Charles Taylor convicted

The UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone convicted former President of Liberia Charles Taylor for crimes against humanity committed during the Sierra Leone civil war. He was found guilty of 11 counts including rape and murder. Taylor was a supporter of the Revolutionary United Front rebel group who are responsible for the deaths of thousands of people. According to Prosecutors Taylor planned the bloodiest part of the war in Sierra Leone, the so-called Freetown invasion. Testimony provided by Alimamy Bobson Sesay, a former com commander of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council, sheds light on some of the atrocities committed during the invasion. They include:

• Shooting of civilians, looting of civilian property

• Burning down of the Central Police Station along with another station

• Rape of girls as young as 8, with the most common age being around 15

• Burning down of civilians homes with the civilians trapped inside

• Declaring a large area of Freetown to be a death zone – anyone in the area must be killed

As claimed by the prosecution, Taylor was instrumental in supporting rebel strategies of “murders, rapes, sexual slavery, looting, child soldiers and other forms of physical violence and acts of terror” and an 80 year sentence would indicate the severity of the crimes and Taylors role as catalyst.

Reaction to the conviction has received mixed opinion in Liberia and the West. The Senator of Nimba County Prince Johnson, himself a former rebel leader, has stated

“Charles Taylor is a kind-hearted and very generous man. We all need to forgive him and pray for him while we await his sentence. They accused him of bearing the full responsibility of whatever happened in Sierra Leone, but, to the greatest surprise of the whole world, after trying him for five years, he was convicted for only aiding and abetting, which I see lesser than what they accused him of.”

Indeed some of the people of Liberia share his views with signs like “Ellen is a evil. Bush is a evil. Obasanjo is a evil. Tejan Kaba is a evil. Obama is a evil. All enemies of Taylor are evil.” others are harshy critical. Nevertheless the ruling is sure to spark debate, Tamasin Ford a writer for the Guardian, writes

“Most callers in Liberian radio stations are declaring Taylor’s innocence, angry he’s on trial for another country’s war. The thousands of UN agency staff and foreign NGO staff in the country have been told to work from home today, in case the verdict sparks trouble.”

Taylor is the first former head of state to be convicted by an international court since the Nuremburg trials following WWII. Taylors’ sentence is expected to be handed down on the 30th of May, with a hearing held two weeks before. Taylor retains the right to appeal the ruling, if he loses the appeal he is expected to serve his sentence in a British prison.


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