Charles Taylor

Liberia

Home | Introduction | Ethiopia | Central African Republic

 

EARLY LIFE:

Charles Ghankay Taylor was born January 28, 1948, in Arthington, Liberia, near Monrovia. Sources vary in their claims, but most agree that his mother was a part of the Gola ethnic group, while his father was an Americo-Liberian (BBC news). He was raised in an elite setting, as the Americo-Liberians grew out of the freed slaves that eventually founded Liberia. He studied in the United States at Bentley College in Waltham, Massachusetts, where he earned a degree in economics.

CAREER:

The atrocities linked to his name began very early in his career. He was arrested first in 1979, having been accused of embezzling nearly $900,000 dollars while head of Liberia’s General Services Administration (Wikipedia). At this same time, he was also held for threatening a take over of the Liberia diplomatic mission in New York (Wikipedia). Later in 1984, he was arrested again for embezzlement, and this time contained in a jail in Massachusetts, from which he later escaped with other inmates.

It is the Sierra Leone civil war that is the main cause of Taylor’s criticism and current charges, especially his involvement and backing of the Revolutionary United Front. He gave advice to its Battle Group Commander, Sam Bockarie, and also provided arms (Wikipedia). According to Trial Watch, he also provided “material and personnel, ammunition, and training.” He is also accused of supporting the actions of another rebel group, the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (Trial Watch).

Interestingly, Taylor’s rise to power is sometimes viewed as one with much widespread support at the time. When elected president in 1997, he won with a landslide vote of 75%. However, many believe that the only reason for such success was a the fear he instilled in others about starting another war. His slogan was, “He killed my ma, he killed my pa, but I will vote for him.

Another interesting aspect of his career is the influence that religion seemed to have on his life. In the 1990’s, BBC conducted a series of telephone interviews with Charles Taylor. During one of the interviews, which were created for the company’s Focus program, editor Robin White, White “suggested that some people thought him little better than a murderer” (BBC news). Taylor, also a Baptist preacher, exclaimed in reply, “Jesus Christ was accused of being a murderer in his time” (BBC news.) In addition, he has been known to use his religion as a “dramatic gesture,” according to BBC, taking such actions as clothing himself from head to toe in “angelic white” and praying for forgiveness in front of a mass prayer meeting (specifically after accusations were brought against him).

Recently, he has also been associated with the Dutch businessman and lumber trader, Guus van Kouwenhoven, who is also charged with war crimes. He has been accused of providing militia fighters for Taylor and smuggling weapons in Liberia (Simons). He is supposedly a longtime partner of Taylor’s both having co-owned the Oriental Timber Company in the 1990’s, which allowed them to transport weapons and ammunition of the timber ships (Simons). Together, according to Marlise Simons, a writer for the New York Times, they orchestrated and financed “conflicts across West Africa, leaving at least 300,000 people dead. As president in 1999, he was accused of being a gun runner and a diamond smuggler by the United Nations (BBC news).

His career came to a startling halt in 2003 after much opposition by two main rebel groups: Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) (with rebellions beginning in 1999) and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL). It was this same year in which the United Nations officially issued a warrant for Taylor’s arrest. On August 10, he officially resigned from his position as president of Liberia on national television with a speech in which he also criticized the United States and the Bush Administration for wanting him to leave Liberia.

CHARGES:

According to Trial Watch, Charles Taylor’s charges are as follows, totaling 17 counts in his original indictment in 2003.

- “Extermination, murder, rape, enslavement and other inhuman acts as crimes against humanity.”

- “Violations of common article 3 of the Geneva Conventions and of the Second Additional Protocol: Acts of terrorism, collective punishments against the civilian population, violence to life and person, outrages upon personal dignity, pillage and abductions.”

- “Other serious violations of international humanitarian law, namely the recruitment of children under 15 years into armed forces.

CURRENT SITUATION:

On March 16, 2006, his indictment was amended, and he was only charged on 11 counts. On March 17, the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf requested that Nigeria return Taylor to Liberia. Nigeria agreed on March 25 to these terms, but Charles Taylor nevertheless attempted to flee the country and was arrested on March 29 at the border of Cameroon. That same day, the trial for Charles Taylor was moved to the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Currently, the International Criminal Court in The Hague is the location of the trial, although still under the direction of the Special Court (Wikipedia). On April 3, 2006, he pleaded not guilty to his charges. He is currently awaiting trial.