Why wasn't Charles Taylor tried for the crimes he committed in Liberia?

The Special Court for Sierra Leone found the former Liberian President Charles Taylor guilty of “aiding and abetting” war crimes during Sierra Leone’s long civil war. Last week Charles Taylor was finally sentenced to 50 years in prison, which he will serve in the UK. There were atrocious crimes during the civil war in Sierra Leone (see our blog post here), and Charles Taylor did quite a bit more than “aiding and abetting” the Revolutionary United Front rebels under the leadership of Foday Sankoh; he armed Sankoh and organized the rebellion with the aim of taking control of, or at least destabilizing, Sierra Leone. There should be no doubt that he is guilty of war crimes in Sierra Leone.

But here is the thing: Charles Taylor also committed war crimes in Liberia. He was a ruthless warlord. He not only used child soldiers extensively, but he encouraged them to commit atrocities, even against their own parents. He won an election in Liberia in 1997, but this was at best an election under the shadow of violence. Charles Taylor campaigned with the slogan: “he killed my ma, he killed my pa, but I will vote for him,” making a banner out of his atrocities, and carrying the implicit threat of further violence if he did not win. His destructive behavior continued once in power. He looted Liberia’s resources and gutted the state.

So it would be natural to expect him to be tried for war crimes in Liberia before being tried for “aiding and abetting” Foday Sankoh in Sierra Leone. But the Liberian government had no interest in bringing charges against Taylor for what he did in Liberia.

Isn’t that strange? Doesn’t Liberia have a democratically elected Nobel Peace Prize winning president in Ellen Johnson Sirleaf? Why wouldn’t she and the Liberian government go after Charles Taylor and bring some degree of justice to his numerous victims in Liberia?

It turns out there’s a good — or actually bad —reason for this, and it’s related not only the complicity of Liberian elites currently running the country in Charles Taylor’s crimes but also to the root causes of Liberia’s underdevelopment as we explain in our next post.


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