The former president of Liberia, Charles Taylor, who also was a warlord in the civil war in the neighbouring country Sierra Leone in the nineties, was arrested in Nigeria last Wednesday, 29 March. The Special Court for Sierra Leone has indicted him for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in 2003. For three years Taylor found refuge in Nigeria. Is it good news that he has now finally been brought to trial?
Wageningen is host to several students and researchers from Sierra Leone. One of them is Robert Chakanda, who works for the Centre for Genetic Resources. He came to Wageningen eight years ago for his studies, and he is currently doing research for a PhD on how the genetic resources in Sierra Leone have been affected by the war there. Robert generally returns to his country twice a year. ‘I like living here, although I feel more at home in my country. But it’s too heavy when the consequences of war constantly look you in the face.’
The civil war in Sierra Leone started in 1991, after the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) invaded the country. Chakanda explains that there are two sides to every war. ‘When Taylor tried to take over power in Liberia in 1989, the West African military forces ECOMOG used Sierra Leone to try to bring peace to the country. Then Taylor accused Sierra Leone of intervening and started a war. At the same time many people, especially the youth in my country, felt bitterness towards the government and the war strengthened their feelings. But Taylor also had another reason to fight in Sierra Leone: he wanted diamonds to fund his own revolution in Liberia. And the war got vicious. What you see and hear on the news about the atrocities is just the tip of the iceberg. Each time I return home I hear new stories about what actually went on.
‘We never thought war was going to be the answer. Many people were already facing a difficult situation and therefore rebels stood up against the government. But there was no reason to rape women, to chop off babies’ hands, or to abduct children. In my opinion we have to leave everything Charles Taylor is responsible for to the justice system of the Special Court to deal with.’
The Special Court for Sierra Leone was established in 2002. It has already convicted many people who were directly involved in war crimes. Robert sees no reason why Charles Taylor should be sent to another court like the International Court in The Hague. ‘That way you’ll make him into a mountain. But he should be confronted with the amputees, the orphans and the women who were raped.’ Taylor’s arrest and transfer to Freetown did not cause much commotion in the country. People need all their energy to deal with their own problems. ‘I called people in Freetown and they said that everyone was just going on with their business as usual.’ Robert felt relieved when Taylor was finally arrested. ‘I want him to face justice.’
The arrest will not have much influence on the future of Sierra Leone, Robert thinks. ‘Sierra Leone is a democracy. We have freedom of speech, and to choose our work. But we do need to get out of poverty. It’s a struggle for the government too, but we have to realise that we’ve just come out of a war.’ Nevertheless Robert sees people who’ve started to work on the future. ‘It’s remarkable. People are determined to heal themselves. They are still living amidst the rebels who caused the atrocities against them. But like a farmer I interviewed said: forgiveness has replaced sadness. I also see no animosity. You must realise that the capture of Charles Taylor won’t replace the limbs of the amputees; it may only help to bring them emotional relief.’ /
Yvonne de Hilster