- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 30, 2012

LEIDSCHENDAM, Netherlands (AP) — International judges sentenced former Liberian President Charles Taylor to 50 years in prison Wednesday, saying he was responsible for “some of the most heinous and brutal crimes recorded in human history” by arming and supporting Sierra Leone rebels in return for “blood diamonds.”

The 64-year-old warlord-turned-president is the first former head of state convicted by an international war crimes court since World War II, and judges said they had no precedent when deciding his sentence.

Taylor will serve his sentence in a British jail. His lawyers, however, said they will appeal his convictions, likely keeping him in a jail in The Hague for months.

Prosecutor Brenda Hollis also said she was considering an appeal.

“It is important in our view that those responsible for criminal misconduct on a massive scale are not given a volume discount,” Ms. Hollis said.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone convicted Taylor last month on 11 charges of aiding and abetting the rebels who went on a brutal rampage during that country’s decade-long war that ended in 2002 with more than 50,000 dead.

At a small protest outside the court, one man held up a handwritten placard proclaiming: “Blood diamonds are not forever. They come at a cost Taylor.”

Taylor showed no emotion as he stood while Presiding Judge Richard Lussick handed down what was effectively a life sentence.

“The lives of many more innocent civilians in Sierra Leone were lost or destroyed as a direct result of his actions,” Judge Lussick said.

Prosecutors had asked for an 80-year sentence; Taylor’s lawyers urged judges to hand down a sentence that offered him some hope of release before he dies.

Ms. Hollis said the sentence would provide only a measure of closure for victims of one of Africa’s most savage conflicts.

“The sentence that was imposed today does not replace amputated limbs. It does not bring back those who were murdered,” she said. “It does not heal the wounds of those who were victims of sexual violence and does not remove the permanent emotional and psychological and physical scars of those enslaved or recruited as child soldiers.”

Judge Lussick said an 80-year sentence would have been excessive, as Taylor was convicted of aiding and abetting crimes and not direct involvement.

But the judge added that Taylor was “in a class of his own” compared with others convicted by the United Nations-backed court.

“The special status of Mr. Taylor as a head of state puts him in a different category of offenders for the purpose of sentencing,” Judge Lussick said.

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