Children were not deployed as fighters in Charles Taylor’s revolutionary force in Liberia during its civil war, but instead used to cook, carry rifles and search vehicles, Taylor said Thursday.
Thousands of adult volunteers which had swelled Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) to 18,000 strong had brought with them child family members and relatives who helped with military efforts, but did not actively take part in armed combat, Taylor told the Special Court for Sierra Leone on his third day of testimony.
“So when you hear of reports that there were some young men seen in Liberia carrying rifles, these reports are true,” Taylor said. “But what the reports don’t say is this: that the men that they see carrying these rifles are young men walking with their families, but do not enter combat. Never enter combat.”
Child soldier combatants was a signature feature of the Sierra Leonean war, and the conscription, recruitment and use of child soldiers is a charge for which Taylor must answer in the case against him in the Sierra Leone war after 1996. The charges against him do not cover Liberia nor the period before 1996 in Sierra Leone. Taylor’s testimony on Thursday described children’s role in the NPFL during the early 1990s.
Taylor also laid out his system of discipline against NPFL troops who had abused civilians, including through rape, flogging and executions. The troops would be arrested, investigated, sent before his court martial board and if found guilty, executed.
Taylor denied that such crimes against civilians were widespread. “It was not widespread, because we dealt with people from senior members of the NPFL that the prosecution has talked about here,” he said.
He explained that senior officers were disciplined to serve as examples for the junior officers that the commission of crimes would not be tolerated. “When you see me put them on trial and a court martial board comes down and says they are guilty and they are executed based on the ruling of the court martial, a junior commando or anybody else would have to be a fool to do the same thing,” Taylor said.
Under the current charges against him by the Special Court, Taylor is alleged to have been responsible for his role in the Sierra Leonean war as a commander, which requires him to prevent and punish crimes committed by his subordinates over which he has control. During Thursday’s testimony, Taylor sought to demonstrate that he tried to prevent crimes by his NPFL troops in Liberia through both orders and training, and also to punish those soldiers thought to have committed crimes when such crimes were brought to his attention.
Taylor also speculated that peace could have come to Liberia much earlier than 1995 had he not taken United States advice to avoid storming Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, in order to save civilian lives. Stating he did not regret the decision not to try to overtake Monrovia in 1990 when his forces controlled much of the rest of Liberia, he proferred that if he had successfully stormed the capital, elections would have been held by late 1992.
Responding to prosecution evidence that NPFL rebels displayed human heads on check points, Taylor said he saw human skulls displayed by rebels at check points, but after investigation, found they were skulls of enemy combatants killed in battle. Taylor admitted that skulls at checkpoints could “instill fear” but he simply saw them as a symbols.
“I saw nothing wrong with using skulls,” Taylor told the Special Court. “It’s a blatant diabolical lie that I, Charles Ghankay Taylor, or anyone…..would drive by a human head or intestine.”
The Special Court decided not to sit on Fridays while Taylor was giving evidence, and Taylor will return to the stand on Monday.
Alpha Sesay contributed to this report.