AP Photo/Toussaint Kluiters
Former Liberian President Charles Taylor waits for the start of his sentencing judgement in the courtroom of the Special Court for Sierra Leone(SCSL) in Leidschendam, near The Hague, Netherlands.
The thing that strikes me the most about the above photo is Charles Taylor's cuff links. Golden and in the shape of the continent of Africa, one might take that to be a bold accessory for a man who's about to be sentenced in an international court for war crimes ranging from slavery to murder to rape to the use of child soldiers -- all in his native Liberia and neighboring Sierra Leone. (You may have been spurred on to find out more about Taylor's crimes after hearing Kanye West not mention them in the lyrics of a song called "Diamonds from Sierra Leone." Nice video, though.)
Taylor is the former Liberian war criminal who seized the presidency in that African nation in the late nineties, and who in April became the first head of state convicted of war crimes in an international court since Nazis at the Nuremberg trials. (Melissa broke down his conviction on April 29 in a Teachable Moment, which you can see below.)
Presiding Judge Richard Lussick says the crimes Taylor was convicted of were of the "utmost gravity in terms of scale and brutality."
"The lives of many more innocent civilians in Sierra Leone were lost or destroyed as a direct result of his actions," Lussick said.
Taylor showed no emotion as Lussick handed down what will effectively be a life sentence.
Taylor's lack of emotion speaks volumes, as loudly as his bright gold Africa cuff links. In fact, he still doesn't think he did anything wrong. From the New York Times report:
Mr. Taylor did not speak at the sentencing on Wednesday, but in a hearing earlier this month he offered his sympathy – but not an apology – to the victims and their families for a gruesome conflict that left an estimated 50,000 dead. "I express my sadness and sympathy for crimes suffered by individuals and families in Sierra Leone," Mr. Taylor said during a roughly 30-minute address to the court.
But he also defended himself and seemed to explain his actions in the context of a desire for regional stability. "What I did was done with honor," he said. "I was convinced that unless there was peace in Sierra Leone, Liberia would not be able to move forward."
We can brand Taylor as a warlord, a political animal, and a monster. This sentence may certainly be welcome news to those still in Sierra Leone and Liberia living with the pain, and it may be difficult to grasp how words or gestures from Taylor could have made any restitution for the thousands of lives he and his men destroyed. Frankly, given the lack of remorse and plentiful helping of self-justification that Taylor has offered for his actions thus far, I'm somewhat surprised those cuff links weren't made out of Sierra Leone blood diamonds.
What cases like this remind us of is not only an inherent human desire for justice, but also the inclination of many to demand regret and repentance from those that commit injustices. Charles Taylor, for whatever reason, will not allow the world to have the satisfaction of the latter.