Taylor’s Point of View: Does It Matter?

Former Liberian President, Charles Taylor, will take the stand next Tuesday amid a blaze of media cameras and lights. As the first sitting African head of state to be indicted and prosecuted for his alleged responsibility for some of the worst crimes known to humanity, the laser beam of international attention will zero in as he tells his side of the story. He is pleading not guilty to 11 charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international humanitarian law for his alleged role in a war which ravaged Sierra Leone for 11 years.

The media spotlight can have a downside.  For example, lawyers for Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, a Congolese militia leader on trial at the International Criminal Court for allegedly recruiting child soldiers, lamented on the second day of his trial in January 2009 that Lubanga had already been declared guilty by the media. “In the press he is already convicted, convicted before being tried. And in the eyes of a vast majority, as soon as there is an arrest warrant and as soon as the charges are confirmed and the matter is committed to trial, the presumption of innocence disappears,” said Catherine Mabille, Lubanga’s head defense lawyer.

With Charles Taylor, prosecuted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone, speculation abounds about his role in the Sierra Leonean war and his alleged link to the crimes committed there. The prosecution spent 13 months bringing Sierra Leonean survivors to the stand whose limbs had been amputated, or who had been raped or sexually enslaved by groups allegedly under Taylor’s control. They also sought testimony from insider witnesses in an effort to link Taylor to the crimes which were so vividly illustrated by the victims themselves. We have, though, only heard one side of the story.

On Tuesday, we’ll hear Taylor’s side. This matters for reasons beyond the narrative he will tell us in court. 

1. A fair trial right:  Taylor, like all defendants before international courts, has the right to be presumed innocent and to defend himself – in person or through the lawyer of his choice.  These are two in a package of elements which make up fair trial rights, according to the Special Court for Sierra Leone’s own laws as well as both African and international human rights treaties. Taylor has the chance to exercise these rights on Tuesday when he takes the stand to tell his story. We need to listen and not pre-judge his responsibility. That is up to the judges at the end of the trial.

2. A Return of the Rule of Law: The breakdown of the rule of law, and lack of access to justice, was one of the key root causes of the violence in Sierra Leone, according to the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Taylor’s appearance on the stand to defend his actions and account for his alleged responsibility is a visible reminder that nobody – no matter how big or how powerful – is above the law. This is an important visual reconstruction of the rule of law for a society whose fabric was torn apart by war. Taylor taking the stand in an internationalized court that is working fairly is a complement to the work that Sierra Leone’s own legal reconstruction efforts. Sierra Leonean judges, lawyers and law enforcement professionals have undertaken their own national efforts to combat impunity for mass crimes – in 2002 the national judicial system prosecuted other suspected perpetrators for crimes committed after the Lome Peace Accord was signed in 1999. Meanwhile, on a broader level, the Sierra Leone Bar Association is committed to building a record of the country’s own national jurisprudence by developing and compiling law reports as part of an effort to reconstruct Sierra Leone’s rich legal history and make it available to a new generation of lawyers. On the internationalized front, Sierra Leonean lawyers, judges, translators and other court staff have worked together alongside international counterparts to make the Taylor trial possible.  Taylor taking the stand, then, is a stark reminder of how far the rule of law has come in Sierra Leone come since the brutality and chaos of war ended less than a decade ago.

3. Taylor as a Symbol of International Commitment to Fighting Impunity: Taylor’s appearance on the stand at his own trial marks a milestone in international efforts to create a norm of accountability for mass crimes.  Over a series of years, heads of state, diplomats and civil society from all over the world – Africa, Europe, the Americas and elsewhere – joined forces to bring Taylor to trial. This included the United Nations, the African Union, ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States), as well as the United States, Liberian and Nigerian governments, to name a few, who combined to shift Taylor into exile in Nigeria in 2003 and eventually to the Special Court in 2006.  This came with the help of civil society: for instance, starting in 2004, two Nigerian businessmen, David Anyaele and Emmanuel Egbuna, whose limbs were allegedly amputated by Taylor’s forces in Liberia, challenged Taylor’s asylum in Nigeria and sought to have him extradited to the Special Court for Sierra Leone to face justice. 

