Washington: The United States on Wednesday described the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone’s conviction and sentencing of former Liberian president Charles Taylor a "significant moment" for the Liberian people.
"I did want to note the sentencing earlier today (Wednesday) by the Special Court for Sierra Leone's Tribal Chamber, which sentenced Charles Taylor to 50 years in prison," State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said.
"The conviction of Charles Taylor is a significant moment for the people of Sierra Leone and, I would note, a milestone for justice and accountability," Toner told reporters.
Taylor was sentenced to 50 years imprisonment on Wednesday for arming and supporting murderous rebels in Sierra Leone in return for "blood diamonds”, a landmark sentence activists hope will send a clear message to despots around the world that they will be held to account for sponsoring atrocities.
Taylor, wearing a blue suit and gold tie, stood grim-faced and silent as Presiding Judge Richard Lussick of Samoa imposed what will likely amount to a life sentence for the 64-year-old.
Lussick said Taylor's position as head of state at the time of his crimes put him in a "class of his own" when judges came to setting the sentence — one of the longest ever handed down by the Special Court for Sierra Leone or any other international tribunal.
Taylor shipped arms, ammunition and other supplies to rebels in Sierra Leone in return for personal wealth in the form of diamonds mined by slave labour and to gain increasing political clout in the volatile West Africa region.
The sentence came a month after Taylor became the first former head of state since World War II to be convicted by an international court. Judges found him guilty of 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, torture and the use of child soldiers.
Taylor will serve his sentence in a British jail. His lawyers, however, said they will appeal his convictions and that will likely keep him in a jail in The Hague, Netherlands, for months.
(With Agency inputs)
First Published: Thursday, May 31, 2012, 09:26