Finally the victims of Charles Taylor, the “butcher of Liberia”, can get a measure of satisfaction that one of Africa’s most ruthless warlords and dictators will probably die in jail.
The Special Court of Sierra Leone cannot hand down a life sentence, but the 50 years it slapped on ex-President Taylor, 64, is the highest within its mandate.
Given his advanced years, the sentence invariably means Taylor’s chances of leaving jail alive are pretty slim, and so his defence is bound to appeal the sentence on grounds that the court exceeded its mandate. Undoubtedly, such an appeal’s chances of success are virtually zero.
It is instructive that Taylor, a man who hid his psychopathic streak behind a pleasant and decidedly English demeanor, showed no remorse before his sentencing for the grisly crimes for which he was convicted last month.
Defiant to the end, he still hoped to convince the court and the world that the mountain of irrevocable evidence, including first-hand eyewitness accounts, was part of a conspiracy by his former allies in the West.
But it does not matter how long the defence drags out its appeal on the sentence, or even if it succeeds in scoring a pyrrhic victory by having it reduced.
The fact is that a former head of state, who operated like the rule of law did not apply to him, and who, on more than one occasion thumbed his nose up at the world when it expressed horror at his degradation of human dignity has been tried, convicted and sentenced.
It is a chilling warning to Africa’s rulers, elected and imposed, that justice has now gone global and no matter how long it takes, it will catch up with you.
It matters not whether you brand an international court an organ of neo-colonialism or puppet of a conspiracy by your political rivals.
Wednesday’s sentencing is a major victory against the forces of political impunity that straddle Africa, a continent that inspires both hope and utter despair in the same breath.