An Urgent Need for a Robust Outreach Pregram as Sierra Leoneans Give Mixed Reactions to Charles Taylor’s Trial

Sierra Leoneans say they are losing interest in the Charles Taylor trial because it is taking too long and they are not getting enough information about the high profile case that is taking place half way around the world in The Hague.  Reactions from Freetown underscore the need for the Special Court for Sierra Leone to further ramp up its outreach efforts in the sub-region, including through new efforts to reinvigorate lagging interest in the trial.

Since the trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor was transferred to The Hague in 2006, the Special Court for Sierra Leone has been faced with immense challenges in implementing effective outreach programs that will inform the people of Sierra Leone and Liberia about the progress of proceedings in the trial. When the trial started in earnest in January 2008, many Sierra Leoneans relied on short radio programs and video clips of the proceedings in order to be kept informed of the trial. According to many Sierra Leoneans with whom discussions were held between late December 2009 and early January 2010, the Special Court for Sierra Leone’s outreach efforts on the Taylor trial, especially the streaming of video clips of proceedings, was short lived. For several months after the start of the proceedings in the Taylor trial, the court facilitated a live streaming of the proceedings within the court rooms in Freetown. What the court failed to do was to develop an effective strategy that will bring ordinary Sierra Leoneans into the court room to view the proceedings. A few media practitioners used to visit the court to watch proceedings especially when Mr. Taylor started his testimony as a witness in his own defense, but with time, this has ceased to be the case. People seem to have now become generally apathetic towards the trial and so no one goes to the court anymore to watch the proceedings. Since there are no more persons to watch the proceedings, the Special Court has ceased showing live proceedings in the court rooms. Proceedings are only now shown in the Special Court’s canteen for staff members who are interested to sit there and watch the trial. Other staff members watch the proceedings live through computers in their various offices.

In a discussion with a Sierra Leonean court monitor who has followed the proceedings over the years, he explained that “people appear not to be interested in the proceedings any longer, so the court rooms are virtually empty.” Asked what was responsible for the lack of interest among Sierra Leoneans, he added that “many factors, but I can just name two right now. One, Taylor has taken too long on the stand, and this might have led to people becoming bored. Two, too many legal issues coming up that people cannot really pay attention to,” he said.

This response resonated with many other Sierra Leoneans with whom discussions were held during the period under review. At a meeting with 17 university students on the University of Sierra Leone campus on December 28, 2009, a few of them expressed surprise to know that Mr. Taylor was still on the witness stand at that time. Apparently, most of these students had followed the start of Mr. Taylor’s direct-examination but lost interest when the testimony was taking too long.  Asked how come some students knew about the start of Mr. Taylor’s testimony but did not know whether Mr. Taylor was still testifying before the court, one of them responded that “the process has taken too long. When Charles Taylor started his testimony, we all found it very fascinating but for one witness to testify for several months, it becomes boring and affects people’s interests in following the process.”

In downtown Freetown, the sentiments expressed by the domestic court monitor were confirmed through discussions with ordinary Sierra Leoneans, civil society and a few legal practitioners. The general perception is that people are losing interest in the trial because it has taken too long.

A Sierra Leonean lawyer who has worked with the Special Court in the past had this to say. “Generally, to have a trial within our domestic system which takes several years to complete, people will lose interest. It even becomes more challenging for an international tribunal, which the people do not feel so much a part of and which conducts its proceedings several thousands of miles way. That is what has happened to the Special Court. Apart from those who are employed by the court, many ordinary people want this whole thing done and over with.”

A local taxi driver, asked about his impressions of the trial, said in Sierra Leone’s local language Krio “bra, we don tire sef, anytin den wan do now, mek den do am, once we cam dreg na morning en get wetin for eat, we nor care again.” Translated, he said “Boss, we are now tired, let them do anything that they want to do, as long as we can get up in the morning and come find something to eat, we do not care anymore.”

On various radio programs that were held in Freetown during which the Taylor trial was the topic of discussion, some Sierra Leoneans expressed similar sentiments as to the amount of money spent on the trial, the length of the trial and how it has affected the interests of the people. Another comment that came out during one of the radio programs on the United Nations radio was whether Mr. Taylor’s trial will have a positive or negative impact on future conflicts in other countries. “Once a warlord knows that giving himself up will lead to prosecutions, he will not hand himself over. That is the case now in Sudan and Northern Uganda,” said one participant. Another person spoke about how Mr. Taylor’s trial also confirms that the international tribunals are only interested in going after African leaders, and not one of their own.

While there is a general lack of interest in the trial among many Sierra Leoneans, their views on Mr. Taylor and his testimony are different. Many people with whom discussions were held expressed the view that Mr. Taylor is guilty of supporting the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels and so he must be found guilty. Some went as far as expressing views that Mr. Taylor must be executed like the many victims of Sierra Leone’s bloody conflict.

“Charles Taylor stole our diamonds, he sent rebels to come and kill us, he is a blood thirsty warlord,” were the words of a local fisherman who spends his time along Sierra Leone’s Lumley beach, fending for fish that he sells to local business women.

“Charles Taylor’s victims did not have the chance that he has now to tell the world his own story. We should just execute him and cut this whole story short,” said a secondary school pupil in Freetown.

“Let him give back all our diamonds and apologize to his numerous victims in Sierra Leone and Liberia,” were the words of another secondary school pupil in Freetown.

At the December 28, 2009 meeting with university students, in response to questions as to whether Mr. Taylor’s testimony has changed perceptions about him among Sierra Leoneans, some students maintained that they still believe the former Liberian president should bear responsibility for the actions of the RUF in Sierra Leone.

“Mr. Taylor has always been a very smart and articulate war lord,” one student said. “We always expected that he would deny the allegations against him but listening to his testimony, every sensible person should know that Mr. Taylor is telling lies. How can the man say that he did not know Foday Sankoh before the war started in Sierra Leone? How can he say that he was equally surprised to hear that RUF rebels had attacked Sierra Leone in 1991? The man is a liar,” another student added.

While these individual sentiments dominated discussions among the students, there was a general consensus that any verdict that is rendered by the court will only be meaningful if the process remains fair in line with international standards.

