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Liberians Await Verdict in Charles Taylor Trial

  • Kate Thomas

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor (file photo).

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor (file photo).

On Thursday, the Special Court for Sierra Leone is set to deliver its verdict in the trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor, accused of masterminding some of the worst human rights abuses in recent African history. However, in his native Liberia, Mr. Taylor still has some support.

The world will be watching Thursday as former Liberian President Charles Taylor learns his fate in an air-conditioned courtroom in The Hague, thousands of miles away from Sierra Leone.

Key Dates in Charles Taylor's Life

  • 1983: Flees Liberia after being accused of embezzling government funds.
  • 1985: Escapes a U.S. jail after one year in prison.
  • 1989: Resurfaces in Liberia, launches rebellion.
  • 1991: RUF attacks villages in Sierra Leone from Liberia.
  • 1997: Elected president of Liberia.
  • 2003: Special Court for Sierra Leone indicts Mr. Taylor on initial charges, months later he steps down as president and takes asylum in Nigeria.
  • 2006: Arrested in Nigeria and sent to The Hague for trial.
  • 2007: War crimes trial opens in The Hague.

Taylor is charged with 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during Sierra Leone's civil war - crimes that were allegedly concocted in neighboring Liberia while he served as president of that country.

Taylor has never been tried for involvement in Liberia's civil war, which ended in 2003. Despite leading a bloody rebellion in Liberia in the 1990s, he went on to become a popular president, largely due to his charismatic speeches and his efforts to subsidize the price of rice.

As a result, the 64-year-old still has some supporters in his home country.

Among them is Kemah Jones. Like Taylor, she has four children. But she has led a very different life to that of the former president, working as a street trader in the Liberian capital, Monrovia. "Taking Taylor to the court was very unfair. Our former president has done nothing wrong to be tried," she said. "The West is only trying to exercise its power and disgrace African leaders."

Taylor was arrested and handed over to the court in 2006, three years after his indictment and subsequent resignation as president.

The trial was transferred from Freetown to The Hague amid regional security concerns. It opened in 2007.

Francis Togba is a plumber in Monrovia. He thinks the tribunal was biased from the beginning. "The entire process was mired with prejudice. They have not shown any proof. But I am confident that he will walk out of court as a free man," he noted. "They are doing everything to find him guilty. I just don't trust the court."

Prosecution's case

Central to the prosecution's charges are witness reports that suggest Taylor created, armed, supported and controlled Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front rebels from Liberia.

The prosecution argues that Taylor kept an ammunitions cache at his residence in Monrovia, known as White Flower, providing critical support to the rebels as they seized control of land and resources in Sierra Leone.

White Flower still stands on the edge of Monrovia and the residence is maintained by Taylor's wife.

In the reception room, a dusty peace award issued by regional bloc ECOWAS hangs on the wall, next to a signed portrait of former U.N. chief Kofi Annan.

The prosecution argues that Taylor hid behind his reputation as a Liberian peacemaker, subverting regional peace accords in order to profit from the war in Sierra Leone.

Lawrence Peters, a human rights advocate, lives near Taylor's residence in the Liberian capital. "We, in Liberia, are waiting to see the outcome of the trial. But I'm confident that the former president, Taylor, will be found guilty," he stated.

Peters said that although the trial is about Sierra Leone, the verdict will also help Liberia to move forward. He said a guilty verdict would sweeten the post-conflict bitterness in both Liberia and Sierra Leone. "Liberia and Sierra Leone have been very good sister countries. It was a crisis that created a bitterness between the two countries. I am very confident that the verdict will help the two countries, Liberia and Sierra Leone, to move forward," he said.

Although Thursday's verdict will close a chapter in the shared history of Liberia and Sierra Leone, there may be a postscript.

If Taylor is found guilty, his defense team is expected to appeal within two weeks. If he is acquitted, the prosecution is likely to do the same.

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