Taylor was allowed to directly address the panel of three judges at the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) sitting in The Hague.
The former president complained that from the outset the odds had been against him in court: witnesses had been “paid, threatened and coerced,” he claimed. He painted a picture of a man at the mercy of a larger United States conspiracy to oust and try him.
He expressed his sympathy for the victims of atrocities in Sierra Leone: “I too have suffered pain and sadness”, he said. But he argued that it had been a complicated situation in which he was not always kept informed. “I do not condone impunity in any shape of form,” he told the court, saying that he had punished his own soldiers whenever he had learnt of crimes they had committed.
His lawyers and prosecutors were also each given one-hour to deliver their arguments on the length of the sentence.
Chief Prosecutor Brenda Hollis told the court that they should consider the “massive scale” and the “extreme brutality” of the crimes committed in Sierra Leone.
She stressed Taylor’s position as a planner of the “bloodiest and most vicious chapter” in the war, pointing to the atrocities committed in Kono Makeni and Freetown as part of ‘Operation No Living Thing’ carried out by Sierra Leonean rebels. She dismissed defence attempts to downplay Taylor’s role. He was “critical” and played a “central role” to carrying out the atrocities, she said.
She also argued that the judges also had to take into account previous sentencing policy at the court, in which one rebel leader was sentenced to 50 years.
Hollis reiterated that to “truly promote an end to impunity” the judges should impose the maximum sentence the prosecution had earlier called for - 80 years.
Courtenay Griffiths, head of the defence team, reiterated earlier arguments that Taylor was the victim of “selective and vindictive” justice.
He also sought to undermine the prosecution’s contention that Charles Taylor was a key figure or main planner in the violence in Sierra Leone. He said the defence was not contesting the events, but Taylor played “a more modest role” said Griffiths. When asked about the 50-year sentence for a rebel leader, Griffiths said Charles Taylor was in a completely different position.
In mitigating factors, Griffiths pointed out that Taylor’s crimes were mainly committed in a relatively short period during the civil war, that Taylor was a key player in the peace process in Sierra Leone and that he had voluntarily stepped down from power in order to save his country from more atrocities.
To sentence him to 80 years would in effect be “a life sentence” he argued.
Taylor was convicted on 26 April 2012 on all 11 counts of an indictment alleging war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international humanitarian law.
The judges found that he had aided and abetted crimes committed by Sierra Leonean rebels by providing arms and ammunition, military personnel, operational support and moral support.
The sentencing judgment will be delivered on Wednesday, 30 May 2012.