Judging from the discussions with people in Sierra Leone, Mr. Taylor’s testimony has done little or nothing to change the perceptions of ordinary Sierra Leoneans about his alleged association with the RUF rebels.

One Freetown-based teacher expressed the view that while he believes that Mr. Taylor is guilty of the charges against him, the money spent to try him could have been better spent to assist the numerous war victims in Sierra Leone. “As a Christian, I do not believe in an eye for an eye. I believe that whatever a man does on this earth, he will be rewarded by God almighty. The bible says that ‘vengeance is mine, says the Lord.’ Let us leave Taylor alone, he will answer to his maker,” she said.

Another point to note on the perceptions of Sierra Leoneans is the lack of understanding as to what will eventually happen to Mr. Taylor if he is found guilty after trial. Many people with whom discussions were held expressed the view that Mr. Taylor must be executed if he is found guilty, not knowing that the Special Court does not impose the death penalty on any convicted person. Many others do not know where Mr. Taylor will be imprisoned if he is found guilty.

In a discussion with a female Liberian national who now lives in Sierra Leone, she expressed how much she loves Mr. Taylor and how devastated she was to know that the former Liberian president is being tried by the Special Court. In her view, Sierra Leoneans should take responsibility for what happened in their country rather that making Mr. Taylor answerable for what happened. She, like many Sierra Leoneans, also lacks an understanding of the process. For example, she never knew that Mr. Taylor has been testifying as a witness in his own defense, could not tell what will happen to Mr. Taylor if he is found guilty and she could not tell which prominent Liberians had testified against their former president. She expressed shock to learn that Mr. Taylor’s former vice president, Moses Blah testified against him. She still believes that Mr. Taylor should return as president of Liberia.

Meanwhile, confusion existed over which court was trying Mr. Taylor. Some Sierra Leoneans believe that Mr. Taylor is being tried not by the Special Court, but by the International Criminal Court (ICC). At the December 28, 2009 meeting with university students, it was discovered that while majority of the students fully understand the details of the case and have followed the proceedings closely, a few still lack understanding of which court is trying the former Liberian president. Out of a total of 17 students who took part in the discussions, six of them believed that once the Special Court for Sierra Leone transferred Mr. Taylor to The Hague in 2006, the conduct of his trial was entirely transferred into the hands of the ICC.

On the whole, the views expressed by Sierra Leoneans during these discussions go to show how much outreach needs to be done in order to get Sierra Leoneans interested in the trial again, and for them to understand the process and cease the misperceptions on who is trying Mr. Taylor or what will happen to him if he is found guilty or acquitted.

In a discussion with a member of Sierra Leone’s civil society, he expressed disappointment at the lack of outreach efforts by the Special Court. In his view, the court is doing nothing to reach the ordinary Sierra Leoneans about the Taylor trial. Asked how effective he thought the court’s outreach efforts on the Taylor trial were, he had this to say:

“Not much man…in fact, they have done very little in terms of outreach both in Freetown and in the provinces. In terms of effectiveness, you cannot measure that since much has not been done.”

These views were, however, dismissed by the Outreach Coordinator of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, Patrick Fatoma, who asserted that the court’s outreach staff have been doing effective outreach on the Taylor trial, just like they used to do on the other trials which have already been concluded in Freetown.

“The format of the Special Court’s outreach has not changed, though with Charles Taylor, there is distance. To overcome the challenges of the distance, the Special Court has intensified the programs, doing screenings of videos in Freetown and the provinces, as well as Liberia,” Mr. Fatoma said.

Mr. Fatoma explained that the court maintains 17 outreach officers around the country who, on two days of every week, show the Taylor trial on large TV screens in various communities. He said that the outreach officers also coordinate town hall meetings through traditional leaders in various towns and villages during which they give members of the community an overview of the trial in The Hague. School children and war victims are also targets of the court’s outreach activities, Mr. Fatoma added.

In response to concerns that many people in Freetown had the wrong perceptions about the trial, such as whether the ICC or the Special Court for Sierra Leone was trying Mr. Taylor, Mr. Fatoma said that “The Special Court for Sierra Leone is not able to ensure that every single person in Sierra Leone and Liberia know everything but most people know that the Special Court for Sierra Leone is working, and most people know the differences in Freetown that Charles Taylor is not being tried by the ICC.” 

Mr. Fatoma, however, admitted that interest in the Taylor trial has reduced considerably but added that “that is not our fault.” He attributed the reduced interest in the trial to a “lack of education about the rule of law and justice in Sierra Leone.”

“Some people just think that trials should be run in few days. Also, people are biased against Taylor and so they just want the process over with and Taylor sent to jail. Again, as the trial continues, not everyone will continue to sustain the interest,” he added. He did note that there is a need to intensify efforts to get the people interested in the process again and he said that the outreach staff are working in that direction.

“There are new initiatives that we are working on to re-energize the populace about the trial again,” he said.

The Special Court got off to a good start with an effective outreach program especially when other trials were being conducted in Freetown. Outreach, however, is challenging at the best of times.  Trying to conduct outreach activities at a moment when the Special Court in Freetown is shutting down its operations, and when the only remaining trial is being held around the other side of the globe, presents even greater challenges for the outreach staff. Not only is the Special Court continuing to struggle for funds and resources to conduct outreach, but finding new and innovative ways to keep people interested and engaged in the proceedings at a time when interest is lagging is a huge test.

Increased funding by donor states for outreach is needed at the Special Court now more than ever – as is continued evidence of the innovation and resourcefulness that has always marked the Special Court’s outreach efforts since its early days.   As the first former head of state trial to conclude at an international or hybrid tribunal, it is crucial that people understand both its significance and the process.   Eyes need to remain not only on the trial, but on what the Special Court is doing to make the trial accessible to people in the sub-region.


    1. Hi Shelby,

      Thanks for your note and your link. I just read your blog piece too — I know this is an issue you have long focussed on in your own writing. I was just curious to hear more of your thoughts. You note in your own blog post “The article is fantastic, but I’m not sure I’m convinced by his recommendations. I’ve come to think that apathy toward the Special Court is not a technical problem. And thus I don’t think it can be solved with technical solutions–e.g. more and better outreach.”