These efforts did not presuppose Taylor’s guilt or innocence, but rather recognized that he had a case to answer for the crimes during the war in Sierra Leone – and that such an answer was most appropriately given in court in the context of a trial.  Accountability and the commitment to impunity is a principle that is shared across continents and oceans. The Taylor trial is proof of this. 

The media are not the only ones which will eagerly await Taylor’s testimony on Tuesday.  We all have an interest in hearing what he has to say.  His side of the story is important.  Not only will it add to our understanding of the role he allegedly played in the Sierra Leonean war and to our historical understanding of the conflict, but it will provide the victimized community with one more reminder that their suffering has not been forgotten.


  1. iam in liberia and was in liberia when the war was frighting i saw someof the things that happing in ur country doing war but i can say it now

  2. IT is not ony mr. tayors who has commated this crime’s there are other people that need to be arested
    too let me ask u people why it is ony him that had been arested what about thos people whos brought war in ur country liberia and kill so maney innocent people.

  3. Mr taylors need to be free and come black to his lovin country mama Liberia we stail love him please leave him along.

  4. after the charles trial the next trial should be George bush senoir and junior for crime committed in iraq and other parts of the world directly or indirectly

    my question is what UN is waiting for thier arrest,they should be arrected immediatly before they do more harms

  5. As you rightly put it, Taylor’s trial is a “milestones in international efforts to create a norm of accountabilty for mass crimes”. This a good precedence. My concern is that will leaders of and powerful nations be tried for mass crimes against humanity. Will George Bush, Tony Blair etc, be put on trial for their unjustified war in Iraq that led to killing of thousands of Iraqis? I have not heard any of the International human right group call for the establishment of a war crime court to tried leaders who bear the greater responsibility for the henoius crimes that is be committed against the Iraqis. This is why I had no qualms with the African Union’s decision against the arrest of Bashir from Sudan. Don’t only create war crimes for African leaders, create for Europeans, Asians and Americans also who commit crimes against humanity.

  6. I think its prudent enough for former President Taylor tohave his day in court. I do believe that his actions form the unset of the Liberia’s civil conflict to that of Sirrea Leone, will surely come to the finish line when he truly tell the world what they are trying to scape goat about and wanting to imprisoned a single man.
    While we will want to sympathised with our Sirrea Leonean counter parts, our country men also suffer seem in their hands, with the likes of ULIMO-J & K coming into play during our civil war.
    The west must stop bringing African leadersagainst its own people, the people of Liberia and Sirrea Leone do not want any futher issues, we are certainly sure that President Taylor will seek to clealry distance himself from these well calculated indictments, were as those whom are seeking justice today clearly knows the origin of this well sponsored conflict, that saw lucrative western bussinesses benefit from the war. where is Gus and others, I think this is total injustice ven to those whom this court seek to give a white’s man justice.

    Let it be clear that we liberians are monitoring.

  7. (ICC, To Pronounce Guilt, or To Establish Guilt – A matter yet to be decided) It is not certain whether the trial of former Liberian President Charles G. Taylor will be free and fair. It appears to me that for all I see, this trial was politically motivated, a conspiracy against one of the few Pan-Africanist, who the west wants to silenced. It is apparent that a global media campaign has been staged to demonize and condemn the accused even before he is heard. As a powerful global tool, the international media seems to stress the claims of tragic crimes committed during the Sierra Leone war, but fail to blame the hands of those that directly committed those crimes, who themselves are Sierra Leoneans. As one who lived and experienced the worse of the Liberian civil crisis for 14 years, and a victim of violence I suffered and saw others suffered, with reasons to be infuriated with former President Taylor, am instead baffled at the shameless display of so-called justice. Sierra Leoneans must be made to take responsibility for the gruesome crimes they committed against their own people, whether out of frustration over internal politicking or ethnic dispirited or for gain of what is now referred to as the ‘infamous blood diamond’. Therefore, if the west have other reasons to apprehend former President Taylor, let them raise the charges and forget about the fiasco of “Taylor bears greater responsibility for the atrocities committed during the Sierra Leone civil war.” If they have no charge at all against personally, let to come and appeal to Liberians to raise an issue against former President Taylor on the basis of the Liberia civil war to which former president is directly connected. Or, is the west concern that others it favors would be dragged into the boiling pot? A similar reason for which they turn a blind eye to the call of Liberians for a war-crimes court. However, we await the ICC to prove it worthiness or significance in the case of former President Taylor, and then we will decide whether it is fit to handle other cases – as the one involving President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudden.

