Taylor Used Children to Help War, But Not to Fight, in Liberia

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.


  1. Dear readers,

    Apologies for any inconvenience caused through the late posting of July 16th’s post.

    One reader asked for more explanation for our delay in posting Thursday’s events after we had just posted about alleged US involvement in Taylor’s infamous jailbreak in 1985: we can assure you it was nothing more sinister than a combination of a canceled flight and staff illness.

    Thanks for your patience and we look forward to your continued comments and engagement with the site.


    1. Dear Tracy,

      I am currently writing my MA dissertation on Girl Soldiers, Peacebuilding and Post-conflict Reconstruction.

      Due to most of the definitions of child soldiers in International Law, Girl soldiers have been excluded or placed in a grey area of the peacebuilding processes, mainly due to pleas as used by Charles Taylor classifying them as “camp followers” or simply “helpers”.

      Would you have any more specific informations regarding the trial accusations of use and recruitment of child soldiers?


      1. Dear Paula,

        Thanks for your note. I will email you separately to discuss your question.


  2. Thank you for the website! Keep up the great work. It’s incredulous Mr. Taylor can say with a straight face that the NPFL never had child soldiers? Not just porters, cooks, etc., but actual fighters. The legal dance continues.

  3. Thanks for this work. I gives me greater insight into what’s obtaining in the Hague. However, I am kindly asking you to provide us with access to the testimonial script of Mr. Taylor.

    Thanks again.


  4. Any body who can make a blind argument that Mr. Taylor recruited and trained small boys to fight is seriously delusional. Most of these people who are shouting against Mr. Taylor are all liars and operating purely on they say news.

    Anybody who was really living in the war zones or inside the NPFL areas and very observant will come to the same conclusion as Mr. Taylor. They were whole bunch of people who took up arms that were never members of the NPFL. They either got arms from their relatives, and sometimes when NPFL forces capture weapons from AFL they would share some of the weapons amongst themselves and give some to their relatives.

    I know for a fact while on the Fendell seeking refuge during the war that some guys who were not NPFL fighters would go along with the fighters on the battle front and returned with arms. Some of these guys would willing take their young brothers with them to hold some of their looted goods. And this was one of the reasons that they would allow their small brothers to hold gun just to protect their looted properties.

  5. Well as to the child soldier thing I dont know much. Well, I live in Buchanan during the war in Liberia up until 1994. Where I lived there were children that held arms. I can say that they were full members of NPFL or not but they were working for Charles Taylor one way or the other. while fleeing Monrovia, to head in charlse Taylor controlled area, I pass through the battle line b/w PYJ and NPFL, and frankly I saw no children on the war front. But as soon as I got near Kakata I started seeing them are check points.

  6. “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.”

    Again, Mr. Taylor, it sounds like you are blaming America for something YOU decided to do. Do not ask for advice receive it and then try to bite the hand that gave it to you. YES America advised not to storm the capital b/c your soldiers and other fighting forces had already killed TOO TOO MANY people. YES it was the right thing to do to save civilian lives. This successful storming of the capital that you speak of?? What does that mean? Terrorizing people?? It sounds like you’re saying its America’s fault peace did not come to Liberia sooner. That’s straight bull****! It is YOUR OWN prerogative whether you choose to listen to America or not. You chose to listen and now it seems you are blaming them. There is something wrong somewhere. As Liberians would say: “That something inside”. Please stop trying to fool the masses! Children as cooks?? Children carrying rifles to protect their families??? Against who exactly could a small boy with a gun protect their family against? You? BIG MISTAKE Mr. Taylor self proclaimed FAMILY MAN….children do not protect families…MEN protect families…

    Finally do not blame the media for the things they reported or collected in photographs! If you wanted to control what kind of news came out of Liberia during the war, you should have done something positive for everyone instead of giving small boys rifles to protect their families….

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  8. Dear Readers,

    I worked in Liberia (for NGOs) during the conflict, before the conflict and after the conflict. I was one of the few Americans with a pass that allowed me to travel in Greater Liberia during the war. I was given a vehicle and six NPFL Scorpion Battalion youth escorts who accompanied me as far as Foya, in Lofa County. I saw, spoke with and observed over 100 children who were fully armed with AK 47s and claimed to have fought in various battles.

    In 1991, as a staff member for OIC International, the first soldiers disarmed by ECOMOG were interviewed and grouped by our staff at Samuel K. Doe Stadium. The demobilized combatants included many underage youth. I also observed youth with weapons at Charles Taylor’s mansion in Gbarnga, Bong County in 1991. While no pictures were allowed in “Greater Liberia”, I do have pictures of youth who were demobilized by ECOMOG in Monrovia.