      This is interesting. I’m wondering if you can tell us more: if the problem is not technical and therefore cannot be solved by technical solutions, what are your thoughts on what exactly is it that is the problem and how can it be fixed?

      Looking forward to hearing more from you.


    2. I have read Alpha’s report on how the people of Sierra Leone feel about the trial with care. From a critical analysis Alpha’s summary showed that the people of Sierra Leone have lost interest in the trial because the prosecution has not proven her case against President Taylor. For this reason, it is a waste of their time to watch the trial. I am more than certain, if the prosecution had the upper hand in this trial, every bar, shop, restaurant and video club would have the trial live. The lack of resources is not the reason people are not informed about the trial. The resources are available. David Crane promised the people of Sierra Leone that they would have full asset to the trial.

      The “urgent need for a Robust Outreach” has nothing to do with lack of funding from international donors as suggested by Alpha. In my opinion, it is a strategy on the part of the SCSL not to robustly reach the trial to the people. The reason for not getting the people involved is simple. The prosecution is yet to prove her case, and if the trial is available to the public most likely there may be an uprising and violence may occur. People, will be too angry because resources that are being wasted on the trial, could possible be used to assist with their needs.

      I strongly disagree with Mr. Fatoma’s assessment that people in Liberia are up to date on the trial. Perhaps, during the first couple of days when video clubs that have dishes showed the trial live. However, due to the large crowed that gathered to watch the trial in support of President Taylor, the Liberian government banned all video clubs from showing the live stream. The government was afraid that because of the large gathering, consisted mostly of youngsters, there could be the possibility of violence.

      The only medium to get information on the trial is on United Nations Mission In Liberia Radio (UNMIL). The trial used to come on the air at 9: 00 pm. But due to the high volume of listeners, the program was high jacked to 2: 00 am when most listeners were asleep. I am not sure if the trial is being broadcast or not as of present.

      Therefore, Sierra Leone may have learned a lesson from Liberia, keeping the public ill-informed serves as deterrence for violence.

      1. Hi Big B,

        I was disappointed to hear about the developments that you lay out in Liberia. That is a shame if information about the trial is not screened because of the big crowds, or put on radio so late that nobody is listening.

        I do want to post one thought in exchange for yours (and other readers): the Special Court for Sierra Leone is more than just the prosecution. In fact, the prosecutor’s office only makes up one of three arms of the court — the other two are the chambers, which have a separate role to decide on cases that come before them, and the Registry, which includes the defense office, and which provides support for the defense teams. The registry also contains the outreach office, as well as provides the administrative support for the court’s work. The court supports all three roles, not just that of the prosecution, and so it has an interest in not promoting just one side of a case — as they have two other arms that also play important roles. Without a defense team being at least available to support a defendent, for example, trials wouldn’t be as meaningful because it is not a fair fight for an accused person to not have the tools in place needed to properly defend him or herself. It is in a court’s interest to ensure that there is fairness between the defense and prosecution and that they don’t only promote one side of the story.

        I also hope it is not the case that keeping the public ill-informed serves as a deterrence to violence. My own sense is that the more informed people are with accurate information, and the conditions are created to ensure that information is conveyed in a safe way, means that people will also be able to find more avenues through which to express discontent without violence being the only avenue of expression. Perhaps people here might think otherwise?


  1. Mr. Fatoma, however, admitted that interest in the Taylor trial has reduced considerably but added that “that is not our fault.” He attributed the reduced interest in the trial to a “lack of education about the rule of law and justice in Sierra Leone.”

    “Some people just think that trials should be run in few days. Also, people are biased against Taylor and so they just want the process over with and Taylor sent to jail. Again, as the trial continues, not everyone will continue to sustain the interest,”

    1. Via Gbana,

      By any chance, do you know why the SCSL coordinator responded the way in which he responded? He said this it is not their fault. But instead, it is the Sierra Leonean people fault as evidenced of them lacking education and the rule of law in Sierra Leone. Folks, Mr Patrick Fatoma job is being threatened here. The Sierra Leoneans are basically saying this man is inefficient and worthless. As the result, Fatoma decided to expose them by fighting back. The once snake slime they both have being rubbing to shine their skin like body lotion by declaring Taylor as the fault guy has developed into cancer and venom. The one marching order and talking point they had in common is now putting them in total disarray. No more uniformity folks. Everybody is marching on their own now. No more lines. No more bands. No more cadance. And certainly, no more lefe right, left right. However, it is now right right, right left left, forward backward, and left left right. Nevertheless, Mr. Fatoma, I think your statement is a winnable rhetorical talk. Your inextricably self negating pronouncement will make your bosses to watch you with even more with suspicion. But don’t allow them to scare you. And don’t be their pet dog. Don’t be their lap dog. Don’t be their chilli dog. Don’t be their hot dog. Don’t be their fault dog. And certainly, don’t be their chihuahua.

      Folks, a game of survival is happening here. Sierra Leoneans are try very hard so bad to destroy this coordinator eating mouth. Via Gbana, If Tracey Gurd and Alpha Sesay jobs are threatened by these Sierra Leoneans right now like Mr. Fatoma, they probably will fight and fire back even harder. For example, lets say the Sierra Leoneans are saying as the result of Alpha and Tracey reporting, they have lost interest. In fact, Alpha and Tracey report did not go far enough to gain their interest. Even though, sometimes, Alpha and Tracey make the news in their interest as oppose to reporting the news. For example, the “big headline” that says Taylor own witness contradites him or words to that effect.
      However, I can guarantee you. They will say screw you Sierra Leoneans. You and Kabbah along with the international community brought a very weak and dismal case against Taylor. Nontheless, did you even see that one? How about the sloppy job the prosecution did and is doing? Again, we both say screw you. Pay day time. More money. In fact, bonus for us. And we will not rule out pay raise.

