Former Liberian president seeking to overturn 50-year sentence as prosecution argues 'lords of war' should be held accountable
Prosecutors urged international judges on Tuesday to reject former Liberian president Charles Taylor's appeal against his war crimes conviction and 50-year prison sentence, saying courts should hold "lords of war" responsible for sponsoring atrocities as the machete- or machine gun-wielding killers they support.
Taylor was found guilty in April last year of aiding and abetting Sierra Leone rebels, becoming the first former head of state since the second world war to be convicted by an international war crimes court.
Taylor's lawyers have put forward 45 grounds of appeal against his conviction and sentence, while prosecutors argue the special court for Sierra Leone should have found Taylor guilty of ordering and instigating crimes.
Prosecution lawyer Nicholas Koumjian said Taylor's lawyers want to water down years of international jurisprudence with their argument that he should not be convicted of aiding and abetting atrocities because greed for diamonds and not blood lust led him to support rebels responsible for murdering and mutilating their enemies in Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war, which ended in 2002 with 50,000 dead.
Prosecutors want Taylor's 50-year sentence – effectively a life sentence for the 64-year-old former president – raised to 80 years to send a message to leaders who facilitate atrocities.
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"Those are the promoters of war, the lords of war that sell arms to groups engaged in these conflicts," he said.
Koumjian's comments aimed at countering Taylor's arguments that he should not have been convicted because his support for rebels was not deliberately aimed at having them kill and maim.
Taylor's lawyers were due to speak on Tuesday afternoon, when they will argue that his conviction was based in part on uncorroborated hearsay evidence that should not have been admitted by trial judges and that his support for rebels was not intended to facilitate their atrocities.
Taylor was in court but did not make any comments.
Judges last year found Taylor guilty of 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, torture and the use of child soldiers.
"The lives of many more innocent civilians in Sierra Leone were lost or destroyed as a direct result of his actions," presiding judge Richard Lussick said.