Lawyers to argue Charles Taylor sentencing

2012-05-16 08:02

The Hague - Sierra Leone's UN-backed war crimes court will hear arguments on Wednesday on the sentencing of Liberian warlord Charles Taylor, who has been convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Prosecutors before the Special Court for Sierra Leone are to say why they think Taylor, 64, should receive an 80-year term in a British jail, while his defence, which claims that his conviction was "bought", will argue in mitigation.

"Both sides will try to convince the trial chamber of their positions," the court's spokesperson Solomon Moriba told AFP.

Taylor is due to be sentenced by the Hague-based court on 30 May.

The former Liberian president was found guilty last month of arming and aiding rebels who killed and mutilated thousands in neighbouring Sierra Leone during its brutal decade-long civil war from 1991-2001 in which 120 000 died.

In return, rebels of the Revolutionary United Front paid Taylor in so-called "blood diamonds" mined by slave labour.

In a landmark judgment against a former head of state, Taylor was convicted on all 11 counts including acts of terrorism, murder and rape committed by the RUF.

The court's chief prosecutor Brenda Hollis, in a document filed before the court earlier this month, suggested an overall sentence of eight decades against Taylor, once one of the most powerful men in west Africa.

In their written response, Taylor's lawyers called the prosecution's claim "excessive and not justified", saying their client should not be made to shoulder the blame alone for what happened in Sierra Leone's war.

Double punishment

Hollis' office declined to comment ahead of Wednesday's sentencing hearing, but Taylor's lawyer Courtenay Griffiths lashed out, calling the prosecution's demand "absolutely ridiculous".

Should Taylor be sent to a British jail it would be a "double punishment as he [Taylor] will be thousands of miles away from his family and west Africa", Griffiths told AFP.

The trial, in which supermodel Naomi Campbell testified having received "dirty" diamonds at a charity ball hosted by former South African president Nelson Mandela in 1997, lasted nearly four years and only wrapped up in March 2011.

During Taylor's trial, judge Richard Lussick stressed that although the warlord had substantial influence over the RUF, including its feared leader Foday Sankoh - who died in 2003 before he could be convicted - "it fell short of command and control" of rebel forces.

Taylor, Liberia's president from 1997 to 2003, had dismissed the charges as "lies" and claimed to be the victim of a plot by "powerful countries".

Prosecutors, however, said they believed their suggested sentence represented "a fair and adequate response to the outrage these crimes caused in victims, their families... the Sierra Leonean people and the world at large".

Authorities in Nigeria arrested Taylor in March 2006 as he tried to flee from exile after being forced to quit Liberia three years earlier, ending that country's own civil war.

He was transferred to The Hague from the Sierra Leone capital of Freetown in 2006 over security fears.