Africa reacts to Taylor verdict | Africa | DW | 26.04.2012
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Africa reacts to Taylor verdict

The verdict against ex-Liberian President Charles Taylor for involvement in the Sierra Leone conflict is headline news across Africa. Opinions are mixed, especially in his home country.

On the streets of the Liberian capital Monrovia on Thursday, many people were saying that, although the court in the Hague ruled that Taylor had only limited responsibility for the actions of Sierra Leone rebels, the verdict was still too strong.

"I am disappointed," said street vendor Richard Ellis. "As a Liberian, it is disheartening for me to see our former president treated like this." Another passerby told DW that the decision was "totally political." But there were also comments like this one from Monrovia resident Amanda Spence: "It's good that he went to The Hague - justice prevailed in this instance."

For criminal law expert Marcus Jones at the University of Monrovia, it is not surprising to hear different opinions from his countrymen and women. “Everyone here has their own personal opinion on the trial. You have some people who have problems with Mr. Taylor's administration - and others who are still loyal to him."

Two young amputees play football with their crutches on a beach in Sierra Leone.

Two young amputees play football with their crutches on a beach in Sierra Leone.

Relief in Sierra Leone

For many victims of the fighting in Sierra Leone, the verdict against Taylor offered some hope that similar atrocities around the world could be avoided in the future. "It's good, this one is good, it's a signal to other people that they should not completely use their money on war, ammunition, to destroy lives," Halimatu Jalloh told Reuters news agency in Freetown.

During the civil war in Sierra Leone, Jalloh's sister was raped and killed by local rebels who, the court found, were supported with money and weaponry from overseas by Taylor.

Sierra Leonean lawyer and human rights campaigner Alpha Sesay has been monitoring the court proceedings in The Hague since 2007. He told DW that he was confident that the decision was reached in the right manner, although he felt the verdict could have been tougher. "Personally, I can say that the case has been fair," he said. "Whether this is in line with people's expectations, that is a different question - many thought he was actually the mastermind." Sesay believes that the focus should now turn to the people of Sierra Leone who suffered during the country's bloody civil war.

Wider implications for Africa?

Many see the case against Taylor - the first of its kind involving an African head of state - as a landmark in international justice. Jibrin Ibrahim from the Center for Democracy and Progress in Nigeria says that it shows that there is accountability. "So many of our heads of state have committed crimes against humanity. With this verdict we are setting an example. From now on leaders who commit such crimes will also be punished," said Ibrahim.

But Marcus Jones is doubtful whether this case will have any real effect on the further pursuit of African leaders who may have committed war crimes. "The indictment really depends on the citizens of the individual countries," he told DW. "Look at Sudan. There the citizens and African leaders have said that Omar el-Bashir will not be subjected to any tribunal for crimes against humanity."

Charles Taylor is expected to receive his sentence on May 30. Prosecutors have called for a life sentence. Taylor's defense team is expected to appeal the guilty verdict.

Authors: André Leslie and Julia Hahn (with Julius Kanubah in Monrovia)
Editor: Susan Houlton / mll

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