FREETOWN: Victims of the bloody regime of Liberian warlord Charles Taylor spoke of their relief after his 50-year jail term for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone was upheld by an international court on Thursday.
The final verdict handed down by the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) draws a line under a seven-year trial of the 65-year-old former Liberian president, sentenced in May last year for “some of the most heinous crimes in human history”.
“As a government, we believe that justice has been done and impunity is over,” Sierra Leone government spokesman Abdulai Bayraytay told AFP.
“The message for sitting heads of state not only in Africa but beyond is that when you are in power you must exercise it judiciously, have respect for the rule of law and human rights and uphold the dignity of others.”
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.
For Sullay Turay, who lost a hand and a foot to Taylor-backed rebels, the outcome “showed that no matter what you do, justice will finally catch up with you and this is what has happened in Taylor’s case.”
The former warlord, who was jailed initially for 50 years for arming rebels during Sierra Leone’s brutal 1990s civil war, is likely to spend the rest of his life behind bars, possibly in a British jail.
He sparked a 13-year civil war in his own country when he led a rebellion in 1989 to oust President Samuel Doe which deteriorated into one of Africa’s bloodiest conflicts.
His National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) earned a reputation for extreme violence, conscripting child soldiers and terrorising citizens of certain ethnic groups.
After taking Monrovia, Taylor was elected president in 1997, but violence again erupted in 1999 when another rebellion started and he lost control of much of the country, fleeing in 2003 to Nigeria.
The conflicts resulted in 270,000 deaths, with many civilians displaced and several thousand becoming victims of atrocities, according to the United Nations.
As Liberia’s president from 1997 to 2003, Taylor supported Revolutionary United Front rebels in neighbouring Sierra Leone by supplying them with guns and ammunition as they waged a campaign of terror during a civil war that claimed 120,000 lives between 1991 and 2002.
‘Let Taylor rot in jail’
He was finally arrested and transferred to The Hague in 2006, where he was convicted in 2012 of aiding and abetting the rebels during the conflict, known for its mutilations, drugged child soldiers and sex slaves, trial judges found.
“Full justice has now been done and the victims should move on with their lives. The violations they suffered have been addressed through the judicial process,” said Ibrahim Tommy, chairman of the Centre for Accountability and the Rule of Law campaign group.
“The government now should work to strengthen the justice system and work for the socio-economic prosperity of the victims.”
Some victims of the conflict remain bitter and voiced frustration that Taylor had not received the 80-year sentence requested by the prosecution.
“Let Taylor rot in jail. I only wish he would have served his sentence in an African prison to suffer the more,” said Freetown taxi driver Andrew Lebbie.
But there was also a note of reconciliation among the crowd gathered for the ruling in Freetown.
“Forgiveness is all I would ask for. The court should have tempered justice with mercy,” said vicar Sam Fergusson.
Taylor has only ever been tried for his part in Sierra Leone’s bloody history and Amnesty International called for justice for the Liberian people for human rights violations and war crimes committed during its own conflict.
“All parties to the conflict committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murders, torture, rape and other crimes of sexual violence, abductions, and the recruitment and use of child soldiers,” said Stephanie Barbour, head of Amnesty’s Centre for International Justice in The Hague.
The Liberian government welcomed the verdict.
“We hope that as he serves his jail sentence he will be treated in line with the law,” said deputy information minister Isaac Jackson.