Skip to main content

Charles Taylor: War crimes conviction, 50-year sentence upheld

By Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
September 26, 2013 -- Updated 1525 GMT (2325 HKT)
Former Liberian President Charles Taylor waits at the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague on Thursday.
Former Liberian President Charles Taylor waits at the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague on Thursday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Amnesty International welcomes ruling, says it shows that no one is above the law
  • Court in The Hague upholds Charles Taylor's conviction and 50-year sentence
  • He was president of Liberia from 1997 until 2003, when he fled under pressure
  • He was convicted of supplying, encouraging rebels in Sierra Leone in a campaign of terror

(CNN) -- An international court in the Netherlands ruled Thursday to uphold the 50-year sentence handed down last year to Liberia's former president, Charles Taylor, after he was convicted of aiding war crimes in neighboring Sierra Leone.

The ruling by the appeals judges in the United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague brings to an end a lengthy legal battle.

Taylor, 65, was found guilty last year of supplying and encouraging rebels in Sierra Leone in a campaign of terror, involving murder, rape, sexual slavery, looting and the conscription of children younger than 15.

He was also convicted of using Sierra Leone's diamond deposits to help fuel its civil war with arms and guns while enriching himself with what have commonly come to be known as "blood diamonds."

Understanding Charles Taylor's sentence

Both the defense and prosecution lodged appeals after the court convicted the former president of all 11 counts against him, following a trial lasting nearly four years.

Taylor's defense appealed the court's judgment and sentence on multiple grounds, arguing that the trial chamber had made mistakes in evaluating the evidence and in applying the law.

But the appeals judges rejected those arguments, saying that the trial chamber had "thoroughly evaluated the evidence for its credibility and reliability," and that its assessment of Taylor's criminal responsibility and liability was in accordance with international laws.

The appeals judges also dismissed defense claims that Taylor was not given a fair trial.

The defense also argued that the 50-year sentence handed down was "manifestly unreasonable," while the prosecution had argued that it should be increased to 80 years to adequately reflect the gravity of his crimes.

The appeals judges dismissed both claims, saying the sentence was fair and reasonable.

READ: Charles Taylor: Lay preacher and feared warlord

Rights group Amnesty International welcomed the ruling, saying it sent a clear message to leaders around the world.

"The Court's landmark ruling underlines that no one is above the law," said Stephanie Barbour, head of Amnesty International's Centre for International Justice in The Hague.

"The conviction of those responsible for crimes committed during Sierra Leone's conflict has brought some measure of justice for the tens of thousands of victims. The conviction of Charles Taylor must pave the way for further prosecutions."

Role in atrocities

Taylor was the first former head of state to be convicted of war crimes since the Nuremberg trials that followed World War II.

The trial chamber heard that rebels from the Revolutionary United Front, which the former president backed, committed horrendous crimes against Sierra Leone civilians, including children. Some were enslaved to mine the diamonds used to fund the rebels' fight.

The presiding trial judge described Taylor as responsible for "aiding and abetting as well as planning some of the most heinous and brutal crimes recorded in human history."

But Taylor said during his sentencing hearing in May 2012 that his role in the conflict was much different than represented. "I pushed the peace process hard, contrary to how I have been portrayed in this court," he said.

A pivotal figure in Liberian politics for decades, he became president in 1997 and was forced out of office under international pressure in 2003. He fled to Nigeria, where border guards arrested him three years later as he was attempting to cross into Chad.

The United Nations and the Sierra Leone government jointly set up the special tribunal to try those who played the biggest role in the atrocities. The court was moved to the Netherlands from Sierra Leone, where emotions about the civil war still run high.

Opinion: Do war crimes trials really help victims?

CNN's David McKenzie contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0254 GMT (1054 HKT)
A decade on from devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the Red Cross' Matthias Schmale says that the lessons learned have made us safer.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0024 GMT (0824 HKT)
As soon as word broke that "The Interview" will hit some theaters, celebrations erupted across social media -- including from the stars of the film.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1844 GMT (0244 HKT)
Did a rogue hacker -- or the U.S. government -- cut the cord for the regime's Internet?
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0106 GMT (0906 HKT)
Monaco's newborn royals, Princess Gabriella and Crown Prince Jacques Honore Rainier, posed for their first official photos with their parents.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1706 GMT (0106 HKT)
Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited with inventing the world wide web, gives a speech on April 18, 2012 in Lyon, central France, during the World Wide Web 2012 international conference on April 18, 2012 in Lyon.
What's next for the Internet? Acclaimed scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee shares his insights.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0822 GMT (1622 HKT)
The United States and North Korea have long been locked in a bitter cycle of escalating and deescalating tensions. But the current cyber conflict may be especially hard to predict.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2100 GMT (0500 HKT)
A chilling video shows Boko Haram executing dozens of non-Muslims.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1134 GMT (1934 HKT)
New planes, new flight tests ... but will we get cheaper airfares?
December 21, 2014 -- Updated 1746 GMT (0146 HKT)
The killing of two cops could not have happened at a worse time for a city embroiled in a public battle over police-community relations, Errol Louis says.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 0251 GMT (1051 HKT)
The gateway to Japan's capital, Tokyo Station, is celebrating its centennial this month -- and it has never looked better.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1621 GMT (0021 HKT)
Unicef has warned that more than 1.7 million children in conflict-torn areas of eastern Ukraine face an "extremely serious" situation.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1701 GMT (0101 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT