Hope for Justice, Fear of Instability Following Taylor's Capture

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

Nairobi, Kenya (CNSNews.com) - The arrest of alleged war criminal Charles Taylor has drawn mixed reactions in his homeland -- relief that justice may be served, now that Taylor has been turned over to an international tribunal; and concern that loyalists could run amok to avenge his capture.

Taylor this week was delivered to the Special Court in Sierra Leone -- the country neighboring his native Liberia -- after Nigerian authorities, under strong diplomatic pressure, foiled Taylor's attempt to flee.

The former Liberian president had been living in exile in Nigeria since mid-2003, but with the establishment of a new, democratically elected government in Liberia came renewed international calls for him to stand trial.

In the Liberian capital, Monrovia, some supporters of the ousted leader have warned of chaos and bloodshed, saying they were closely watching the situation following his arrest.

Liberian media commentators called on citizens to rally behind President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf's government and to ensure that Taylor loyalists do not spark another of civil war.

Taylor's capture presents Liberia's new government with the challenge of containing his loyalists.

Three pro-Taylor figures were arrested by state security officials Saturday after allegations that they were planning to overthrow the government.

Bishop Sumoward Harris, president of the Liberia Council of Churches, called for Taylor to be tried in The Hague -- seat of the International Criminal Court -- on the grounds that prosecution in neighboring Sierra Leone would raise tensions.

Harris also said Taylor may not get a fair trial in the region.

Despite the concerns in a country where conflict raged for 14 years, Taylor's capture was hailed by many. It's the first time an African former head of state will face criminal charges in an international court arising from actions while in office.

Taylor faces 17 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity over his alleged role in a brutal, decade-old civil war in Sierra Leone. He is accused of supporting and arming the Revolutionary United Front, a rebel group notorious for hacking off limbs of civilians, including children.

A leading Kenyan daily said in an editorial that Taylor's capture should be a lesson to politicians in more stable parts of the continent.

It sent a message that "dirty politics that sets one ethnic community against another in blind pursuit of power may lead to situations which will leave no one unscathed."

Human rights activists interviewed here said the capture set "a good precedent" in a continent where atrocities have been commonplace. It would act as a warning to African dictators who thought they could act with impunity.

"The message is very strong. The process of prosecution will say a lot in drilling this message into the heads of others with Taylor-like intentions," said one campaigner, Mwani Kagai.

Kagai and others said they hoped the prosecution would be faster than the case against Rwandan former officials, accused of perpetrating genocide there in 1994 and now before an international tribunal based in Tanzania.

Since its inception in 1995, the Rwanda tribunal has made 70 arrests and completed 26 cases, progress seen here as poor.

A former president of Chad, Hissene Habre, now exiled in West African nation of Senegal, is named in an international arrest warrant issued by the Belgian government.

Habre is accused of crimes against humanity during his 1982-1990 rule. Human rights groups say 40,000 people were executed and more than 200,000 tortured during those years.

Human Rights Watch praised Washington for playing a "very positive role" in pressing for Taylor's handover, calling it "an extraordinary moment" for the people of West Africa.

See earlier story:
Bush Urged to Cancel Meeting With African Leader After Alleged War Criminal Skips (Mar. 28, 2006)

Subscribe to the free CNSNews.com daily E-Brief.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.