arles Taylor, the first African leader to stand trial and be convicted of war crimes, has told judges that he and his family are also victims of the wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The former Liberian president insisted he should bear no responsibility for atrocities committed during Sierra Leone’s 11-year civil war.
Taylor was addressing the court in the Hague, effectively pleading for his life by rejecting the prosecution’s demand for an 80-year sentence in one of Britain’s maximum security jails.
He said he had sympathy for victims of the war but stopped short of apologising or expressing remorse.
Money has prejudiced my rights and interests in an irreparable way. The prosecution has received millions of dollars from the US government. The prosecution has never properly accounted for how this money was spent.
“I express my sadness and sympathy for crimes suffered by individuals and families in Sierra Leone,” he said.
He was allowed a strict 30 minutes to address the court.
Taylor was found guilty last month of arming and aiding rebels who killed and mutilated thousands in neighbouring Sierra Leone during a brutal civil war which went on for more than a decade.
He is the first head of state to be convicted by an international tribunal since the Nazi trials at Nuremberg.
He was convicted of eleven counts of murder, rape, conscripting child soldiers and sexual slavery during the civil war in Sierra Leone.
More than 120,000 people were killed.
But the former leader told the judges: “I was trying to bring peace to Sierra Leone.”
When arguing he should not serve the 80 years the prosecution are calling for, he said: “I am no threat to society.”
Taylor was accused of helping rebel group, the Revolutionary United Front to conduct a campaign of terror in neighbouring Sierra Leone.
In return he was paid in “blood diamonds” during the conflict in the 1990s.
But he and his lawyer are arguing he cannot be held responsible for what happened there.
“Terrible things happened in Sierra Leone and there can be no justification for these crimes,” Taylor told the court. “During the war, I punished people for those crimes.”
He went on: “Money has prejudiced my rights and interests in an irreparable way. The prosecution has received millions of dollars from the US government. The prosecution has never properly accounted for how this money was spent.”
We saw horrendous massacres and the results of a campaign of mutilation where hands, legs and arms were cut off by militia groups roaming though the diamond lands determined to take control.
Sky’s Stuart Ramsay recalls being in Liberia in 2003
He accused the prosecution team of paying witnesses, coercing and threatening them with persecution if they didn’t co-operate and give statements.
He said that because of politics behind the scenes, “I never stood a chance”.
Earlier, Taylor’s lawyer Courtenay Griffiths told the judges that Tony Blair had supported the pro-government forces in Sierra Leone who had gone onto to become involved in rapes and crimes.
“What is the difference between Blair and Taylor in this regard?,” Mr Griffiths asked the tribunal.
Taylor’s lawyers are arguing his conviction was for enabling rather than ordering the crimes – and his sentence should give him hope of eventual release.
The former leader was addressing the special court in The Hague at a hearing before his sentencing on May 30.
He is expected to take up his right to appeal after sentencing.
- Sky News