THE HAGUE, May 11 – Lawyers defending convicted Liberian warlord Charles Taylor on Friday sought a lesser sentence than the 80 years suggested by the prosecution, which they said was “excessive.”
“The 80-year sentence as advocated by the prosecution is manifestly disproportionate and excessive; it is not justified,” the former Liberian president’s lawyers said in papers filed before Sierra Leone’s UN-backed court.
“The suggestion (that) but for Mr Taylor, the war in Sierra Leone would not have happened the way it did is an outright fallacy, or wild speculation at best,” they added in a document made public by the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
Prosecutors and the defence will present their arguments to the court, based just outside The Hague, next week. Taylor, once one of the most powerful men in west Africa, will be sentenced on May 30.
Taylor, 64, was found guilty last month of helping Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels wage a terror campaign during a civil war that claimed 120,000 lives between 1991 and 2001.
In the first judgement against an ex-head of state by a world court since the World War II Nuremberg trials, he was convicted on all 11 counts including acts of terrorism, murder and rape committed by the rebels, who paid him for arms with diamonds mined by slave labour.
Last week, the SCSL’s chief prosecutor Brenda Hollis said an 80-year jail term would be fair given Taylor’s role in arming and aiding the rebels who killed and mutilated thousands in neighbouring Sierra Leone during the war.
Should Taylor get jail time, it will be spent in a British prison.
Samoan judge Richard Lussick stressed in his conviction ruling last month that although Taylor had substantial influence over the RUF, including over its feared leader Foday Sankoh — who died in 2003 before he could be convicted by the SCSL — “it fell short of command and control” of rebel forces.
Taylor’s lawyers argued that to give him a fair sentence, judges should “pay close attention to the nature and extent of the accused’s participation … not merely the nature and extent of the crimes committed.”
The hearings, which saw model Naomi Campbell give headline-grabbing testimony over a gift of diamonds Taylor gave to her at a charity dinner hosted by then South African president Nelson Mandela, lasted nearly four years, wrapping up in March 2011.
The hearings, which saw model Naomi Campbell testify that she had received diamonds from Taylor, lasted nearly four years, wrapping up in March 2011.
Prosecutors alleged that the RUF paid Taylor with illegally mined so-called blood diamonds worth millions, stuffed into mayonnaise jars.
The rebels would in return get arms and ammunition provided by Taylor.
Prosecutors said “but for Charles Taylor’s criminal conduct, thousands of people would not have had limbs amputated, would not have been raped, would not have been killed.”
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.”
Authorities in Nigeria arrested Taylor in March 2006 and he was transferred to The Hague in 2006 after security fears in the west African country.
During Taylor’s trial, which began on June 4, 2007, 94 witnesses took the stand for the prosecution and 21 for the defence.
Taylor himself testified for 81 hours, calling the trial a “sham” and denying claims that he ever ate human flesh.