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Plan welcomes Charles Taylor verdict

30 May 2012: As former Liberian leader Charles Taylor is sentenced today at The Hague to 50 years imprisonment, children rights organisation Plan welcomes the fact that war crimes of this magnitude have finally been brought to justice.

International judges have found former Liberian leader Charles Taylor guilty of aiding and abetting war crimes during the Sierra Leone civil war.

Taylor, 64, has been on trial in The Hague at the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone for almost 5 years.

He was accused of backing rebels who killed tens of thousands during Sierra Leone's civil war between 1991 and 2002.

Crimes against humanity

Taylor was convicted last month of 11 counts of aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity, by supporting rebels in Sierra Leone in return for conflict diamonds. Offences of which he was found guilty included murder, rape, sexual slavery, recruiting child soldiers, enforced amputations and pillage.

The Special Court cannot give out life sentences, but prosecutors had called for him to be given an 80-year prison term. This morning the judge issued him with a sentence for 50 years imprisonment, saying there was no precedent for the sentencing of a former head of state convicted of aiding war crimes.

He is the first former head of state convicted by an international court since the Nuremburg military tribunal of Nazis after World War II.

Children’s rights organisation Plan International works in Sierra Leone to help former child soldiers and civil war survivors recover from the conflict.

Severely traumatised

Adama Coulibaly, West Africa Regional Director for Plan, says: “Many young people in Sierra Leone witnessed their parents being killed; some were pulled into the fighting forces as soldiers or bush wives. Those who experienced this war as children continue to be haunted by its atrocities.

“High numbers of young people in this region are very severely traumatised by the war and end their own lives, so we know that the war crimes are still taking their toll. A recent survey* showed that nearly a third of young people had tried to kill themselves.

“In today’s Sierra Leone, it’s just as much a struggle to survive as a struggle to rebuild democracy and maintain peace in the country. Taylor’s trials in The Hague seem very far away from the reality of people’s actual lives.

“For a region where peace and political stability are extremely fragile, this trial is of important symbolic value, rather than bringing actual redemption to those who suffered during the war.”

*Silent Suffering, The psychosocial impact of war, HIV and other high-risk situations on girls and boys in West and Central Africa (Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cameroon, Burkina Faso and Togo), 2009. Author: Jenny Morgan and Alice Behrendt Editing: Stefanie Conrad.