminals should be prosecuted. So you start somewhere and proceed from there, you shouldn't not prosecute because you cant bring some of the criminals before the court. Leaders in Syria, Sudan, North Korea, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, spring to mind add in Russian leaders, Georgian leaders, Moroccan leaders, Ugandan leaders, and then start on the George Bushes.

  • Koos - 2012-05-17 01:33

    Give him one bullet instead of two.

  • AnthonyfromAfrica - 2012-05-17 06:33

    The people of Sierra Leone.....reconcile with this MONSTER,very doubtful!!! "NOT SORRY" make 12 year old boys murderers, and 12 year old girls, whores ??? Than instead of 80 years....150 years, Just to proof a point !!!

  • Michael - 2012-05-17 06:48

    Leniency - ok, change the teeth on the chain saw so they don't cut as quickly!

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