FREETOWN, LIBERIA — A U.N.-backed special court in The Hague has upheld the conviction and sentencing of former Liberian president Charles Taylor. Taylor had appealed the court's ruling that he is guilty of arming and aiding rebels in Sierra Leone during that country's civil war, which killed 50,000 people. The ruling means his 50-year prison sentence will stand.
Sierra Leoneans listened to a live broadcast of the appeal verdict Thursday at offices of the court in the capital, Freetown.
Hassan Barrie was a victim of Sierra Leone's civil war. During the conflict, which ran from 1991 to 2002, rebel fighters would often cut off people's limbs. Barrie was fortunate he didn't lose any limbs, but he still suffered. Rebels captured and beat him, injuring his leg permanently. He now walks with crutches. Despite the trauma of war, Barrie is pleased with Taylor's long sentence.
"During the war, I suffered, I suffered a lot but praise to God, I'm alive," he said.
One of the rebel groups Taylor helped to arm and plot attacks was the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). The group pushed child soldiers into combat by giving them drugs and alcohol. Rebels also raped thousands of women and young girls, many who were forced into becoming sex slaves.
Kabba Kargbo, who was recruited as a child soldier, said the 50-year sentence is too light.
"The sentence is not harsh because our feeling back here when we were involved in the war, was not our own making, because people forced us to go, to be child soldiers," Kargbo said.
Taylor's lawyers had appealed his sentence on 42 grounds, essentially saying that he knew nothing about the war crimes. The prosecution also appealed, arguing that Taylor's sentence was too short.
The appeals chamber stated Thursday his convictions have been proved beyond doubt.
Some people who came out to the special court in Freetown were so young during the war they do not really remember it, like Susan Yamson, who is now 17 years old.
Yamson said sometimes she cannot believe all that happened to her country.
"We're all humans," she said. We should not treat each over as slaves."
The Special Court in Sierra Leone held trials for other rebel groups involved in Sierra Leone's civil war, but Taylor's trial was moved to The Hague for security reasons.
Now that all the trials are over, one part of the court building in Freetown will be turned into a peace museum. It is currently used to house local female prisoners.
The rest of the court building may be used by Sierra Leone's Supreme Court.