LEIDSCHENDAM, Netherlands - Convicted war criminal and former Liberian President Charles Taylor said during his sentencing hearing Wednesday that he sympathized with victims of the civil war in Sierra Leone he helped foment, and asked judges to render their sentence against him in a spirit of "reconciliation, not retribution."
He stopped short of admitting any wrongdoing, apologizing for his actions, or expressing remorse.
In a landmark ruling in April, judges at the Special Court for Sierra Leone found Taylor guilty of 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, and conscripting child soldiers. Judges at the U.N.-backed court said his aid was essential in helping rebels in Sierra Leone continue their bloody rampage during the West African nation's decade-long civil war, which ended in 2002 with more than 50,000 dead.
It was the first time a former head of state had been convicted of war crimes since the aftermath of World War II.
Taylor, 64, is to be sentenced May 30, with prosecutors demanding an 80-year prison term and defense lawyers arguing he should be given a sentence that at least leaves him some hope for life after release.
"I express my sadness and deepest sympathy for the atrocities and crimes that were suffered by individuals and families in Sierra Leone," Taylor said. He insisted his actions had been done to help stabilize the region and said he never knowingly assisted in the commission of crimes.
"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."
Judges found Taylor helped the rebels obtain weapons in full knowledge they would likely be used to commit terrible crimes, in exchange for payments of "blood diamonds" often obtained by slave labor.
Taylor fled into exile in Nigeria after being indicted by the court in 2003 and was not arrested for three years. While the Sierra Leone court is formally based in that country's capital, Taylor's trial is in Leidschendam, a suburb of the Hague, for fear that holding it in West Africa could destabilize the region.