    1. Well said.
      It is difficult to understand why Charlse Taylor is linked with the inhuman behavior desplayed by the Sierra Leonean in the war of hatred and political failure of the nation.
      I am a Sierra Leone. i donot support evil act whatsoevr and if Taylor is clasified evil i donot support him either. But lets leave Taylor out of this issue of supporting the War in Sierra Leone. Let us look at this lines logical reasoning.
      1. Suppose someone walks into your home and asks you to kill your family, would you agree to do so without you honestly establishing the reason of prior hatred for any member of your family? If you do hate any member of your family, you will be looking for opportunities to inflect grievious harm or even cause death as the chance presents itself and try to excuse your malicious conduct. The war in Liberia was just the kind of opportunity many Sierra Leoneans were waiting to show what they have been harbouring in their minds for one another for ages. How could a stranger order the astrocities committed in Sierra Leone for nothing in Return. Was anything promised to the excutors of the so called orders from Taylor? It makes no sence.
      2.Charles Taylor is not a Synonyme to FODAY SANKO. Full stop end of story bye bye.
      3. Did Taylor ordered armpetition, choping human hands, legs, and limbs? During all his fight in Liberia, was such inhuman and treacherous treatment reported? I like Charles Taylor because he stood for what he did even if it was wrong. Not the Sierra Leoneans who push their acts on others as been the reason for their crazy acts.
      3. Why did the Rebellion failed in S/L? because FODAY SANKO died. he was the master of the rebellion and when he and his surrogates perished, the rebellion failed. If Taylor was some outside director of the War in SL, then it would have succeeded because he is still outside SL anyway.

      I hate to talk about this because been a vitime of this wicked conflict in Sierra Leone, living the rest of my life as a refugee in in the camp , and seating here to listen to this confuse judgement in the Hugue is even more frustrating.

      Let us hope that This man is free or held accountable for some other crimes in Liberia but not these in Sierra Leone. I would really go angry if his convicted.

  8. As Mr.Taylor goes to trial and the law comes to play,we too in Kenya hope that the instigators of the political violence will be beckoned to the Hague, for Justice must be served universally!!!!

  9. Sorry guys, but this former president is a mass murderer. He lie so much that nobody understands where he comes from. Taylor had the opportunity to look the Liberian people in the eyes and the people he victimized and tell them to forgive him. The money he shares with his thousand girlfriend and his associates is finished, no more “well” to draw some money for his girlfriends? The Liberian people would had forgave him, had he admit the truth about his involvement in the unnecessary killing and rape of teenagers, not only that but other crimes labeled against him are all truth. Why should we support someone who masterminded foolish war that killed thousands of people and sent thousand more in to refugee camps and exile? To those Taylor supporters out there, this is the time to think twice, that whatever you do in secret will come to light, his days are number. To the hundreds of children he father from teenagers through rape and the only development he ever made in the Liberian history is legalized polygamy. What do you have to tell anybody? We are all Liberian and we will keep expressing ourselves. We don’t care whether or not you continue to support but all your efforts will go in vain. We all have money now, it not like before when Taylor came with his foolish war and lie to the children and the Liberian people, but now we all one way or another can stand up for ourselves.

