Losses, Liberia, and the Era of Human Rights

I think today a great deal about the conviction of Charles Taylor, the first head of state to be convicted by the Hague.

Mr. Taylor was the first head of state convicted by an international court since the Nuremberg trials after World War II.

Prosecutors had sought an even longer sentence of 80 years. If carried out, the term decided on Wednesday would likely mean the 64-year-old Mr. Taylor will spend the rest of his life behind bars. Asked to stand as the sentence was read, he looked at the floor.

At a news conference after the hearing, Salamba Silla, who works with victims groups in Sierra Leone pleaded for more help for former child soldiers, orphans and other victims of the country’s war. “You can see hundreds of them begging on the streets of Freetown,” she said. “Many who suffered horrendously need help to return to the provinces, they think they cannot survive there.”

Mr. Taylor did not speak at the sentencing on Wednesday, but in a hearing earlier this month he offered his sympathy — but not an apology — to the victims and their families for a gruesome conflict that left an estimated 50,000 dead. “I express my sadness and sympathy for crimes suffered by individuals and families in Sierra Leone,” Mr. Taylor said during a roughly 30-minute address to the court.


There was a time when my life was full of thoughts and plans about and for Liberia, so many years ago.Now I have learned from scientists that PTSD is actually contagious, and that just by being intensively engaged with war stories you can develop it. And I remember a beloved Liberian friend/student on this day of Charles Taylor’s conviction, I remember our talks and efforts over 15 years ago, and I salute his courage, and I mourn the losses of his youth on this day.

© Marc Gopin