, LEIDSCHENDAM, Sep 26 – A UN-backed appeals court on Thursday upheld Liberian ex-president and warlord Charles Taylor’s 50-year sentence for arming rebels during Sierra Leone’s brutal 1990s civil war.
“The appeals chamber… affirms the sentence of 50 years in prison and orders that the sentence be imposed immediately,” judge George King told the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) in The Hague.
The landmark ruling marks the end of the road for the former west African strongman’s marathon case spanning seven years.
Taylor listened impassively as the judgement was read out, wearing a dark suit, golden tie, gold cufflinks and gold-rimmed glasses.
He will now most likely spend the rest of his life in a foreign prison, possibly in Britain.
His 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.
“The defence failed to demonstrate any discernable errors in the trial chamber’s sentencing,” King said.
Taylor, 65, was found guilty in 2012 of supporting rebels from neighbouring Sierra Leone who waged a campaign of terror during a civil war that claimed 120,000 lives between 1991 and 2002, in exchange for “blood diamonds” mined by slave labour.
Arrested and transferred to The Hague in mid-2006, where his case was moved for fear of stirring up divisions at home, Taylor was sentenced in May last year for “some of the most heinous crimes in human history”.
As Liberia’s president from 1997 to 2003, Taylor aided and abetted neighbouring Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels by supplying guns and ammunition during the conflict, known for its mutilations, drugged child soldiers and sex slaves, trial judges found.
Appeals judges confirmed that RUF rebels and the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) sought “to achieve military gain at any civilian costs.”
The rebels “used acts of terror as their primary modus operandi” and “there is a sufficient causality link between the accused and the commission of the crimes.”
“Taylor’s acts and conducts did not only hurt the victims… but fuelled the conflict that became a threat to peace and security in the west African sub-region,” King said.
Sierra Leone government spokesman Abdulai Bayraytay told AFP that “as a government, we believe that justice has been done and impunity is over.”
Around 100 people, including human rights activists and survivors of the Sierra Leone civil war, watched a live broadcast of the ruling in the capital Freetown.
“Let Taylor rot in jail,” said Freetown taxi driver Andrew Lebbie, adding that he wished Taylor would serve his time in an African prison.
Throughout the trial, Taylor maintained his innocence.
Both defence and prosecution lawyers had appealed the initial sentence.
“It’s a very good decision. We feel good about it,” said Memanatu Kumara, 28, who had her left hand amputated by the RUF in 1999 in Freetown and who came to court for the verdict.
Judge King said he was “not persuaded” by a recent controversial ruling before the Yugoslavia war crimes tribunal (ICTY), also based in the Netherlands.
The ICTY acquitted Yugoslav ex-army chief Momcilo Perisic on appeal, saying they required “specific direction” in the commission of crimes for a conviction.
That verdict worried rights groups as it raised the bar of evidence required to prove aiding and abetting of war crimes.
“This final judgement affirms Charles Taylor’s responsiblity for grave crimes that affected tens of thousands of people,” prosecutor Brenda Hollis told journalists after the verdict.
“No person, no matter how powerful is above the law,” she said.
Taylor’s lawyer Morris Anyah told journalists he was “profoundly disappointed” by the verdict, having pinned his hopes on the jurisprudence set by the Yugoslav tribunal.
Taylor could serve out his sentence in Britain, Sweden, Finland or Rwanda, the countries that have offered to take him in. Anyah said his client would prefer to go to Rwanda to be closer to his family.
SCSL spokesman Solomon Moriba said the court would likely make a decision “before the end of the year.”
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.