Charles Taylor: why me?

Why, among all the people who have led wars in Africa and invasions of other African countries, has Charles Taylor, the former Liberian president, been singled out for arrest and trial by the UN? We provide the answers--from page 8 to 23. Here, in the article below, our correspondents--Lansana Gberie in Freetown, Jarlawah Tonpoh in Monrovia, Efam Dovi in Accra and Osei Boateng in London--give the background to Taylor's arrest and the agendas behind his trial.


The UN Special Court in Sierra Leone began work nearly four years ago. It has since spent more than $80m. This is mostly as salary for its mainly expatriate staff, amounting to $16m a year--more than that for the entire Sierra Leonean civil service. In its first fully operational year, the Court had a budget of $34m, in its second $29.9m, and in the third $25.5m. But there was not much to show for this expenditure until 29 March 2006 when the former Liberian president, Charles Taylor, was finally handed over to the Court in handcuffs. You can, therefore, imagine the joy that descended on the fortified compound of the Court. At long last, the "biggest trophy" was under lock and key in Cell No. 3, and the Court could show its paymasters in Washington, London and elsewhere why it was important to pay $80m for all that trouble. Set up in 2002 as a result of an agreement between the UN and the Sierra Leonean government, the Special Court was mandated to prosecute those who "bear the greatest responsibility" for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international law which took place in Sierra Leone between 1996 and 2002. Its supporters claim that by doing so the Court will leave a "legacy" of fundamental respect for the rule of law, and ensure "closure" (notice the vogue word) after years of internecine warfare and terror. Four years into its ponderous work, the Court had clearly satisfied nobody's sense of justice, reconciled no one to the brutal past, and left many people plainly angry or bemused--until Taylor was flown in by helicopter and the propaganda machine began to roll. All of a sudden, the Court now has a new lease of life and a buzz never seen in its portals since its establishment four years ago.




Our Freetown correspondent, Lansana Gberie, visited the Court several times in January and February this year. Sam Hinga Norman, Sierra Leone's former deputy defence minister and leader of the pro-government Civil Defence Force (CDF), was testifying as the first accused.

Norman was dramatically arrested in his office in 2003, handcuffed and, at first, flown to a remote corner of the country, where he was detained in a former holding facility for enslaved Africans being shipped to the Americas. He had no contact with his family and lawyers, and it was only after protest from them that Norman was later brought back to Freetown to be detained with the others. He is generally regarded as a hero for his role in resisting the rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and rogue government soldiers, whose campaigns led to the near-total destruction of the country.

Visiting the Court for the first time last year, Tim Kelsal, a British scholar who has insightfully written about the so-called transitional justice system in Sierra Leone, said that it reminded him of the 18th century spectacle of robed English judges accompanied by military squads. Until Charles Taylor's dramatic entree, only 13 people had been indicted by the Court in four long years, but two of them--the RUF leader, Foday Sankoh, and his former commander, Sam Bockarie--are dead; another, Johnny Paul Koroma, the leader of the military junta that overthrew President Tejan Kabbah's government in 1997, has simply disappeared.

Nine people--three CDF leaders, three RUF officials and three members of Koroma's military junta--are in the detention of the Court. All are charged with murder, rape, sexual enslavement, looting, arson, acts of terror and extermination, and attacks on UN soldiers. Hinga Norman's arrest is all perplexing, particularly considering that the people see him as a "conquering hero" who stopped the rebels from taking over the country.

His "hero's" testimony has since been supported by Peter Penfold (the former British high commissioner to Sierra Leone), Albert Joe Demby (the former vice-president of Sierra Leone) and General David Richards (a British army officer who also worked with Norman during the period). But the main witness, President Tejan Kabbah, under whom Norman served as deputy defence minister (Kabbah doubled as the defence minister), has been unavailable. The prosecution, led by the British lawyer, Desmond de Silva, readily concede Norman's courage and role in bringing back democracy to Sierra Leone. But in the process, they insist, Norman...

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