Notorious warlord Charles Taylor is to serve his 50-year jail term in a British prison, ministers announced today.
The former president of Liberia was convicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including terrorism, murder, rape and using child soldiers.
UK justice minister Jeremy Wright said today: ‘The conviction of Charles Taylor is a landmark moment for international justice.’The controversial decision to send Taylor to Britain could cost the taxpayer up to £80,000-a-year to keep him in in a maximum security prison.
Last month Taylor lost his appeal against his convictions, which made him the first former head of state convicted by an international court since Nuremberg trials of Nazi leaders after the Second World War.
The court’s ruling came more than a decade after Taylor helped rebels go on a murderous rampage across war-torn Sierra Leone, raping, murdering and mutilating tens of thousands of innocent victims.
Taylor had aided and abetted crimes committed by Revolutionary United Front and Armed Forces Revolutionary Council rebels, while knowing well the kinds of crimes they were committing.
Presiding Judge George Gelaga King said: ‘Their primary purpose was to spread terror. Brutal violence was purposefully unleashed against civilians with the purpose of making them afraid, afraid that there would be more violence if they continued to resist.”Governments and the international community were also afraid that unless the RUF and the AFRC demands were met, thousands more killings, mutilations, abductions and rapes of civilians would follow.’
Taylor was sentenced to 50 years in jail in May last year, and the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) dismissed the appeal and confirmed the sentence on September 26 this year.
The head of the SCSL then requested that Taylor now be transferred to a prison in the UK to serve his sentence.
In a statement to MPs today, Justice minister Mr Wright said: ‘The United Kingdom’s offer to enforce any sentence imposed on former President Taylor by the SCSL was crucial to ensuring that he could be transferred to The Hague to stand trial for his crimes.’
The International Tribunals (Sierra Leone) Act was backed by all parties in 2007 knowing it could mean Taylor would serve his sentence in the UK with the taxpayer picking up the bill, he said.
‘International justice is central to foreign policy. It is essential for securing the rights of individuals and states, and for securing peace and reconciliation.
‘The conviction of Charles Taylor is a landmark moment for international justice. It clearly demonstrates that those who commit atrocities will be held to account and that no matter their position they will not enjoy impunity.’
During Taylor’s four-year initial trial, judges heard accounts from Sierra Leone civilians who had been mutilated by rebels or who had seen their close relatives murdered.
They also heard evidence from supermodel Naomi Campbell, who was questioned about blood diamonds Taylor was accused of having sent to her hotel room.
She described the objects she received as looking like ‘dirty pebbles.’
The court found Taylor provided crucial aid to rebels in Sierra Leone during that country’s 11-year civil war, which left an estimated 50,000 people dead before its conclusion in 2002.
Thousands more were left mutilated in a conflict that became known for its extreme cruelty, as rival rebel groups hacked off the limbs of their victims and carved their groups’ initials into opponents.
The rebels developed gruesome terms for the mutilations, offering victims the choice of ‘long sleeves’ or ‘short sleeves’ – having their hands hacked off or their arms sliced off above the elbow.
Prosecutors said he used the proceeds from so-called blood diamonds mined in the conflict zone to finance Taylor’s activities, which included advising and helping the rebels.
Morris Anyah, Taylor’s lead defence lawyer, complained that Taylor had been prosecuted because of a lack of friends in high places.
Referring to the diplomatic row over action against the regime in Syria, Mr Anyah said: ‘But for two powerful nations, two members of the Security Council – Russia and China – Bashar Assad would have been charged and indicted by the International Criminal Court. That is not happening simply because of political reasons.
‘Had Charles Taylor had as friends any of the five permanent members of the Security Council … this case I dare say would probably not have had the sort of traction it had.’
Because Syria is not a member of the International Criminal Court, only the Security Council asking the court to investigate could trigger jurisdiction there.
And Taylor’s supporters in Liberia remained loyal to the former warlord who was later democratically elected the country’s president.
The very idea of international courts has come under fire across Africa. The ICC has been accused of neo-colonial meddling in Kenya as it pursues cases against its president and deputy president.
‘This is complete international gangsterism,’ said Cyril Allen, former secretary general of Liberia’s National Patriotic Party. ‘The ICC was set up for Africans, to intimidate them and get their resources.’
Taylor’s brother-in-law Arthur Saye said he was not surprised by the verdict.
‘From day one my position has been that the trial of Mr Taylor was orchestrated by the powers that be – the Western powers,’ he told the Associated Press. ‘This was an international conspiracy.’
Several African states are considering withdrawing from the ICC, which has only ever prosecuted Africans.