In a landmark ruling, judges in The Hague yesterday rejected an appeal by former Liberian president Charles Taylor against his 50-year prison sentence for war crimes.
Taylor (65) listened impassively while the court affirmed his convictions for arming and supporting rebel fighters in neighbouring Sierra Leone during the brutal civil war of the 1990s and early 2000s, in which their signature atrocity was the chopping off of victims' limbs with a machete or an axe.
Taylor – who once compared himself to Jesus Christ – was originally found guilty in May last year of supplying weapons to the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in return for a constant flow of valuable “blood diamonds”, so called because they are mined in a war zone and sold to fund an insurgency.
He was convicted on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, torture and the use of thousands of child soldiers, many as young as seven, to prosecute the war, which lasted from 1991 to 2002 and in which an estimated 50,000 people were killed.
He was the first former head of state to be convicted by an international court since the Nuremburg trials in 1946.
And while the UN's Special Court for Sierra Leone acquitted Taylor of planning atrocities, he was found guilty instead of aiding and abetting the atrocities of the RUF, described by one trial judge as "some of the most heinous crimes in human history".
During that original trial, supermodel Naomi Campbell and actress Mia Farrow gave key evidence about gifts of "dirty" diamonds given by Taylor at a celebrity charity dinner hosted in 1997 by the then South African president, Nelson Mandela.
Significantly, in terms of international law, the ruling goes against an appeals decision by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia last February, in which former Serbian general Momcilo Perisic was acquitted of aiding and abetting war crimes because the prosecution had failed to show that Perisic had “specifically directed” the crimes.
Judges in the Taylor case disagreed. They said the key to culpability in aiding and abetting was that a suspect’s participation encouraged the commission of crimes and had a substantial effect on the crimes being committed, not the manner in which the suspect was actually involved.