      1. Hi Jose,

        I don’t think Mr. Fatoma’s job is in danger, nor do I think Sierra Leonean people are making a comment on Mr. Fatoma. My own sense is this article underscores the very difficult task Mr. Fatoma and his team have in trying to engage people on the Taylor trial when it is happening so far away, and not everybody has the money for TVs and computers to be able to follow the trial in Sierra Leone. He is trying to explain what he is doing, but also recognizing that the task is huge and difficult.


        1. Tracey Gurd,

          That’s your interpretation. We are playing your own game now. Some of us are not dumb. I think by now, you should know. And I can tell you Tracey, we will beat you guys of your own games. Hadn’t been for the “big guns” on the side of the prosecution, We will show you guys who we really are.

        2. Look Tracey,

          If your sense is correct of what you think about the Sierra Leoneans in regards to your respond to Big B post, than people are now trying to be reunited with reality. I remember 2006, I was in this same Japan when the news broke that Taylor was arrested in Liberia by the U.N. and was transferred to the court in Sierra Leone and subsequently to the Hague. The reason the U.N, big, and small countries gave at the time for the Trial to be transferred to Europe was because of “security reason”. However, some of us did not buy that agument. I personally advance this same point that you are now making. I said the peoples in whose name this fake trial is being held, do not have the means to witness this trial as it unfolds. These are very poor people. Secondly, I don’t trust this court and David Crane words of making sure that the people will have access to the case from this distance. My third point was, perhaps, President Taylor witnesses could be denied visa to go to the Netherland to take the witness stand on his behalf. And the excuse will be, we are not the Netherland government. We don’t grant visas. End of story. But I must admit, I have never heard of Taylor witness being denied Visas so far.

          So my sister, we made these same points long time and no one listened to us. In fact, some of us were called rebels and killers. So Tracey, all these things that are happening now, we saw it coming.

          Concerning Liberia, the government is afraid of Taylor popularity. They will do everything with in their power to suppress the news especially when Mr. Taylor is winning this thing openly in court. Do you remember Ellen saying she does not want him in Liberia for not more than a day? Do you also remember Ellen asking the international community to take the trial from the sub-region? This news that Big B gave of the Liberian government should not be surprising to you. But it will blow out in their face one. Mark my word. Oh one more thing Tracey, the disgraced former minister of Information in the Ellen government was aksed why the government is not making any effort to bring the trial to the people of Liberia? His answer was, people are more concerned about their daily bread and the government has more pressing issue to be concerned about and Taylor trial is not one. Thank god, Dr. Lawrence Bropleh former minister of Information was fire/asked to resign/ volunteerily resigned on corruption charges. Right now he is potentially facing criminal charges. The Liberia General Auditing has ask the government to prosecute him.

  2. I do not see a robust outreach programme being the answer to the apathy in SL towards the case. I see this as a clear example of this kind of socalled justice not working for the African. Africans have a different way they deal with the resolution of conflict. This way is alien to them and is an imposed system.

    Even with some creative new way of reaching the people, the interest will still have waned. Unfortunately the West needs to learn to let Africans deal with their problems in the African way. First of all a lot of the people are more concerned with their day to day problems of life and have no real interest in some convoluted trial which has no real meaning to them especially when direct links have not been established.

    The perception held by those interviewed reflects the outreach and broadcase that were carried out by the media and others including the Prosecutor. They gave the impression that there was overwhelming evidence linking Mr. Taylor to the crimes. Unfortunately for them, this has not been forthcoming. This case has been a travesty and a scam and needs to be abolished. It is a waste of resources that could have been more advantageously spent to help the suffering people of SL.

    There had been so much misconception that Mr Taylor had all this money so the big countries thought they would be able to recouperate what they spent by prosecuting him. As we have see thus far, this was another pie in the sky dream of the Prosecutor. THERE JUST IS NO MONEY. Now they are stuck with a huge budget and wasted tax payers money on an ineffectual trial.

    I believe there is a need to develop more programmes to assist the victims rather than to think about improving any outreach of this trial. People need to be able to feed their children and educate them not watch a trial that they may not even full understand or appreciate.

      1. Tracey,

        I share similar view Helen. However, the idea of the West interpretation and dispensition of justice is a pretty good idea. But, this good idea was led by a process. It did not just conclude to this point. The West gradually graduated through this process to where they are today. I am pretty sure you must have heard of the American, French, Russian and even your own country Australia Revolution. Terrible things happened throughout those revolutions. There is nothing despicable that we have heard in this trial that did not occur in the West. However, you guys learned over time and now can boast of civilization. Conversely, Africa is not developed up to the standards of the West. The Africans are rich with natural resources, but at the same time, the poorest. Most of us are not educated. Most of us are illiterate. Our countries are not developed. How can you bring this standard of measurement on us? Your standard should be different from our standard. Tracey, Had not it being for America, I will not be who you know me to be(intellectual). Just imagine, my mother does not speak English. She doesn’t know how to read and write. She has her own way of settling dispute based on their tradition. How can you bring this “BIG ENCYCLOPEDIA AND LAW BOOK IN FRONT OF HER AND SAY I AM JUDGING YOU?


        1. Hi Jose,

          Interesting comment. I’m curious on your thoughts on this: In terms of the Special Court, the Sierra Leonean government approached the United Nations initially to create a court that would help prosecute the key leaders of the war who were suspected of committing international crimes. Similarly, the Liberian TRC recommended the creation of a similar hybrid court for Liberia, though we are yet to see whether this court will come to fruition. Do you agree with this idea of combining international and national laws, staff and judges in these types of hybrid courts to try to combat international crimes?


    1. Helen,
      I must applaud you for this thoughtful and courageous position. While i share you sentiments whole-heartedly it is a position many will not share but i believe it is high time people begin to think within this same context. The sociological and anthropological context within which the African system of government operates and dare i add the African way of life has never been a thing of envy to the west.

      To this end we have seen the west fail in its many attempts to impose its own systems and institutions on Africans. I hope that a time will come when they can finally give way and realize that solving a problem is not just about imposing your own system and thinking that is the answer.
      This trial is a failure and i shall continue to say that, not simply because of what takes place in the court room but simply because its setup is not within the very norms of African historical and social anthropological context.

