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Former Liberian leader Charles Taylor sentenced to 50 years in prison (+video)

An international court proceeding ended Wednesday with the sentencing of Taylor, who was convicted of aiding and abetting numerous war crimes in Sierra Leone.

The chief justice in the Special Court for Sierre Leone hands down the sentence to former Liberian President Charles Taylor.
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Former Liberian President Charles Taylor was jailed for 50 years on Wednesday for helping Sierra Leonean rebels commit what a court in The Hague called some of the worst war crimes in history.

Taylor, 64, was the first head of state convicted by an international court since the Nazi trials after World War Two and the sentence set a precedent for the emerging system of international justice.

In an 11-year war that ended in 2002, Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front rebels murdered, raped and mutilated their way across Liberia's West African neighbor, helped by Taylor as he profited from a trade in so-called blood diamonds.

"He was found responsible for aiding and abetting some of the most heinous and brutal crimes in recorded history," said the Special Court for Sierra Leone's presiding judge Richard Lussick, emphazising that the world was "entering a new era of accountability."

Although shorter than the 80 years that prosecutors had sought, the sentence set a precedent for an international justice system aimed at deterring future war crimes. The court rejected all the defense's appeals for leniency.

"It is really significant that Taylor's status as a former head of state was taken as an aggravating factor as far as his sentence was concerned," said Geraldine Mattioli-Zeltner of Human Rights Watch.

"That is a very important precedent and I hope that Syria's Bashar al-Assad and Sudan's Omar Hassan al-Bashir take note."

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