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Will Charles Taylor ever face justice for crimes in Liberia?

A week after a Special Tribunal for war crimes in Liberia found Liberian President Charles Taylor guilty for aiding war crimes in Sierra Leone, Liberians ask if he will face justice at home.

By Clair MacDougallCorrespondent / May 2, 2012

Monrovia, Liberia

The guilty verdict handed down last week in the trial against Charles Taylor for committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone was lauded by the international community and human rights groups as a victory for international justice.

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But many, both inside and outside of Liberia, are questioning when those responsible for atrocities committed during the nation’s brutal civil war, among them Taylor, will have their day in court. More than 250,000 were killed in the course of the war, which destroyed the nation's infrastructure.

“The lack of justice for the victims of the Liberian conflict is shocking,” said Brima Abdulai Sheriff, director of Amnesty International Sierra Leone. “The government of Liberia must end the reign of impunity by enacting the necessary legislation and acting on its duty to investigate and prosecute alleged perpetrators.”

The Special Court for Sierra Leone in the Hague found Mr. Taylor guilty of aiding and abetting crimes including murder, terrorism, rape, sexual slavery, and mutilations committed by rebel forces during Sierra Leone's civil war. The 11-year conflict, which ended in 2002, killed more than 50,000, and left many traumatized and maimed. 

Taylor’s defense counsel has 14 days to appeal the case. A sentence is scheduled to be delivered at the end of the month. Experts in international law expect that his sentence will be less severe because the prosecution was unable to prove allegations that Taylor had command and control over the rebel Revolutionary United Front.

Counselor Tiawan Gongloe, a human rights lawyer who was severely tortured under Taylor's orders when he criticized the government in 2002, said the verdict was a victory for human rights and sent out a warning message to key players in Liberia’s civil war that like Taylor, their time too would come.

“His conviction is the beginning of the end of impunity in Liberia because now the ‘big man syndrome' in Liberia is going to end and no one will feel that he or she is above the law,” Mr. Gongloe says. “People will know that whatever happens in the sub-region that there is a day for accountability and this will serve as a deterrent for all other leaders after Taylor.”

But unlike Sierra Leone, which, with the support of the United Nations, established a hybrid domestic and international court in 2002 to prosecute key players in its devastating civil war, the government in Liberia has yet to take action and prosecute key players in the war.

“Liberia should follow Sierra Leone's example so that Liberian victims can also see justice done,” says Elise Keppler, a senior counsel with the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch.


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