LEIDSCHENDAM, Netherlands — Convicted war criminal and former Liberian president Charles Taylor said during his sentencing hearing Wednesday that he sympathizes with victims of the civil war in Sierra Leone he helped foment, and he asked judges to render their sentence against him in a spirit of “reconciliation, not retribution.’’
However, he stopped short of admitting any wrongdoing, apologizing for his actions, or expressing remorse.
In a landmark ruling in April, judges at the Special Court for Sierra Leone found Taylor guilty of 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, and conscripting child soldiers. Judges at the UN-backed court said his aid was essential in helping rebels in Sierra Leone continue their bloody rampage during the West African nation’s decadelong civil war, which ended in 2002 with more than 50,000 dead.
It was the first time a former head of state had been convicted of war crimes since the aftermath of World War II.
Taylor is to be sentenced on May 30, with prosecutors demanding an 80-year prison term.
“I express my sadness and deepest sympathy for the atrocities and crimes that were suffered by individuals and families in Sierra Leone,’’ Taylor said. He insisted his actions had actually been done to help stabilize the region.
Judges found Taylor helped the rebels obtain weapons in full knowledge they would probably be used to commit terrible crimes, and that he did so in exchange for payments of “blood diamonds’’ often obtained by slave labor.
Prosecutors said there was no reason for leniency, given the extreme nature of the crimes, Taylor’s “greed,’’ and his misuse of his position of power. “The purposely cruel and savage crimes committed included public executions and amputations of civilians, the display of decapitated heads at checkpoints, the killing and public disembowelment of a civilian whose intestines were then stretched across the road to make a checkpoint, public rapes of women and girls, and people burned alive in their homes,’’ wrote prosecutor Brenda Hollis in a prehearing brief.