And what if Taylor walks?

24 August 2010 by Bram Posthumus

Former Liberian president Charles Taylor, is in court to defend himself on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity he allegedly committed in Liberia’s neighbour to the west, Sierra Leone. Liberian media cover the trial extensively but Liberians are, to all intents and purposes, mere spectators. This trial is not about them. Liberia lacks a war crimes tribunal. What it does have is a Truth and Reconciliation Commission which has been taking countless statements from war crimes victims and perpetrators and whose report is in the public domain.

The UN and the Sierra Leone government installed the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) in 2002. In June 2003, David Crane, its chief prosecutor, had Taylor indicted for war crimes allegedly committed in Sierra Leone. Two months later, Taylor left Liberia in the midst of chaos and bloody struggle as rebels pounded the capital Monrovia with mortars. His departure was the result of a deal struck principally between himself, the Economic Community for West African States and the African Union, the nub of it being that he would not be arrested and would stay out of Liberian politics. Taylor went to stay in Calabar, Nigeria.

What changed? Anyone’s guess but late March 2006 the world was treated to the bizarre spectacle of Taylor first “disappearing” from his villa, days before Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo was supposed to meet US president George W Bush, and then Nigerian security forces miraculously “finding” Taylor again near the border with Cameroon. (International Justice Tribunal reported on that chain of events here.) A few days later, Taylor was in The Hague and Obasanjo had his meeting with Bush.

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