  10. Sure, George Bush should be tried for war crimes in Iraq. (Good luck.) But that has nothing to do whether Charles Taylor should be convicted. He should. And even more so I hate to say because I hate George Bush. And any Liberian who wants Charles Taylor to come back because you still love him is crazy, man. Taylor is crazy and was destroying our country and killing people and committing atrocities in Liberia too. This is the problem in Africa – we support crazy people who destroy our countries.

  11. Tracey makes contradictory analysis which is border on lack of interests in real justice. Tracey asserts that “Taylor [is] a Symbol of International Commitment to Fighting Impunity.: How did Tracy arrived at such conclusion that Taylor is a “symbol” ? How can CGT be a symbol when he has not been determine to be guilty of these charges? Is Tracey confriming that what is happening is a mock trial which outcome has already been decided?

    This attitude by some individuals to use other people as symbols fuels the miscarraige of justice because it allow the conviction of individuals ignoring legal basic simply to prove a point. Is this the reason why the same British have already built a prison only for a man that has not yet been determined guilty? Tracey either needs to take back her statement her be bold to say that Mr. Taylor is already guilty and this trial is a fraud.

    1. Dear King Gray,

      I have been following your comments with interest during this trial. I appreciate you calling me to account for my words. Please allow me to explain.

      By referring to Taylor as a symbol I did not intend to make a statement on his guilt or innocence. In fact, I hoped to make this exact point further down in the analysis when I talked about the efforts to get Taylor to trial: “These efforts did not presuppose Taylor’s guilt or innocence, but rather recognized that he had a case to answer for the crimes during the war in Sierra Leone – and that such an answer was most appropriately given in court in the context of a trial. Accountability and the commitment to end impunity is a principle that is shared across continents and oceans. The Taylor trial is proof of this.”

      My intention was to suggest that Taylor’s trial demonstrates a broad international commitment to the rule of law and the fight against impunity. The trial shows that everyone suspected of a crime – no matter how high a position they are in — should have to answer allegations against them in a court of law, in a fair legal process with clear rules, and have the opportunity to defend themselves against those allegations. Mr. Taylor has a brilliant defense team on hand and has shown his ability to present his side of the story. The prosecution is also a higly experienced team who have rested their case after 13 months of presenting evidence.

      The ones who can determine Mr. Taylor’s guilt or innocence with respect to the charges against him are the judges of the Special Court — they must decide according to the facts and the law before them. They cannot decide this until Mr. Taylor has finished presenting his case. We are still quite a way from the case being finished and judgment being rendered.

      Let’s wait and see how the trial pans out and how the judges weigh the information that is being presented to them. What is important now is seeing that the process is fair and undertaken according to the law.

      Glad to discuss this issue with you, King Gray.


  12. Tracey Gurd, I must first admit that your response was very mature and provided me a classic lesson, not so much about the clarification regarding your earlier view about using others as symbol but in terms of the kiind of tone for such exchange. I accept your clarification but equally maintain that justice is never appreaciated by any offender if the purpose of that justice is use as an symbol of deterrent for future offenders.

    Undertaking such deterrent strategy misses the whole point of due process and send a message that escape the very nature for why offenders must suffer punishment. I do not object to retributive justice but each offender must get their just desert and not be use simply as a symbol for future offenders.

    Notwithstanding, any serious student of Africaness , especially the Liberian complexities will not appreaciate the nature of this case. Most Africans who glorified the prosecution of Charles Taylor suffers from duality of consciouness, that on the one hand they might be happy that Taylor is being prosecuted but on the other hand they hold a strong view that Taylor’s prosecution is not in their interests. Simply because they are aware of the dubious nature of international organizations blindness to their sufferings. What is in this case for the real suffering people? Their natural resources are still being exploited by multi-national companies without any benefit to them.

    So yes, i appreaciate your clarification but want to discourage this mindset of punitive action symbolism. Justice should be real and not a symbol, let the evidence decide the outcome of this case and not propoganda, which continue to characterize and demonize an accused.

