Liberian warlord Taylor faces Hague sentencing
Liberian warlord Charles Taylor will be sentenced for war crimes by a special UN court tomorrow, after being found guilty of arming Sierra Leone rebels in return for "blood diamonds".
The hearing at 9am before judges of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, situated just outside The Hague in The Netherlands, will be the first time a former head of state is sentenced by a world court since the Nazi trials at Nuremberg in 1946.
Brenda Hollis, the tribunal's chief prosecutor, earlier this month argued for an 80-year prison sentence for Taylor, once one of the most powerful men in west Africa and a driving force behind Sierra Leone's brutal 1991-2001 civil war.
The former Liberian president was convicted on April 26 on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for aiding and abetting Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front rebels and their allies during the war, in which 120000 lives were lost.
In return, the court said, Taylor was paid in diamonds mined by slave labour in areas under the control of rebels who murdered, raped and kept sex slaves while hacking off limbs and forcing children under 15 to fight for them.
Should Taylor, 64, get jail time, it will be served in a British prison. The court's judges cannot impose a life sentence, only a specific number of years.
"The gravity of the crimes is the litmus test" on how they should determine a sentence, Hollis told judges two weeks ago as she presented arguments ahead of the sentencing.
Taylor's lawyer, Courtenay Griffiths, told the court the 80 years sought by the prosecution in effect amounted to a life sentence.
"To sentence a 64-year-old man to 80 years is a guarantee that he will die in prison," Griffiths said at the same May 16 hearing.
He argued that Taylor, Liberia's president from 1997 to 2003, was instrumental in efforts to bring an end to Sierra Leone's war.
In perhaps his last stand before a world audience, a bespectacled Taylor expressed his "sadness and deepest sympathy for the atrocities and crimes suffered by individuals and families in Sierra Leone". But he told judges he was not responsible for the crimes committed by rebel forces and blamed "politics" and the US for his eventual removal from west Africa to face prosecution.
Both sides will have two weeks after sentencing to file an appeal.
Taylor's trial, which lasted nearly four years, wrapped up in March this year at the court, based in the leafy Leidschendam suburb a few kilometres outside the city.