Judges Sentence Charles Taylor to 50 Years for ‘Blood Diamonds’

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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.

Taylor's lead attorney, Courtenay Griffiths, criticized the court for refusing while setting Taylor's sentence to take into account his decision to step down from power following his indictment in 2003. Griffiths said that sends a worrying message against the backdrop of ongoing atrocities allegedly being committed by Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces.

"What lesson does that send to President Assad?" Griffiths said. "Maybe the lesson is: If you are a sitting leader and the international community wants to get rid of you, either you get murdered like Col. Gadhafi, or you hang on until the bitter end. I'm not so sure that's the signal this court ought to be transmitting at this particular historical juncture."

Griffiths said Africans should use Taylor's conviction as a starting point to campaign for justice for themselves.

"Justice isn't something which Africans should obtain, exported to them from abroad by the white man, the civilizing force," he said.

His comments appeared to be aimed not only at Taylor's trial, but also at the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal, the International Criminal Court, which has been in operation for 10 years and has so far launched prosecutions only in Africa, including in Sudan, Congo, Libya and Ivory Coast.

At a sentencing hearing earlier this month, Taylor expressed "deepest sympathy" for the suffering of victims of atrocities in Sierra Leone, but insisted he had acted to help stabilize the West Africa region and claimed he never knowingly assisted in the commission of crimes.

Judges rejected that argument, saying that while he posed as a peacemaker he was covertly fanning the flames of conflict by arming rebels.

Taylor stepped down and fled into exile in Nigeria after being indicted by the court in 2003. He was finally arrested and sent to the Netherlands in 2006.

While the Sierra Leone court is based in that country's capital, Freetown, Taylor's trial is being staged in Leidschendam, a suburb of The Hague, for fear holding it in West Africa could destabilize the region.

Mark Ellis, the executive director of legal group The International Bar Association, said the verdict and sentence should act as a deterrent — in time.

"So far in the recent history of these courts doesn't suggest that these courts are a deterrent yet. But that is the hope that eventually they will be," he said.

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