    2. Helen,
      Your comment is so right,i can’t see for the life of me what benefit will a robust outreach programme about the trial of Charles Taylor bring to the SL people,except propaganda to try and get them to think Charles Taylor is responsible for the war in their country,most Sierra Leonean finding it unnatural to follow that school of thought, as they know very well who were responsible for the war in their country and giving the evidence to date,there has not been a smoking gun to tease the laymans imagination in SL,i suggest a robust outreach programme to create job for the people of Sierra Leone.

      Infact the only people in line to benefit if this farce comes off are the donor countries,(USA & UK )for international grandstanding and to remind other confident African leader who is in charge of their resource and offcourse the young aspiring Sierra Leonean lawyers/Prosecutors working selflessly to establish their careers in the international law circuit….

    3. Helen,

      As always, excellent points. Something happening here Helen to me. When I read Tracey respond to you, I was touched. She sounded like she wants people to give their take on what you wrote. She also sounded to me a little bit surprised. However, we have a responsibility here too Helen. Lets help these westerns also by telling them what you said. we should NOT assume that they know everything and they are just plain wicked. Apparently, they honestly don’t know. Maybe that way, they might take a step back and listen to both sides. But again, guys like David Crane, Alan White, and ect are making it harder for us too.

  3. Tracey and Alpha,

    I guess it is about funding to boost media outreach program to the region in general and Sierra Leona and Liberia in particular.

    A quick question: have you folks every being contacted or have you contacted the BBC focus on Africa program or the BBC African service department for any interview that will inform the region of the excellent work you are doing and how this site could be an alternative for viewing to follow this proacted trial? I know some, if not most, folks in Liberia and Sierra Leone do not have easy access to the internet or might not afford the cost of frequenting internet cafes like folks in Ghana or other parts of the world but those who can afford could follow the trial on this website.


    Tracey, please post this comment and delete earlier comment connceted to this thread.

    1. Tracey and Alpha,

      I guess it is about funding to boost media outreach program to the region in general and Sierra Leona and Liberia in particular.

      A quick question: have you folks every being contacted or have you contacted the BBC focus on Africa program or the BBC African service department for any interview that will inform the region of the excellent work you are doing and how this site could be an alternative for folks to follow this protracted trial? I know some, if not most, folks in Liberia and Sierra Leone do not have easy access to the internet or might not afford the cost of frequenting internet cafes like folks in Ghana or other parts of the world but those who can afford could follow the trial on this website.


      Tracey, please post this comment and delete earlier comment connected to this thread.

      1. Apologies, Davenport.Noko7 – I had already posted your earlier comment before I saw this, and also responded to it. I will delete your earlier one but keep my commetn in tact.

    2. Hi Davenport.Noko7 — thanks for your kind words. I know the BBC World Trust actually have two reporters based in The Hague who cover the Taylor trial every day — one from Sierra Leone and one from Liberia (we actually posted their pictures last week on the blog — you can see them here: And thanks to Frank at West African Democracy Radio, I know they also cover the trial with weekly programs, including some information and comments from this blog. Alpha also does some radio interviews whenever he goes back to Sierra Leone.

      I agree it would be great if there were more radio coverage of the trial in the region so people who do not have access to the internet can follow the trial regularly. In fact, part of the hope of this site would be that journalists in West Africa who are unable to follow the trial everyday or go to The Hague might be able to use this site as a resource for their own reporting. But I know even for media outlets, it is hard sometimes to use the internet as regularly as they would like to due to connection and cost issues.

      Hopefully we will hear of more radio programming about the trial in the sub-region as this trial continues.


  4. One option to aid outreach would be to archive the daily testimony so that people can watch the proceedings on their own schedule. (Although it is great that the transcripts are made available, but it isn’t quite the same as watching the trial.)

    Thanks though for all the great outreach you do with this site. If not for it, I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the interesting developments!

    1. Questions — you read my mind! I have been thinking of an archive too lately. Wouldn’t it be great if an internet library of the footage from the Taylor trial existed, so that people could watch any time they liked?

      I’m curious whether other readers also think this is a good idea. May I throw out a general question to people here: would you watch video of the trial – like Mr. Taylor’s testimony, that of prosecution witnesses earlier in the trial, or defense witnesses who are currently testifying, if it was available online? Do you think it would be interesting/useful/worthwhile to have footage available for anybody to watch as long as they had an internet connection?

      (Thanks also, Questions, for your kind words about the site — I am glad you find it helpful).


      1. TRACEY,


  5. The outreach officer used the right word to sum it all up- People in Sierra Leone are BIASED towards Mr Taylor. Majority are requesting jungle justice. For me, I don’t blame them. They were being deceived over the years by the international community that Taylor was their problem. For us in Liberia, though no outreach program is here, we’re following this trial the hard and expensive ways thru internet and mobile phones web browsers.

  6. Folks,

    Something admittedly clumsy happening here. This is a Great News. I think there is a massive transformation percolating here folks. I am loving every square inch of this news. Man oh man, oh yeah! Sierra Leoneans are not interested in this fake trial any longer. Folks, this is news. And this is great news. If you think this is not news, think again. But what is even more greater of a news, is that President Taylor is being blamed again for Sierra Leoneans lacking interest in their own case. Let’s look at why they are blaming him again for lacking interest in their case and against their own self interest. According to this great news, President Taylor took too long as a witness in his own defense. As the result, they were bored. UNBELIEVABLE. However, you took someone to court for allegedly committing crimes against you. You had over Seven (7) years making your case through the court, foreign governments, U.N, international media, international community and ect. You did not complain of being bored. Conversely, this accused was mute and habitually quiet all through those 7 years. He did not complain of being bored, or you are taking too long. This innocent accused, took later over 36 weeks to make his case, by taking the witness stand for himself first, and now you are saying, you don’t have interest out of a sudden anymore? Folks, 7 years and 36/37 weeks, which one is longer and even boring? To me, 7 years is longer than 36/37 weeks.

