John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Guest Post: Convicting Charles Taylor: Justice for Sierra Leoneans

by Guest Blogger for John Campbell
April 30, 2012

A sign commemorating the start of the civil war is displayed at a memorial site where the conflict began, in the village of Bomaru, eastern Sierra Leone April 22, 2012. (Finbarr O'Reilly/Courtesy Reuters)


This is a guest post by Mohamed Jallow, a former interdepartmental associate at the Council on Foreign Relations, and now a program development specialist at IntraHealth International. Mohamed came to the United States as a refugee from Sierra Leone in 2003.

After an unprecedented trial that lasted almost four years with 115 witnesses testifying, the one-time convicted criminal, jail breaker, ruthless warlord, and former president of Liberia was finally convicted on eleven counts of terror, murder, rape, sexual slavery, and crimes against humanity. This verdict, though long overdue, will certainly bring some solace to his many victims in both Sierra Leone and Liberia as the former celebrated its 51st independence anniversary on Friday.

Nevertheless, though Mr. Taylor’s crimes against the people of Sierra Leone finally caught up with him, the scars of his crimes have still not completely healed from a war that lasted for eleven painful years. To the children of Sierra Leone, he is the man whose rebel army and its Revolutionary United Front (RUF) proxy robbed them of their childhood, turned them into child soldiers, and forced them to not only destroy their own country, but to commit untold atrocities against their own people. To the women of Sierra Leone, he is the man who stripped them of their dignity by supporting a rebel group that used wholesale rape and sexual slavery as weapons of war. To the thousands of amputees who still roam the streets of Freetown, he is the man whose actions cost them their limbs and robbed them of their livelihoods, sentencing them to a lifetime of poverty and despair.

Personally, as a young man growing up during the civil war in Sierra Leone, I knew the name Charles Taylor and what it represented before I could even read or write. My whole life and that of millions of my countrymen was shaped by Mr. Taylor’s actions, both directly and indirectly. I lost loved ones who were struck down by bullets Mr. Taylor supplied to the RUF. I lost friends who were turned into killers by Mr. Taylor’s rebels and their proxies who wanted Sierra Leone to taste the bitterness of war. I lost the memories of my childhood at the hands of thugs Mr. Taylor trained, equipped, and supported. Like the poet Sidney Lanier, I have still not completely come to terms with my experiences during the conflict, and always seem to ask myself, “How does God have the heart to allow it?” How does he allow people like Charles Taylor, Foday Sankoh, and others to bring so much death, so much destruction, and so much suffering to so many people?

Yet, many have opposed international trials for people like Mr. Taylor at the Hague. They see these trials as a conspiracy against African leaders and Africa’s sovereignty. Whatever our political or philosophical differences might be, the fact remains that Mr. Taylor should be held accountable for what he has done. For the thousands of amputees in Sierra Leone, it was a day of justice. For the tens of thousands who lost their homes and livelihoods, it was a chance to finally bring closure to the sad memories of war. And for the estimated fifty thousand Sierra Leoneans that lost their lives during the decade long upheaval that Mr. Taylor supported, it was a day to finally rest in peace.

Happy Independence Day Sierra Leone!

Post a Comment 2 Comments

  • Posted by John P. Causey, IV

    As the West celebrates the conviction of Charles Taylor for brutal war crimes, I read reports that a majority of the Sierra Leone inhabitants are on his side. I suppose they would feel differently if these convictions would occur through non-western bodies. Are ‘African big man’ appealing even after such atrocities? Sad, if the answer is yes.

    Thankfully, the West is there to provide at least a semblance of justice to the victims, their families, and the country at large. In the interest of creating just societies in the region, these convictions will hopefully be handled by African bodies in the near-future.

  • Posted by c. foday

    John Causey,

    What are these reports “that a majority of Sierra Leonans “are on the side of Taylor? You are misinformed. Sierra Leone asked the UN to set up the Special Court for Sierra Leone and while there are many disappointed with many aspiects, cost, length of time for trials, few people prosecuted etc, the Sierra Leone people are overwhelming in favor and appreciative of this effort to hold Taylor accountable. But I certianly agree with you it would be a great thing for Africans to set up our own courts to hold these big men responsible. I support you on this 100%. Tell us how we can do this and be assured that it will go after all the big perpetrators, dictators , arms sellers, and resource buyers, who have and continue to cause so much suffering on the continent. We need more courts like this Sierra Leone one and it would be great if it is located in Africa and led by Africans.

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