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Rights group welcomes Taylor ruling

Human rights groups have welcomed the sentencing of Former Liberian President Charles Taylor.

A tv grab released by the Special Court for Sierra Leone shows Liberian ex-president Charles Taylor listening to judgement in his case. Picture: AFP

JOHANNESBURG - Former Liberian President Charles Taylor's sentencing sets an important precedent in the prosecution of heads of state, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.

The group said the ruling shows that tyrants are not above the law.

Earlier on Wednesday, Taylor was sentenced to 50 years in prison at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

This after the court found him guilty of supporting rebels in neighbouring Sierra Leone.

His aiding and abetting of rebels resulted in the murder and mutilation of 50,000 people during the country's civil war.

Human Rights Watch's Geraldine Mattioli-Zeltner said it was the first time the ICC reached a verdict in relation to a former head of state.

She said it was particularly important that the presiding judge found that Taylor bore "special responsibility" for the atrocities.

Mattioli-Zeltner said the former president betrayed the trust of the people and that was an aggravating factor.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) handed down the sentence much to the dismay of political activists, who wanted Taylor to be sentenced to life imprisonment.

But the SCSL said it was not authorised to issue life sentences.

Taylor was charged on 11 counts of aiding and abetting rebels in return for shipments of so-called "black diamonds".

Charges included murder, rape, sexual slavery, recruiting child soldiers, enforced amputations and pillage.

He will likely serve out his sentence in a British prison after that country indicated it was willing to facilitate him.

The civil war ran between 1991 and 2002.

Taylor armed rebels who followed through with what is dubbed as "the most atrocious civil war on the African continent".