    Folks, I knew it wouldn’t take too long for them to tell us that Sierra Leoneans have lacked interest in their own case. Bear in mind now, these are the same Sierra Leoneans standing and shouting like peasants with pitchfolks in their hands ready to storm the gates and maul President Taylor. In fact, in this identical good news story, some of them are saying Taylor should be executed. They furthered by saying, Taylor should give back their diamonds and apologize to them. Folks, what diamonds are they talking about? Are they referring to Super Model Naomi Campbell’s friend, Mai Farrow say, Super Model say, some mysterious man say, the diamonds you received last night, Taylor say, it came from him? Why can’t they ask the prosecution about President Taylor’s 5 billion dollars in foreign banks that suppose to be given to them? Folks, this horrible libel, false accusation, little snippet here and there, and a bunch of lies that begin with legendary status had made these people to believe what they believed. All in all, this is a pernicious myth. Taylor is innocent on all 11 counts.

    Folks, I just have to say this before I forget. This is very important and I am content to share it with you. This is very juicy guys. While it is true that the Sierra Leoneans continue to blame every body but themselves, they have extended it to the court. They are also blaming the court for the lack of interest. According to Sierra Leoneans, the court is also to be blamed for their lack of interest. Their reason is that the outreach program has dwindled down. Guess what? This inherently fraud court outreach coordinator, Mr. Patrick Fatoma is not taking it anymore from them. He respectfully told them“that is not our fault.” He attributed the reduced interest in the trial to a “lack of education about the rule of law and justice in Sierra Leone.” AMEN MR. COORDINATOR. Sir, you have the fortitude to stand up for what is right. But let me make you to understand one thing here. We don’t want you on our side. Stay where you are. You can do yourself a favor here, by calling out wrongs when you see it. You can also give a 180 degress U-turn by telling the world that this whole trial is a fake and scam. That way, you will be able to add more meaning to your life.

    1. Folks,

      I meant to have said 26/27 weeks of Liberia beloved president on the witness stand and not 36/37 weeks.

  7. The above narrative failed to ask during this unscientific survey a basic and fundamental question: Has there been evidence to date that conclusively points to the guilt or innonce of Mr Taylor?
    I suspect it is the lack of this evidence, the smoking gun, that has fostered disinterrest in these proceedings. The prosecution claimed to have damning evidece, it absence has been a great disappointment.

    Secondly,this is the 21st century. The appearance of the Chief Prosecutor- a white woman, America, with all the negative and historical baggage instinctively does not sit well with most Africans.

  8. What is the benefit of this story? Do you think that it is everybody in Sierra Leone that have problems with Mr. Taylor. Why did you keep your discussion to seven students? What is the population of the University? Why didn’t you do questionnaires? I find your story absolutely bias and a public relation tool. Please remember that a number of us depend on this site for its frankness but stories like this that is obviously bias is dangerous? Sorry, I do not want to get into the pro and anti Taylor discussion on this site but I need you to keep the ground level. This will give us neutrals something to turn to at the end of this trial.

    1. Hi Emmanuel George — thanks for your comments.

      Just a short note in response: this article isn’t intended to be about our thoughts, or Alpha’s thoughts, on the content of what people are saying in Sierra Leone, or whether Mr. Taylor is guilty or innocent. He was simply aiming to highlight the perceptions that existed among people that he spoke with. It was not intended to be a systematic study, but just as a means of highlighting the informational challenges in getting people interested in the trial when it is happening so far away, and knowing what is actually going on in the courtroom.


    2. Look Emmanuel George; when you do a reaearch, you need ‘control’ and independent groups because you need percentile in later tabulation. Therefore, you do not need to interview the entire population! This is not only intellectual aproach, but a scholary design! Hope this breakdown helps a little, George.

      1. Thanks Fallah. Please read my comment again. I have read most of you argument on this site and I think some of them are brillant. But why do you need “control” when sampling human opinion.

  9. Hi Noko5 — I received a comment from you yesterday at 11:14pm. However, alas it does not meet our policy and I can’t post it in its current form. I invite you to reformulate and resubmit.

    Just as you do, I just wanted to add a note: I understand that some quotes in this story may have upset you. I just wanted to note that this story was simply intended to demonstrate that there is an information gap about the trial in Sierra Leone that needs to be bridged, and outreach about the trial and what is happening in the courtroom is an important way to bridge that information gap. Alpha is not commenting on Mr. Taylor’s innocence or guilt here, nor endorsing any specific quotes — but it is a story intended to illustrate some of the challenges in getting accurate and regular information about this trial to people half a world away from where the trial is taking place, and how important it is to clarify misperceptions about the trial and generate interest in what is happening — especially when these types of trials take so long because they are so complex.

    I welcome you raising concerns about the content of the post to add to our discussion here. I also can assure you that Alpha was not making any comment on the guilt or innocence of Mr. Taylor, but simply describing what people were saying to him when asked about the trial.

    Best, as always,

  10. Sierra Leoneans are getting rapidly getting disinterested in the case because as the proceedings progress it exposed them and their actions against thier people. I was in Sierra Leone at the beginning of all the major fightings from Koindu when the RUF first entered to Freetown when the AFRC took over. As a journlist with Concord Times Newspaper in Freetown, I had the opportunity to be in the center of events and watch it up close and personal. The International court has a better chance of convicting Taylor for war crimes in Liberia then crimes in Sierra Leone. And for stealing diamond? that’s a joke. If Sierra Leoneans are unaware, Liberia does have an equally huge deposit of gold and diamonds.

  11. Hi Noko5 — unfortunately I still cannot post your comment as it is focussed on another person.

    That said, I do absolutely understand that you felt outraged by some of the quotes from people interviewed in the report. And we remain happy to discuss the issues that upset you, of course! But may I please ask one thing of you and all readers: when we discuss concerns, can we please focus on the specific instances of perceived bias in our coverage or reporting, rather than on the individual writer? Both Alpha and I are completely happy to discuss any problems people have with what we write – but we do ask readers to apply the same principles with us as we do with the site generally: to focus on the issues and not other people.

    Okay, with that said, I do, as always, look forward to hearing from you again, Noko5, and to hearing more about the issues which distressed you in the report.


  12. Hi Tracey,
    Quite honestly, I actually feel that my freedom of expression concerning the bias of your workmate is being supressed by the way you are intervening so I will let it be , and not to the discuss the matter further.. thank you.

