Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Long-Awaited Trial

More than six years after being indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone, an international tribunal established by the Government of Sierra Leone and the United Nations, former warlord and Liberian President Charles Taylor finally came to trial this week. The charges ranged from terrorism to murder to torture to rape and sexual slavery to the conscription of child soldiers to looting. During the reign of terror he is accused of causing or supporting, more than 250,000 Liberians and Sierra Leoneans lost their lives, and tens of thousands of others were maimed for life. An untold number suffered severe psychological damage.

What was Taylor’s defense against the charges he faces? He said the charges were merely “disinformation, misinformation, lies, rumours.” At one point, those associated with the Taylor prosecution feared that there would not be enough direct evidence to convict him, and his conviction still remains to be actually achieved. However, too many people associated with Taylor have either been convicted of crimes against humanity or have given evidence against him for his dismissal of the charges as being fabrications to ring true.

Joe ‘D. Zigzag’ Marzah is a former diamond trade who once had close ties to Taylor. He has claimed to have eaten human flesh with Taylor at the presidential palace in Monrovia. Here is someone who not only implicates Taylor in cannibalism but also himself. Then there’s the former head of Taylor’s elite Anti-Terrorist Unit – his own son Charles “Chuckie” Taylor, Jr. – who participated in atrocities against civilians and was sentenced in an American court last year to 97 years in prison for his crimes. There are many survivors of the cruelties and those along the chain of command who have given or will give evidence linking Taylor to the crimes with which he has been charged.

Taylor is the first African leader to be tried for war crimes by an international court. The members of African Union earlier this month decided that the International Criminal Court was unfairly focusing on African leaders in its indictments and agreed not to cooperate with arrests of indictees such as Sudanese President Omar Bashir. Once the thousands of West Africans watching the Taylor trial on giant television screens hear in detail the evidence against him and his bloody compatriots and see the witnesses against him tell their horrific stories, there may be a groundswell among Africa’s people to revisit that decision.

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