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!