    1. Hi Noko5 — I’m so sorry to hear that. I do not at all mean to suppress your freedom of expression. I just hope we can engage on the substance of the issues you raise – if you think Alpha or I are being biased, please do point us towards the places in our emails or posts where you think that to be the case, and we are happy to discuss it. Alpha and I take bias issues very seriously – we know the credibility of the site comes from us being as balanced and fair as we possibly can, and so we want to address any perceived indications of bias if and when they appear. So please, Noko5, don’t feel suppressed — I do very much welcome your thoughts on this and any other issues around the trial.

  13. Tracey and all,

    This is a fascinating discussion.

    Tracey, I’m not sure I can suggest a good alternative, partly because I’m still not sure I completely understand why there is such widespread apathy. But it just seems to me that the TRC process in Liberia had substantially less money to work with than the Special Court did for the Taylor trial (I think), yet Liberians were riveted by the TRC process.

    I might agree with what Helen suggested–that this form of justice does not resonate with Liberians and Sierra Leoneans. But if that’s the case, there’s little hope for effective outreach, and I’m not sure I’m that pessimistic. Though to support Helen’s claim, I can’t think of any recent domestic trial that has generated much enthusiasm in Monrovia. (Though that could also be because domestic courts have yet to try any “big fish.”)

    But I by no means want to detract from the importance of this site. I know Liberians who would not be able to follow the trial very closely if not for this blog. And personally I have found the clear daily, weekly, and monthly summaries (along with the Berkeley War Crimes Center reports) extremely valuable.

    Also, responding to another thread, I would definitely watch archival footage of the Taylor trial. It would be especially wonderful if you all could somehow embed video with the daily summaries. (i.e., if I am reading one of the old daily summaries and want to hear more about what a specific witness said, I could just watch the video from the same post.) But even if that’s not possible, just having the video footage archived somewhere would be useful.



    1. Hi Shelby — that is very interesting. So your take is essentially that no amount of outreach will help if the form of justice itself does not resonate with people. What a great topic for discussion here!

      Glad you think that the archive idea is a good one. I do too. I’m not sure if it is possible, but I do like the idea of an archive existing somewhere.


  14. Hello Tracey,
    If I may add my thoughts to your question to Shelby.

    I think that ‘apathy’ may be response because people feel disconnected to the court-driven process of justice.

    (In part because people see courts as being the most corrupt institution in their country, and therefore they have little faith in this part of the legal system — see the results of the Transparency International in both Liberia & Sierra Leone

    In contrast, TRCs — whose mandate IS to talk to victims — may be much more “approachable” and immediate in people’s lives.

    However, it is important to note the audiences for the two instruments.

    Court cases serve as an important deterrent; part of the intention is that when belligerents think about launching a rebel invasion or supporting a rebel movement, they will think twice — there are real world consequences. They could end up in jail for a long time.

    Another motivation is that people understand that rule of law IS returning. To feel this, they needn’t follow the trial closely. But they must perceive that those guilty are punished in a fair process.

    I don’t get too worked up about whether people are following closely. I don’t think they need to.

    I think it is far more important that they believe that the process is fair (and not corrupt like their local courts… this should help put pressure on judicial reform in their own countries.)

    I’d like to see that these cases really do represent a deterrent, but for psycho-/socio-paths, this may be bit too much to hope for.

    1. Questions – these are very interesting points, and ones which I hope can generate a broader discussion here.

      The questions I would pose in response – to you and to other readers:

      1. A hypothesis to throw out there to start with: when people find meaningful or interesting ways to engage with a court process, they can and will connect to it and engage with it. Perhaps I can use the readers on this site as an example — people come here to get updates about the trial but I think many people here are probably more interested in the actual discussion that each day’s events provokes among other readers. People are able to discuss the trial and mull over ideas together with people daily. Part of the reason that the trial is relevant or meaningful is not only the content of the trial itself, but the ability to have a forum in which an ongoing and personal conversation about its meaning with other readers, to have those ideas heard and engaged with in turn, and to discuss larger issues, including how the trial relates to the broader questions of rule of law and other issues including, as you point out, the potential deterrence factor. The question we might ask though: is this simply a self-selecting group here who would be interested in the trial no matter what? Or does this perhaps suggest that if interactive ideas were implemented in different ways in Liberia and Sierra Leone — eg through call-in radio programs, or by tapping into places where conversations about “big issues” already exist in communities anyway – that this can also generate more interest and engagement with the trial, and combat any apathy felt towards the trials? Or else, efforts to try to make the trial more interesting through other ways? One example: Some NGOs in Cambodia tried something very interesting in relation to the Khmer Rouge court that was set up to try war crimes too — they created a soap opera about the trials, and also a news talk show each week discussing the first trial. The talk show shot to the second most popular TV show in Cambodia and is now being repeated on television. I wonder if those types of ideas would generate more interest? Perhaps this is a “chicken and the egg — which comes first: the interest of people, or the effort to make the trial interesting for people?” question — but I would be interested in your view and those of others here.

      2. Your point about deterrence is a particularly interesting one. I have two questions: do these courts act as a deterrent generally — or do you think that belligerents/rebels make calculations on whether (1) the hybrid courts have the capacity to try everybody and work out whether they are on the possible list or not; and (2) whether the national courts are then able to prosecute even if they escape the hybrid process? And to the extent that beligerents/rebels may try to test the “impunity gap” that may exist between these hybrid courts and national courts — perhaps one of the key efforts that should be made around courts like the Special Court for Sierra Leone is to leverage its existence and presence to try to help reconstruct the national legal systems after times of mass conflict? Of course this can’t be done by the courts themselves as they are too busy trying to run cases — but perhaps by donors or rule of law programmers in the country? It would seem that to really make the most of the deterrence possibility that you suggest, that donors should be capitalizing on the presence and investigative/legal/practical expertise that exists in these courts and trying to devote resources to ensure that national systems have all the tools needed to try the same types of very complex crimes like the ones the SCSL is dealing with — eg crimes against humanity, and for command responsibility for crimes. Prosecuting these types of crimes requires different types of laws, investigations and other measures complared to regular murder crimes, for example, where the direct perpetrator is usually the one on the stand.

