Mixed Reaction to Sentencing of Liberia’s Charles Taylor
FREETOWN, Sierra Leone – Former Liberian leader Charles Taylor was sentenced Wednesday to 50 years in prison for aiding and abetting war crimes in Sierra Leone. Hundreds of people turned out at a courthouse in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, to watch as Taylor received his sentencing, broadcast live from The Hague.
Musa Conteh still has nightmares about his experience during the war. Rebels took over his house in Makeni, north of Freetown. Several times they almost killed him. He says he is lucky to be alive, but others did not have the same luck.
“I’ve seen some of my family members shot at close range without even interrogation by the killers, and that’s sad,” he said.
Conteh, who came out today to hear the sentencing, thinks Taylor should have received the 80-year sentence that prosecutors had asked for.
The government of Sierra Leone says “justice has been done” with the sentencing of former Liberian president Charles Taylor.
Government spokesman Sheka Tarawalie said Wednesday that Taylor’s 50-year sentence for war crimes and crimes against humanity was welcome news for victims who may now find some relief.
David Crane, former chief prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone, however, called Taylor’s sentence “appropriate,” saying it represents the “end of an era” for a man who played a central role in atrocities that destroyed lives in Sierra Leone.
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“I am pleased for the people of Sierra Leone who finally have seen final justice for the one man who was really the center point in aiding and abetting a horror story that destroyed their lives,” he said.
Others think the sentence is too harsh.
Eldred Colins is a former member of the rebel Revolutionary United Front, or RUF. He insists Taylor never took diamonds from rebels. And he says the charges against Taylor were exaggerated.
“You can say he gave us a way to come to Liberia from Sierra Leone and some other help but that communication was only for about two years,” he said.
Amputees such as Mohamed Tarawallie were some of the people most affected by the war.
Rebels killed Tarawallie’s parents when he was just 14 years old. They also cut off both his hands.
He says he feels relief with the sentence. “I feel good because somebody caused crime in the country,” he said. “They now arrest him, discipline him.”
He says it is people like him who now have to suffer because of Taylor’s actions.
And he says he just wishes there was more support for victims like him, such as free healthcare or skills training to find work. He hopes something like that will happen in the future.
As for Musa Conteh, he is happy just to see Taylor convicted and sentenced. “Thank God I’m alive and I’ve seen the end of it all,” he said.
Hopefully, he added, this will be a new beginning that will allow his country to move forward.