Amnesty International’s twenty years with Charles Taylor

Former Liberian president Charles Taylor has been given a 50-year prison sentence in the Hague by the Special Court for Sierra Leone for aiding and abetting war crimes. The prison term is for crimes committed in Sierra Leone between 1996 and 2002.Amnesty International looks at key dates in the organisation’s campaigning work on his crimes and alleged crimes in Sierra Leone and Liberia prior to his arrest. Charles Taylor, who also led the armed opposition group National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), was found guilty last month by international judges of aiding and abetting war crimes during the Sierra Leone internal armed conflict.  He is yet to be prosecuted for crimes allegedly committed in his native country, Liberia. While this historic judgment affirms that former heads of state cannot consider themselves immune from international justice, Amnesty International remains concerned that tens of thousands of people who suffered atrocities in Liberia and Sierra Leone are yet to see other perpetrators brought to justice.TIMELINEIn April 1992, Amnesty International representatives just back from researching human rights abuses committed during the internal armed conflict in Sierra Leone noted that an invasion force led by the NPFL under Charles Taylor had captured towns and villages in the southern and eastern provinces of Sierra Leone. The rebel forces, Amnesty International said, had been responsible for major human rights abuses, killing hundreds of people who refused to help them. In a report on the 1995 Liberia peace agreement released in September 1995, Amnesty International reported that a number of political assassinations  – including two leading opposition party figures carried out in July 1994 –  had been ordered by the NPFL under Charles Taylor’s leadership.In August 1997, Charles Taylor was inaugurated as President of Liberia following the general election  of July 1997. In October 1997, Amnesty International called on the newly elected government of Liberia to place human rights on the national agenda and investigate human rights abuses committed during the war..In December 1999, an Amnesty International press release noted that Charles Taylor had intimidated a Liberian human rights group, the Justice and Peace Commission of Liberia (JPC), after it called for a truth commission to be established in the country to look into violations committed during Liberia’s seven-year internal armed conflict. .An April 2001 report remarked that Charles Taylor’s government had done virtually nothing to investigate and bring to justice those responsible for widespread human rights abuses during Liberia’s internal armed conflict, which had been raging since 1989. The report also documented that since mid-2000, dozens of civilians had allegedly been extrajudicially executed and more than 100 civilians, including women, had been tortured by the Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU) and other Liberian security forces. It noted that a former media consultant to President Taylor had ‘disappeared’ after he criticized exploitation of forest resources in southeastern Liberia by logging companies without benefits to the localsIn July the same year, Amnesty International reported that at least 40 Liberian students attempting to hold a peaceful rally had been tortured by security forces. At least 20 students were detained and female students were reportedly raped while held incommunicado and without charge for weeks. Yet the Liberian authorities did not open any investigations into the allegations and no one was brought to justice, Amnesty International said.

In December 2001, Amnesty International called on the international community to take steps to protect the population from further human rights abuses in Liberia. In June 2003, the Special Court for Sierra Leone announced publicly that Charles Taylor was charged with war crimes. Charles Taylor was in Accra attending talks aimed at ending Liberia’s internal armed conflict and Amnesty International urged the Ghanaian authorities to arrest him. In August that year, Taylor resigned the presidency and was granted exile in Nigeria. In the following years, Amnesty International repeatedly urged the Nigerian government to arrest Charles Taylor.On 23 March 2006, Amnesty International called on Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo to comply with Liberian President Johnson-Sirleaf’s request for Taylor to extradite Taylor and allow him to face trial at the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Taylor was captured by Nigerian authorities during a failed attempt to flee the country, and by 29 March he was surrendered to the Special Court for Sierra Leone in Freetown..In February 2007 Amnesty International concluded that during Charles Taylor’s presidency, no effort was made to remedy past human rights violations committed during the armed conflict. Government security forces, including the Anti-Terrorist Unit , included former combatants who had not been vetted or retrained, nor undergone any process of demobilization or reintegration. Numerous examples of interference of the executive in trials, especially those of political nature, proved that the judiciary was not independent of the executive, and it made no effort to bring any of the perpetrators to justice. Impunity reigned.Amnesty International continues to call for the investigation and prosecution of Charles Taylor for crimes he is alleged to have committed in Liberia.