      Will look forward to hearing yours and other people’s thoughts about these questions.


      1. Tracey, good post. I think we all learning from this trial. I will hope they will create different laws apart from the national and current international law to try any accused of another country.

    2. Well Done question,
      I support the deterrent point,but who was President Taylor Belligerents and Rebellious to?,there is actual proof to show Mr Bush & Mr Blair breach international law in a more devasting way than Mr Taylor ….so what are we going to do through the rule of law to deter Anglosaxon male from committing enous crimes against humanity around the world?

  15. Look, what is this cry of ‘bais’ all of a sudden when the Defense Witnesses seem to raise more questions than answers? Earlier, when taylorites thought that the trial was great and fair, especially when the High Judge, objected to Prosecution’s objections, and etc. Now either Alpha or Tracey are bais in reporting or the reporting did not cover 100% of respondants! Has this become a circus or what?

  16. Tracey & ALpha,
    this commentry is so informative as to the lack of intrest and better outreach programs for this trial. my personal two cents in this matter goes firstly to the economic and geographical locations of the two sister countries involved in this trial namely RSL &RL. people in these parts are not privilage as their peers in other developed african countries. with lingo barriers already a major problem,most can’t not afford generators, TVs radios, to follow current events most lived off the land for survival, and for those living abroad, the timmimg of the live broadcast, ie. European times converted to other times the Amreicas, and its environs are just very challenging. your questions for a relayed broadcast is a very good one and that will enable most to see the trial at their convience.question I liked to asked is have you explored the possibilities of carrying this trial at least on a weekly or Biweekly basics on other TV channels in the US and other western countries? will pulse for response best luck.

    1. Ziggy Salis — you make excellent points. I know in other countries where hybrid courts exists, such as Cambodia — and I think the Special Court has done this is Sierra Leone too — people have tried to address the lack of resources people have by trying other ways to let people know about the trial — including through travelling around the country with a film about the trial, and created forums for people to know about what is happening in the trials and to talk about it. I have been in Cambodia where my colleagues took a projector and screened a film about the Khmer Rouge tribunal onto a big sheet of material hung up in front of a village town hall. There was some food, and also some music there, and nearly the whole village came to watch the film — it didn’t cost people anything for people to turn up, and they did not need any radios or TVs. After the film, people talked about their experiences under the Khmer Rouge regime, and their thoughts about the court. BUt the problem here is that this is a very time and people-intensive effort to take around a whole country to let everybody know, and it means that villages don’t get to see films all that regularly. To me, it underscored the very difficult task of trying to reach so many people who may be interested in the trial, but don’t have many ways to find out about it.

      But I do agree with you for people living in the diaspora with better access to radio and TV — it would be great if there were easy ways for poeple to watch the trial or parts of it at their own convenience.


  17. Tracey,

    Thanks to you and Alpha for this report on reaction of Sierra Leoneans to the trial. But I was wondering if similar assessment can be done in Liberia?

    Regarding Alpha’s recommendation, I don’t believe it would be attainable do it is practical or doable. Infusing money for media or publicity with hope that it would resurrect interest in the case is not a worthwhile venture to me.

    1. Hi Andrew,

      In terms of your question about Liberia: as a matter of fact, we will be going to Liberia in the coming months to look at outreach efforts particularly around the Taylor trial as part of another project we are working on here. But I do hope to post something on this blog about that trip once we get a sense of what people are saying in Liberia. I agree it would be very interesting to find out what people think in Monrovia and beyond too.

      On your comment regarding the recommendation in Alpha’s piece: I’m curious why you don’t think extra money or effort devoted to outreach about the Taylor trial is practical and not worthwhile. Is it also your sense that people are just not interested? And if so, why do you think that’s the case?


  18. Tracey, question, and all,

    Tracey writes: “A hypothesis to throw out there to start with: when people find meaningful or interesting ways to engage with a court process, they can and will connect to it and engage with it.”

    I agree with this hypothesis. But if we take it to the extreme, I can imagine this scenario: What if instead of creating a hybrid war crimes court, the UN had supported a court where Sierra Leoneans could sue individuals who wronged them during the war. There are so many obvious pitfalls with this approach–to name just one, it could create conflict within communities as everyone is trying to sue everyone else. But perhaps, with sufficient outreach, people could come to understand this court as a tool for reconciliation. Does that mean that we should promote the creation of this court, and fund lots of outreach for it? Is it the duty of the international community to give Sierra Leoneans tools to engage with a form of justice that they might not trust? Or should we instead focus on supporting local justice and reconciliation processes? (Though I don’t know what that would involve.)

    The above paragraph probably makes me sound too skeptical of the court’s value and the importance of engaging with its trials. So to moderate my position, I think it’s worth noting that I am one of those people who would not be as interested in the Taylor trial if not for this website. And I imagine I’m not alone. Also, while I sometimes think of the Special Court as a Western form of justice, of course it’s not completely foreign to Sierra Leoneans and Liberians. And with the legacy activities and this website, perhaps the Special Court can (or already has?) spark conversations about domestic trials that relate to the rights of defendants, due process, etc.


  19. Thank you, Alfa, for posting this. And in regard to whether or not I would utilize a video archive, I probably would for the significant witnesses. Recognizing, however, that video can take up a lot of space, another option would be to create audio podcasts of the testimony. It’s another option to think about in this world of limited resources and scarce funding. Finally, although I can understand the frustration of those in Sierra Leone with the pace of this trial, trials such as this do take a long time because fair proceedings are necessary in order to arrive at an outcome which everyone will accept.

    1. Hi Paivy — that is a good suggestion on the podcasts too. I’m sure there are a lot of creative ways that don’t have to cost a fortune that will allow the testimonies to be as accessible as possible.

      And you are completely right about these trials taking a long time — I think the Slobodan Milosevic trial lasted about four years before Mr. Milosevic died and before a judgement was handed down. So this one of Mr. Taylor is comparatively quick, but even still, it is a long time for people wanting to follow it, especially from so far away.


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