African warlord Charles Taylor was sentenced to prison for 50 years today for "using so-called "blood diamonds" to fund rebels in Sierra Leone who killed and mutilated tens of thousands during that country's civil war.
The presiding judge at the Special Court for Sierra Leone in the Hague said the lengthy sentence was justified because the former Liberian president had "aid[ed] and abet[ed], as well as plan[ed], some of the most heinous and brutal crimes recorded in human history."
After a five-year trial that included grisly testimony from victims who were missing limbs, former colleagues and even fashion supermodel Naomi Campbell, Taylor was convicted in April on 11 war crimes charges that included murder, rape and torture.
Prosecutors had asked that the U.N.-backed court sentence Taylor, who is now 64, to 80 years, and said they may appeal the shorter sentence. Taylor's lawyers, meanwhile, said they too will appeal. Taylor, currently held in the Netherlands, will serve his sentence in a British prison.
Campbell was subpoenaed by the international tribunal following an ABC News report about allegations that Taylor had given her uncut "blood diamonds" on a 1997 trip to South Africa.
In August 2010, Campbell took the stand and admitted she received diamonds from men she believed to be representatives from Taylor.
After Campbell's testimony, uncut diamonds were ultimately recovered from Jeremy Ractliffe, an officer of Nelson Mandela's childrens' charity, who said that Campbell gave him the gems after receiving them in 1997. Taylor was charged with using "blood diamonds" to buy weapons for rebels in Sierra Leone, where civil war raged during the 1990s.
Peter Andersen, a spokesperson for the Special Court of Sierra Leone where Taylor was tried, told ABC News the conviction was not a full victory for the prosecution, who hoped Taylor would be found guilty of being part of a "joint criminal enterprise" and having a direct hand in the atrocities as "superior leader" of the groups who committed them. Still, Andersen said the ruling -- the first against an African head of state -- was important to the people of Sierra Leone.
"It's why we're here, trying to redress some of the crimes that were committed in Sierra Leone a decade ago," Andersen said. "I don't know if you can talk about closure, especially with people who have had their limbs hacked off, but at least you can talk about some steps towards reconciliation and at least attempt to put the past behind them and look towards the future."
The original indictment filed against Taylor detailed specific crimes conducted by Taylor's subordinates including "conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 15 years into armed forces or groups" and multiple instances of mass rape and sexual abuse. Taylor's defense had argued that though the atrocities certainly did take place, there was only circumstantial evidence linking Taylor directly to the acts.
After the special court indicted him in 2003, Taylor stepped down as president of Liberia and went into exile in Nigeria. Taylor was arrested trying to cross the border into Cameroon in 2006 and then transported via Liberia to Sierra Leone. After the British government agreed to take responsibility for incarcerating Taylor in the event of his conviction, the U.N. Security Council agreed to send Taylor to The Hague.