    I am not trying to condemn Charles Taylor. I knew Charles Taylor as a compassionate humanitarian when he served as General Services Officer in Samuel Doe’s government. I was in Gbarnga when Taylor met with Jimmy Carter in 1991 and with Rev Leon Sullivan when he met with all the “warlords”around 1994. At both meetings Charles Taylor spoke of peace.

    I just hope the court gets this right. Liberia has suffered enough. We need peace.

    In the cause of the people, the struggle continues.

  9. Concern Liberian in the US, it appears that your understanding is premise on a clear prejudice of what transpired in Liberia. And more so, it suggest your unconscienable lack of respect for the suffering people of Liberia. For some of us who were victims of the bloodbath, I regard your analysis as very offensive and bias at its core. The war in Libeia was never a surprised and neither did the war in Sierra Leone. Moreover, the nature of war is not some happy occasion where people come to celebrate , war is a very destructive force and has all the elements of brutalities, criminality, and negative vices.

    So for you to associate Mr. Taylor supposed storming of Monrovia with TERRORISM only exposes your deprave mentality that seeks to invite sympathy for your HATRED of Mr. Taylor. Some of us lived in Downtown Monrovia at the time and that singular decision on the part of Mr. Taylor allowed us to escape from the city center as Prince Johnson’s forces was already clashing with Doe’s AFL. And Mr. Taylor gained more respect from ordinary Liberians as a result of that decision. More people flocked into Taylor control areas. As a matter of fact, during the entire war, Mr. Taylor’s NPFL provided free relief items for civillian in many displaced centers. Some of us who was displayed on University of Liberia’s Fendell Campus benefited. If you were in Liberia at the time, you would remember the “SOME DONE RICE.”

    So such analysis like yours is what has continued to feul the criminal leadership of Liberia where the likes of you feed on the exploitative quest of multi-national companies to gain influence. Your kind of Liberians lack a clear sense of nationalism and patriotism due to your weak political and leadership skills thus you would easily band with those who have no interest in the general well-being of our nation and its suffering people to phew negative propoganda about events during the war. I am happy that ordinary Liberians have now been exposed to all those socalled political and educated Liberians who have been fooling us in the past. Thanks to Mr. Taylor our eyes are now open and we shall NEVER , EVER allow our people to be use for any kind of war business. NO MORE WAR!!!

  10. so according to you Mr. Gray, Taylor is a great man, that helped bring peace to Liberia?? and you are accusing me of lack of respect for the suffering of Liberian people?? very interesting…

    I’ll tell you this, I dont think and I’m not alone in thinking this way that Taylor had “interest for the general well-being of the nation and suffering people”…

    Criminal leadership based on my analysis…hmm I advocate first and foremost African leaders not squandering money that should be given to the people (Taylor and his son hid thousands and thousands of dollars in overseas accounts), I advocate for African leaders to be SELF-Sufficient and we should be able to police ourselves not call upon another nation on another continent to help solve our problems, I advocate for African leaders to leave a country more positive at the end of their term than it was before they started.

    In my own opinion, Taylor has not contributed to a strong institution of moral standing in Liberia. One day soon he will be on trial for that too hopefully. What we have in post-war Liberia is fertile ground for there to be improvement where all voices are heard and not stifled regardless of difference of opinions and or one person’s interpretation of someone’s “analysis”…you can disagree respectfully as I have done…

  11. For anyone to suggest that Charles taylor ordered his forces to recruit children for combat purposes is a bit far fetched. I lived in taylor’s territories for almost three years.Surely, some attrocities were committed and I can attest to that. But, in terms of fighting forces, People volunteered overwhelmingly so much so that it was even difficult if not impossible to admit all of them who were mostly young adults.My cousin had to walk by foot from Buchanan to the battlefront near Monrovia to be admitted into the NPFL in 1992. I haven’t seen him since then.

    For me, I think Mr. Taylor simply lost control of the situation and extinuating circumstances started occuring. He was overwhelm and things happen.There was so much interplay both internally and externally which hampered the formation of a unified structure . Mr. taylor as a coward simply tried to survive and pretended to be in control.It would be so foolish and naieve to blame a single individual for a very complex web of circumstances. this will come back to haunt us.

    If you were taylor under attack by ulimo from sierra leone supported by the SL Government what would you do??

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