Former Liberian president Charles Taylor was yesterday sentenced to 50 years in jail by the Special Court for Sierra Leone at The Hague in the Netherlands.
He is the first former head of state to be convicted for war crimes since World War II. Prosecutors had demanded 80 years.
The ruling was met with mixed reactions in Zimbabwe where Zanu PF condemned it as an attack on African leaders while the MDC formations said it was a warning to like-minded leaders in Africa.
Taylor was found guilty on 11 counts of murder, rape, sexual slavery, recruiting child soldiers, enforced amputations and pillage.
Last month, the court found him guilty of supporting rebels between 1996 and 2002 in return for conflict diamonds from Sierra Leone, leading to the death of 50 000 people.
Reading out the sentence, presiding judge Richard Lussick said: “He was found responsible for aiding and abetting some of the most heinous and brutal crimes in recorded history.
“Leadership must be carried out by example by the prosecution of crimes, not the commission of crimes.”
The sentence is intended to “underscore the gravity it attached to the betrayal of public trust”.
Reacting from Sierra Leone, Deputy Minister of Information Sheka Tarawalie said: “Today the people of Sierra Leone, the victims, and ordinary observers inside and outside the country would believe that some kind of justice has been done.”
Zanu PF said Taylor’s trial was a strategy by European and Western countries to “humiliate, denigrate and condemn African leaders”.
“It is disputable,” Zanu PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo said. “It’s a well-orchestrated strategy by the European countries and the West to humiliate, denigrate and condemn African leaders. It’s not in keeping with so-called human rights.
“It’s absolutely out of line but they are trying to humiliate African leaders by sentencing him.
“He is from an independent African country and they don’t respect the sovereignty and independence of African countries.”
But MDC-T national spokesperson Douglas Mwonzora said Taylor’s jailing served as “a reminder to the dictators of Africa that the long arm of the law will reach them”.
“MDC looks from the point of view of the victims of the crimes that were unleashed by Taylor and his regime.
“This sentence, therefore, represents justice on the part of the victims although it will not replace their loved ones or their lost limbs.
“It is nevertheless a triumph of justice over evil. This serves as a reminder to the dictators of Africa that the long arm of the law will reach them. It’s a splendid development and has to be hailed by all right-thinking members of society.”
MDC deputy spokesperson Kurauone Chihwai described the ruling as a warning against use of State apparatus to suppress citizens.
Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn interim secretary for international relations Brian Mubariki said: “We welcome the verdict and the objective of sentencing that was largely based upon retribution and deterrence. This should clearly give a vivid red light to other such leaders that they will be tried in the courts of law for their actions.”
Political analyst Charles Mangongera said the ruling sent a clear message that everybody caught on the wrong side of the law would be found and put to justice no matter how much they tried to run.
“We are living in the global world where the quest for human rights knows no boundary. So people cannot abuse others under the guise of national integrity,” Mangongera said.
“It also then raises questions that if you listen to the defence by those perpetrators of human rights violations, they hide behind the notion that the court is a Western institution meant to embarrass and punish African leaders.
“We need to look at this in the context of how in global politics, the issue of human rights violations has to be universalised and shouldn’t be seen as happening to only African leaders and those from the Third world countries,” Mangongera said.
The sentence was broadcast live on CNN.