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(New York) – The sentencing of Charles Taylor to 50 years in prison on May 30, 2012 by the Special Court for Sierra Leone is a landmark in ensuring justice for the victims of Sierra Leone's brutal armed conflict, Human Rights Watch said today.

“Crucial in the sentencing was the court’s finding that Charles Taylor's position as head of state was an aggravating factor,” said Elise Keppler, international justice senior counsel at Human Rights Watch. “This sends a strong signal that the world is increasingly intolerant of leaders who exploit their positions of power to commit serious crimes in violation of international law.”

Taylor was convicted on April 26, 2012 of planning, aiding, and abetting the commission of all 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the indictment against him.

At sentencing, the Trial Chamber focused on the impact of the crimes on victims. The presiding judge, Richard Lussick, said that Taylor "has been convicted of aiding and abetting some of the most brutal and heinous crimes in human history," which impacted thousands of victims "physically, psychologically, and emotionally" and caused them to suffer "irreparable alienation from their communities."

Judge Lussick said that in the jurisprudence of the Special Court, aiding and abetting is considered a lesser form of culpability than direct commission of crimes. However, he said, a higher sentence was justified because Taylor abused his leadership positions and "betrayed public confidence" ­– both as a participant in the peace talks and as president of Liberia – to fuel the conflict in Sierra Leone and exploit it for personal gain.

Human Rights Watch documented violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the armed conflict in Sierra Leone and has closely followed the work of the Special Court for Sierra Leone since its inception, including producing two reports on its operations. A Human Rights Watch report on the Taylor trial and its early impact, based on interviews conducted at the court and in Liberia and Sierra Leone in 2011 and 2012, will be released in the coming months. 


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