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October 03, 2012

Liberia's Senator Taylor Wants to be Judged on Character

by James Butty

The former wife of ex-Liberian president and convicted war criminal Charles Taylor says the “Taylor” name has its negatives and positives.

But Senator Jewel Howard Taylor said she bears the name with honor and that people should judge her for her character and not on the basis of what her former husband might have done or did not do.

Taylor said the old prejudices that come with her former husband’s name will come to pass, especially as she continues to make what she called "a positive impact on the landscape of Liberia and the international community." 

The former first lady was placed on the U.N. Travel Ban almost nine years ago after her husband was indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone for war crimes and crimes against humanity that he committed while serving as president of Liberia.

Senator Taylor, who is in the United States for the first time in nearly nine years said she’s grateful to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the United Nations, and the U.S. government for the lifting of the sanctions.

“I have been praying about it, asking that God will provide a new opportunity that will enable me to be able to work. And it’s not just working at home," she said. "We are party of the global village. Everything is intertwined, and if you’re out of the system, even if you’re doing the best job at home, it still denies you a lot of opportunities to interact, to network, to get new ideas that can help your country. And so I’m privileged that God opened this special door, and I want thank our president who made this special request, and to the government of the United States who actually put the request on the table of the [U.N.] Security Council for which we have been removed from sanctions.”

Senator Taylor was supposed to have traveled with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s delegation during the president’s recent trip to New York to attend the 67th United Nations General Assembly.

But soon after the president left Monrovia, there were local media reports that, the senator, who did not make the flight with President Sirleaf, was denied a visa by the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia.

The U.S. Embassy issued a statement saying it had issued the senator a visa.  Senator Taylor said she was never denied a visa.

“They applied for a visa for me like they did everyone else. However, my request for granting of the waver did not come until after the president left. But I was never taken off the plane or denied a visa,” Taylor said.

The former first lady has been a senator for seven years, representing Bong County, Liberia’s third largest political sub-division.

Senator Taylor said, despite some prejudices associated with her former husband’s name as a convicted war criminal, she carries the name with honor.

“Of course, there are places where you go and people would look at you a little funny. I know as long as I was on the sanction list, I wasn’t invited to any of the U.N. programs in Liberia. It was as if I was a pariah," she said. "But I am just happy to say that that name also carries a lot of positivity because I work for the people of my country and that has enabled me to be the senator you see today. So, some people might look at the negatives, but I’d like to look at the positive.

"As you know, the rules of engagement around the world say that people should be judged by the content of their own character. Somehow, there are some prejudices around the name, but I bear it with honor and I will continue to do that which I must to show that it’s not about the name. It’s actually about the individual,” Taylor said.

Butty interview with Taylor

There have been speculations that she might want to run for president of Liberia in 2017. But Senator Taylor said while she does not know what the future holds, her motivation for now is to continue representing the people of Bong County.

“My ambition today is to seek re-election in 2014 and to continue to work for the people of Bong County. I’m representing, as senior senator, the third largest county in Liberia. We have issues of light and water; we have issues of roads; we have issues of inadequate and poor educational system; we have issues of empowerment of young people; and we have issues of creation of jobs. That is a tall order by itself,” Taylor said.  

During the 2011 presidential election, Senator Taylor campaigned for George Weah’s Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) candidate Winston Tubman. But soon after the runoff election, Taylor declared her support for President Sirleaf.

Some CDC members tell VOA the senator betrayed their party after promising to support their candidate and even taking money and a car. Senator Taylor accused the CDC of spreading “false and malicious lies”.

“If you say you are not going to get involved in the second round of the election, you cannot come back later and say I was cheated. So the fact that the hierarchy of the parties on both sides, our party, the National Patriotic Party and CDC took the decision to boycott the second round, we had already given up our rights. And so when the National Elections said that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had won election, we had a responsibility to the people of our country since we chose to boycott the election to continue to work for peace and security for our country. And that is the position that I took, and I still stand by it today,” Taylor said.

Senator Taylor said corruption is a serious issue in Liberia, but she said President Sirleaf’s government has put in place a system to deal with corruption, including setting up an anti-corruption commission.

But she said the legal process to try corruption cases is too long and sometimes frustrating.   
            
"We might need to create an anti-corruption court that will deal straightly with the issues of corruption instead of waiting for a corruption case to go through the docket because the first cases that enter the court have to be dealt with first. So we might have to create new civil law courts because the dockets are just too large and the courts are not as many,” Senator Taylor said.