Charles Taylor Tells Court: ‘I Sympathize with Victims of Sierra Leone Civil War’

Posted May 16th, 2012 at 5:05 pm (UTC-5)
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Former Liberian president Charles Taylor told judges at his sentencing hearing Wednesday in the Netherlands he has “deepest sympathies” for those who suffered during Sierra Leone's brutal, decade-long civil war.

But Taylor stopped short of admitting any wrongdoing or apologizing for atrocities committed by rebels he armed in exchange for so-called “blood diamonds,” mined in eastern Sierra Leone.

Taylor told the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague that his actions during the bloody conflict were “done with honor” to bring peace to Sierra Leone. Taylor said he was “convinced that unless there was peace in Sierra Leone, Liberia would not be able to more forward.”

The 64-year-old former president, who was convicted last month on 11 counts of crimes against humanity — including acts of terrorism, murder, rape and the recruitment of child soldiers — appealed for leniency. The court said that although Taylor did not have command and control of the rebels, he was aware of their activities and provided them with weapons and other supplies.

Prosecutors are demanding an 80-year prison term. But Taylor's attorneys have argued that such a long sentence would be overly harsh and place too much blame on him.

The sentencing is scheduled for May 30.

During his remarks Wednesday, Taylor also accused the prosecution of paying witnesses to testify against him and accused the court of being part of a Western conspiracy against him and other black Africans.

Taylor is the first African head of state to be brought before an international tribunal to face charges for mass atrocities and violations of international humanitarian law.