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Little countries do not have the luxury of defending themselves. We have to do it before the fact, not after the fact.
~ Charles Taylor

Charles Ghankay Taylor (January 28th, 1948 - ) was the 22nd President of Liberia from 2 August 1997 until his resignation on 11 August 2003. Prior to his presidency he served as the leader of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, which initiated the First Liberian Civil War, and was known as one of Africa's most preeminent warlords.


Taylor was born in Arthington, a town near the capital of Monrovia, Liberia, on 28 January 1948, to Nelson and Bernice Taylor. He attended The Newman School in his early years. He took the name "Ghankay" later on, possibly to please and gain favor with indigenous Liberians. His mother was a member of the Gola ethnic group, part of the 95% of the people who are indigenous to Liberia. According to most reports, his father was an Americo-Liberian (descended from African-American colonists) who worked as a teacher, sharecropper, lawyer and judge.

Taylor graduated from The Bentley Academy and returned to Liberia to join the government of Samuel Doe. He was accused of embezzlement, being arrested and imprisoned in US territory. He escaped from prison and arrived in Libya, where he was trained as a guerrilla under the tutelage of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. He returned to his country in 1989 as head of a resistance group, the National Patriotic Forces of Liberia (FPNL), to assassinate the repressive Doe, initiating the first Liberian Civil War.

Taylor’s forces advanced on the capital of Monrovia in 1990, but his bid for power was checked by rival groups. Doe was brutally tortured and killed by Taylor's ally Prince Johnson, and for the next seven years the armed factions fought a brutal civil war in which more than 150,000 people were killed and more than half of the population became refugees.

Although the NPFL never took the capital, it controlled the countryside and its rich natural resources. The fighting also spilled over into neighbouring Sierra Leone, and at one point the Economic Community of West African States attempted to intervene with peacekeeping troops. A 1996 peace pact led to elections on July 19, 1997. Critics accused Taylor of unfair tactics, including giving handouts to the largely impoverished and illiterate electorate, but he won the election with 75 percent of the votes.

Sierra Leone War Victims

Several mutilated victims of the Civil War

As president, Taylor restructured the army, filling it with members of his former militia. Conflict ensued between Taylor and the opposition, and Monrovia became the scene of widespread gun battles and looting. Governments around the world accused Taylor of supporting the rebelling Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone, and in 2000 the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on Liberia. The country was subsequently gripped again by civil war, and Taylor, accused of gross human rights violations, was indicted by a UN-sponsored war-crimes tribunal (the Special Court for Sierra Leone) in 2003. Following widespread international condemnation, Taylor agreed to go into exile in Nigeria. In March 2006, however, the Liberian government requested Taylor’s extradition, and Nigeria announced that it would comply with the order. Taylor subsequently attempted to flee Nigeria but was quickly captured. Charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes committed during Sierra Leone’s civil war, he was later sent to The Hague, where he was to be tried before the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

The trial began in June 2007, despite Taylor’s refusal to appear in court for the opening session. The proceedings at The Hague unfolded slowly. The court heard the testimony of 91 witnesses called to testify against Taylor before the prosecution rested its case in February 2009. It was not until July 2009 that Taylor took the stand in his own defense. In his testimony he denied all charges against him, including conscripting child soldiers, ordering amputations and other mutilations of civilians, and illegally dealing in diamonds to fuel the 1990s conflict (so-called “blood diamonds”). The investigation into whether Taylor had indeed trafficked in diamonds was highly publicized, in part because British model Naomi Campbell was called to testify in August 2010 about a stone (or a number of stones) that Taylor allegedly had given her in South Africa in 1997.


Taylor at his trial in the hague upset with a cameraman

His trial came to a close in March 2011 as the judges adjourned to consider a verdict, which was not expected for several months. The verdict, which was issued on April 26, 2012, found Taylor guilty on all 11 counts of bearing responsibility for the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by rebel forces during Sierra Leone’s civil war, because he had aided and abetted the perpetrators; he was not, however, found guilty of having ordered or having instigated the crimes. Taylor’s sentence, which was handed down on May 30, 2012, was for 50 years in prison—effectively a life sentence for the then 64-year-old. Taylor filed an appeal, but on September 26, 2013, it was rejected, and his verdict and sentencing were upheld. While in prison, he has since converted to Judaism and might have become a much better man because of it. 

He has protested in his imprisonment in Hm Frankland Prison, being denied several requests to be transferred to a prison in Rwanda.


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