"...Time is up for warlords and their accomplices. Once Taylor’s fate is sealed at his trial, Liberians must revisit the flimsy peace arrangement that brought warlords to power. While they enjoy national wealth, the majority of Liberians are left to scavenge on less than a dollar a day..."
“Will you introduce yourself to this court,” the presiding judge commanded Taylor. “I don’t want to talk to this court, take me to The Hague,” Taylor snapped.
Such shall be the first lines of exchange between Taylor and the presiding judge at the United Nations High Court in Freetown trying those responsible for that country’s decade-long civil war. Back in Liberia on street corners, former rebel combatants and returnees are busy arguing the fate of the man once feared my West Africa and by his own clansmen.
Taylor has been indicted on several counts of human rights abuses, including force recruitment of (small boys) child soldiers, rape, maiming of limbs, destruction of civilian property, gun-running, and the traffic of illegal (blood) diamonds to fund wars in the sub region.
Since 2003, Taylor and his entourage lived lavishly in the seaside city of Calabar in Nigeria, after a peace deal brokered by President Obasanjo of Nigeria and other African Leaders.
On Monday March 27, 2006 Taylor attempted the impossible – he escaped his temporary asylum in Nigeria. A high-power campaign led by Human Rights organizations and the United States compelled his host to find Taylor and hand him over to Sierra Leone. Come Wednesday, March 29, 2006 marked Taylor’s arrest by security forces at a remote town near the Cameroon and Nigeria border.
Taylor’s arrest and imminent trial in Freetown (or at The Hague) comes as no surprise for those who believed in the rule of law and human rights. It is another day of hard soul searching for many WARLORDS who preyed on the innocent in Africa. Today marks the beginning of a new dawn for Africa in general and for Liberia and Sierra Leone in particular in promoting justice on the continent.
Warlords and war lads fear
The Liberian brokered peace agreement granted amnesty to all warlords and war lads. Even to those who were brutal in decapitating pregnant women and children. “How do you expect people who committed atrocities against their own people to promote justice when they themselves are culpable?” asked Sengbe, a Liberian in exile in New York City. “Look even Taylor’s attempted-escape was the work of the same old order; people who do not want to see change comes to Liberia,” he says.
Like Sengbe, many Liberians are now thinking, “If Taylor can be tried for crimes committed against the people of Sierra Leone, how can we deal with similar crimes committed against his own people.” This explains itself; people who viciously eliminated families and entire villages are back in Monrovia in government positions. Some former rebel generals with names like “peanut butter”, “supper killer”, “field marshal” were elected in various counties to represent the very people they maimed and torture during fourteen years. They are also thinking hard right now. “Their days are numbered” Sengbe contends.
They were timid; they are timid
During the debates following the Liberia elections, local radio stations in Monrovia hosted debates among candidates. Radio Veritas, for example, hosted a debate featuring top presidential contenders. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Varney Sherman, Roland Massaquoi, and Tipoteh were on the air in their bid to convince voters to elect them.
Each spoke some sound language as to why Liberians should vote for him/her. When the candidates were asked about the possible trial of Charles Taylor, none was willing to “call the dog by its name,” but rather “beat around the bush” about demanding Taylor’s handover and eventual trial. One can deduce that President Ellen’s hand was basically forced to demand Taylor’s handover. You know why, “Liberia badly needs foreign aid,” right?
These were the same individuals, for the most part, who justified the civil war they sponsored and directed through blank promises and bogus language. They may argue that it was to liberate Liberia. “Why go to war and against your own people in the name of some stupid concept that you don’t even believe in,” James asked, a Liberian student. Though the Liberian system has never been any good; but it is our responsibility to make it operational through the rule of law, not by being above the law or by evading justice in saying, “Let bygones be bygones.”
Victims still fear, “an eye-witness” account
“I grew up in the midst of the civil war; and I learned the hard way, constantly running from one place to another, sometimes from one country to another to evade forced conscription in the rebel armies. I know there are thousands more of young people out there who experienced similar ordeals” James explains.
“We helplessly watched while friends, neighbors, and love ones were tortured and butchered. The rebels chopped off ears and other limbs. A cousin (Lamine) once watched as I was almost executed in Lofa in March of 1993. How can anyone forget the kidnappings and forced enlistment of young boys and girls to fight for warlords? These young people for the most part, lost their lives or are almost useless in the postwar Liberia. I was haunted by fear until my arrival in the United States,” James says.
Such are some of the many memories shared my victims of the Liberian war. When girls talk about their ordeal of rape, one’s ears cannot bear listening. Should Liberians forget and let bygones be bygones?
Time is up for warlords and their accomplices. Once Taylor’s fate is sealed at his trial, Liberians must revisit the flimsy peace arrangement that brought warlords to power. While they enjoy national wealth, the majority of Liberians are left to scavenge on less than a dollar a day.
“You may hide; may attempt to intimidate the people; you may be in public office now; you may be the most feared rebel lord, time is up. The die is cast and Liberia must revisit its past if it must build a true and vibrant democratic system that respects the rule of law and uphold human right,” James rages.
Liberia was established in July 1847 by so-called “Americo-Liberians” – former slaves from the Americas. They ruled this piece of land like a family business for over 130 years (1847-1980). A fourteen-year civil war sponsored by its own elites left over a quarter million people dead. No Liberian was ever tried for war crimes.
The Liberian Constitution, its flag, and a host of other national icons were modeled upon those of the United States of America. The Capital, Monrovia is named after James Monroe, America’s fifth president. However, Liberia is far away from realizing that dream of a land where black people can be “FREE AT LAST.”
About the Author:
The author is a freelance writer and human rights activist. He is a contributing writer for TheLiberianTimes.com. His articles appear regularly on TheLiberianTimes.com and on his blog located at: www.voiceofliberia.blogspot.com
You can reach him at Liberia4justice@yahoo.com.