— As former Liberian president and warlord Charles Taylor appeals his sentence
for atrocities committed during Sierra Leone’s civil war, he also is asking the Liberian government to pay his pension and give diplomatic benefits to his family. Taylor’s request, which is being discussed by the parliament this week, has led to fierce debate among Liberians.
In a letter to the Liberian legislature, dated September 12, 2012, ex-President Taylor claimed entitlement to all the benefits afforded to former presidents under Liberian law.
The secretary of the Liberian Parliament, Nagbolor Sengbeh, read Taylor’s letter to the Senate on Tuesday.
“As a citizen of Liberia, I am entitled to have access to consular and diplomatic services, but have been denied that right. I would like to have that right observed. I speak of privileges customarily given to former members of my first family, such as diplomatic passports for the wife and children," Sengbeh read. "This is a tradition observed and respected over the years, and I hope it can be honored.”
According to Liberia’s Executive Law, all former presidents and vice presidents are to receive a pension that is equal to 50 percent of the salary of the incumbent president, as well as be provided with a personal staff and facilities for the remainder of his or her life. The amount allotted for this should not be less than $25,000 per year.
Taylor served as president from 1997 until 2003, when he was forced to resign under mounting international pressure. He is widely criticized for his role in starting Liberia’s 1989 civil war and for supporting rebel forces during Sierra Leone’s civil war, which ended in 2002.
Last April, a U.N.-backed Special Court in The Hague sentenced Taylor to 50 years in jail for wartime crimes.
This controversial past has led to a debate over Taylor’s right to his pension. Daniel Diegar is a political science major at the University of Liberia. He said he believes Taylor deserves the benefits.
“While it is true he is being punished, it is still necessary that he has the benefits for his family. It doesn’t deny you of your rights. Being in prison it doesn’t deny you of any rights," Diegar noted. "It’s constitutional, so let his family benefit that.”
“Taylor was working against the legitimate government. So I strongly believe that Taylor does not reserve any benefit today, tomorrow, and it would be an advantage to make sure he does not receive any benefit because he committed huge atrocities against our people,” stated Naketah Williams.
Former president Moses Blah, who served as vice president under Taylor and took over the office when Taylor resigned, said the law is the law. “Yea, as former president of this country, he requires that. That is sure. Not even Liberia alone - other countries - the governments should take care of that person who is the former president of that country,” he added.
Lawmakers say the parliament could rule on Taylor’s pension claims as early as the end of this week.
Taylor also is appealing his conviction by the court in The Hague, and coincidentally, oral arguments are being heard this week. A decision by the Appeals Chamber of the Special Court of Sierra Leone on that case is not expected until later this year.