    Thank You

    1. King Gray,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. You raise an extremely interesting point that I hadn’t fully appreciated or engaged with in my last exchange – and I think we are in complete agreement.

      I agree entirely — justice cannot be symbolic only. It has to be backed by concrete evidence of a case to answer, and a fair trial for the individual on the stand — otherwise justice cannot achieve its aims of either ensuring accountability for specific crimes, or deterring others from committing such crimes in the future.

      This is why we must focus, I think, on the real questions before us with this case. To me, those questions are:
      1. Is there sufficient and credible evidence to suggest that Charles Taylor has a case to answer for crimes committed in Sierra Leone after 1996?
      2. If so, is he getting the opportunity to answer that case and to defend himself vigorously against the charges in a fair and public trial before an independent tribunal?

      This is one of the reasons I think the comments from readers on this site, such as yourself, is so valuable. It demonstrates that in essence, we are all – formally or informally — monitors of this trial. The Special Court knows it is being watched and its work is under scrutiny to ensure a fair trial is provided for Mr. Taylor.

      Siimlarly, when the judges finally make their assessment of his guilt or innocence, our ability — as the interested public — to read a reasoned judgement that demonstrates that the judges have weighed the evidence before them and made their decision according to the facts and the law presented before them during this trial is so important in assuring ourselves that this trial is focussed on Mr. Taylor’s alleged actions and responsibility for the specific crimes with which he has been charged.

      Your point about the suffering caused by – and lack of accountability for — the exploitation of natural resources is well made.

      My best,

  13. This site needs an edit link for people to edit their comments if such comment was awaiting moderation.

    1. Guys,
      Let me add my two cents and ask if this trial ended TODAY…meaning both sides have rested, what will be the call based on points raised by everyone??? I will go first and say NOT GUILTY.

      King Gray???? Tracey???

      1. Noko4 – sorry but I can’t speculate. We don’t know what is going to happen during the rest of the defense testimony. I’m going to wait to see what the judges say first before I come to any conclusions.


  14. Tracey,

    I go first again……NOT GUILTY; King Gray???? Tracey??? Anyone else wish to weight in???

    1. Sorry Noko4 – I am honestly not trying to “play.” I just think it would be unfair to try to assess the trial at this stage when the defense has only had the chance to present its case for less than a month, compared to the prosecution’s 13 months. I want to keep an open mind and see everything that the defense has to offer, and how the judges assess both sides according to the law.

      1. Okay, I will want to believe you’re taking notes right?? If so, who has had the BETTER presentation thus far…..Yes I know the trial is on going but we keep scores and then compile….

        As in the words of Mr. Griffith, “PAUSE THERE AND HELP US OUT”

    2. I say guilty 20 years. Remember, I am speculating that the trail is politically motivated not evidentiary.

    3. I agree with Noko4, i believe the prosecution’s case has fallen down like a pack of cards! Nice to see that people are following this case and are finding out the truth for themselves. It matters not if the accused is convicted at the end, in the court of public opinion we can see the truth unfolding. Go ahead Taylor and open more can of worms.

  15. I noticed something with the posting time Tracey…..I post at 5:27PM EST but I see 9:04PM…is that the time in the Hague or Sierra Leone???

  16. I have read most of the views and comments presented herein above by all supporters for both the prosecutor and the defender, however, if I were one of the judges in said case I would certianly cut of the case at the end of the presecutor presentations and declare Mr. Taylor NOT GUILTY for two of the following reasons:

    1. The Prosecutor has failed to draw a direct link between Mr. Taylor and the RUF. Morebesides,we Liberians are awared of the fact that some Sierra Leoneans fought here for Mr. Taylor, now my question is why didn’t they do what they did in their own home here?

    2. Why is it that those countries who trade mark were discovered on weapons that were used in the Sierra Leonean war and countries that purchased diamond form Sierra Leone Leaders at the time of the war equally be prosecuted?

    Now remember, Taylor as an individual did not fight war in Liberia, he had people who fought him and are still around and there was a chain of command that is awaiting the socall trial result to act.

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