JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Former Liberian President Charles Taylor will likely spend the rest of his life in prison after a U.N.-backed court sentenced him to 50 years for aiding and abetting war crimes.
Taylor, 64, is the first former head of state to be convicted by an international court for war crimes since the Nuremberg trials of Nazi leaders that followed World War II.
He was found guilty of helping plan war crimes with Revolutionary United Front rebels in Sierra Leone, trading arms with them in return for so-called blood diamonds. During their 1991-2002 reign of terror, the rebels were known for amputating limbs, raping women and girls, recruiting and using child soldiers, and forcing girls and women to become sex slaves.
Taylor was convicted in April on 11 counts, including terrorism, murder, rape, sexual slavery, outrages on personal dignity, conscripting child soldiers, enslavement and pillage. He will serve his prison term in Britain.
Pronouncing sentence in the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague, Judge Richard Lussick said Taylor had never set foot in Sierra Leone but had left a heavy footprint there.
"The accused has been found responsible for aiding and abetting, as well as planning, some of the most heinous and brutal crimes recorded in human history," the judge said.
Courtenay Griffiths, one of the defense attorneys, said the sentence in effect meant Taylor would die in prison. His legal team plans to appeal the sentence as excessive.
Taylor's conviction has been hailed by human rights groups as a sign that heads of state cannot escape prosecution for crimes against humanity.