Guns for Diamonds: Charles Taylor Denies War Atrocities
Many of us in the United States are woefully ignorant of news that occurs outside our borders, so let’s get a little background.
In 1989, Taylor put together a guerrilla army, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), to overthrow Liberia’s government. If recruiting child soldiers upsets you, you wouldn’t approve of Taylor’s methods. The rebel group’s killings began, and they were gruesome.
Samuel Doe was the corrupt president of Liberia at the time. The national army fought back against the rebels and they, too, harmed innocent civilians. Civil war broke out in the country, and the conflict turned increasingly bloody and terrifying. Doe was tortured and assassinated on film by another rebel faction (not Taylor’s).
The fighting continued for years, while humanitarian organizations and other countries attempted to step in and resolve the conflict. It’s estimated that more than 200,000 Liberians were killed. A million more escaped and became refugees. Charles Taylor was elected in 1997, but the violence didn’t end, and, in fact, another civil war broke out in 1999. Taylor was exiled in 2003.
Liberia’s got all kinds of goodies, from diamonds to timber to rubber. And diamonds are part of the reason Taylor’s on trial — they’re called blood diamonds for a reason. The case against him is that his crimes against humanity didn’t end in Liberia. The Special Court for Sierra Leone (which can only prosecute him for what he did there, and not for any crimes that occurred in Liberia) says that he stepped into the neighboring country’s similarly bloody civil war on the side of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). If you’ve heard of the RUF, it’s because their atrocities are legendary — there are photographs of kidnapped children addicted to drugs, carrying guns, with RUF’s letters carved into them, and their stories of being forced into prostitution or killing their parents are heartbreaking. The RUF was also quite fond of cutting off people’s appendages.
Taylor is accused of giving the RUF weapons and directing them to murder, rape and enslave the people of Sierra Leone. For a full list of charges, please see this report in Forbes.
While you’re at it, check out How the African Diamond Trade Works and How the Rules of War Work.