Charles Taylor Sentencing A Step In The Right Direction
Convicted last month for supporting a rebel movement responsible for hundreds of thousands of brutal atrocities in Sierra Leone, Charles Taylor received his sentencing last Wednesday. The ex-Liberian president was sentenced to 50 years in prison for his involvement in the Sierra Leone conflict, which spanned a decade and left over 50,000 dead when it finally concluded in 2002.
Given that Taylor is in his sixties, a sentence of this length effectively guarantees he will die in prison. It seems that this sentence concludes a rare episode of good fortune, which began with his conviction: justice has been served for heinous crimes against humanity.
The prosecution, however, would have been happier to see an 80-year sentence. While, again, Taylor's age leaves little practical difference between the two, prosecutors found the symbolic difference enormous.
Prosecutor Brenda Hollis, in an appeal for the longer sentence, detailed the gruesome crimes to which Taylor is supposed to have led his support. She wrote:
“The purposely cruel and savage crimes committed included public executions and amputations of civilians, the display of decapitated heads at checkpoints, the killing and public disembowelment of a civilian whose intestines were then stretched across the road to make a check point, public rapes of women and girls, and people burned alive in their homes."
However, while judges did rule that Taylor armed and supplied the rebels in full knowledge that they would likely use the weapons to commit terrible crimes, they determined that an 80-year sentence would be excessive because Taylor had been convicted only of aiding, not of committing, these crimes.
Despite the disappointment of the prosecutors, Taylor's sentence is thankfully not lenient, by any means. And it still carries a significant symbolic weight. It sends a message to both perpetrators of crimes against humanity and their victims that the world will not completely ignore atrocities. It reminds perpetrators that a decade of inaction does not mean they are in the clear: justice will still be pursued by those who care enough to see it carried out. And it promises a genuine punishment for these perpetrators: the complete surrender of a life to a prison sentence rather than a slap-on-the-wrist reprimand like a shorter prison stay or the stripping of titles or privileges.
Taylor's conviction was a victory for supporters of human rights worldwide, and his sentencing was another step on the path toward developing a more conscientious international community. If the investigative and judicial resources employed in the Taylor case can be both increased and reproduced on a global scale, then perhaps we can see justice served for the many other humanitarian crises we have seen in the past two decades.
Because Sierra Leone is unfortunately just the tip of the iceberg.
Reach Contributor Francesca Bessey here.