War Crimes Conviction, Upheld for Former Liberian President Charles Taylor

An international court in the Netherlands upheld former Liberian leader Charles Taylor's conviction for war crimes in Sierra Leone on Thursday, along with the 50-year sentence. He had been found guilty by the Special Court for Sierra Leone in April of last year.

Taylor led Liberia from 1997 to 2003, as a brutal civil war raged on just across the border. Another war, in opposition to Taylor's rule, blossomed in Liberia itself. (Taylor eventually resigned from his position.)

The laundry-list of accusations levied against Taylor, according to CNN, cites "a campaign of terror, involving murder, rape, sexual slavery, looting and the conscription of children younger than 15."

He was also convicted of using Sierra Leone's diamond deposits to help fuel its civil war with arms and guns while enriching himself with what have commonly come to be known as "blood diamonds."

Al-Jazeera reports that the "chilling trademark" of the conflict in Sierra Leone was that rebel factions "would offer their victims the choice of 'long sleeves' or 'short sleeves' — having their hands hacked off or their arms sliced off above the elbow."

Both the prosecution and the defense had appealed the Special Court's initial ruling, with the prosecution arguing for another 30 years to add to Taylor's sentence and his defense claiming, amongst other things, that he was denied his right to a fair trial. The appeals court rejected both claims.

When Taylor was convicted last year, he "was the first former head of state to be convicted of war crimes since the Nuremberg trials," according to CNN.

The conviction was a victory for advocates of international accountability for war crimes, which have historically been difficult to prosecute. The International Criminal Court, for example, which celebrated its tenth birthday last year, has succeeded in getting only one conviction so far: that of Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga. (Others, though, have been prosecuted through special tribunals set up to address particular incidents.)

Former Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo — the country also borders Liberia, to the East — is currently in detention by the International Criminal Court. He is being charged with "murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, other inhumane acts, and persecution," though his trial has been continuously postponed.