Liberians allegedly tortured by the son of former president Charles Taylor have started to go public following the younger Taylor’s indictment in the United States on charges of war crimes.
“It is now time to come out and to say what Chuckie did to us,” Musa Kromah, a taxi driver in the capital, Monrovia, told IRIN on Wednesday. “Some of us are prepared to testify against him and tell the world the kind of inhumane treatment he did against us. He cannot look into to our faces and deny that he did not commit torture.”
Charles Taylor Jr., 29, is known in Liberia as “Chuckie”. He denied any wrongdoing when the US Justice Department last week indicted him on charges of torture allegedly committed during his father’s rule. Taylor Jr. headed the presidential Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU) from 1997 through at least 2002, when witnesses say he committed torture, rape and burned people alive.
He is the first person indicted for war crimes linked to the 14-year conflict in Liberia that ended in 2003. He is also the first US citizen to be indicted under the US anti-torture law, which forbids American citizens from committing torture abroad.
Taylor Jr.’s father is currently in jail in The Hague facing charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in neighbouring Sierra Leone during the civil war there from 1991 until 2002.
Allegations of torture
Liberians say that Taylor Jr. cut a swathe of terror across Liberia, operating from a notorious base for the ATU at the town of Gbatala, 90 km north of Monrovia.
One night in late 2002, taxi driver Kromah said that Taylor Jr. and a dozen of his armed bodyguards arrested him on suspicion of being a rebel fighter and took him to Gbatala.
“Chuckie Taylor stripped me naked, wrapped me in a thin sponge and flogged me with sticks and military belts for two straight hours,” Kromah said. “He lighted candle under my private parts to force me to confess.”
Kromah said he spent 10 months detained at Gbatala. “I still feel pains in my back because of the beatings,” he said.
Another alleged victim, Adolphus Willie, a shoeshine boy, told IRIN that Taylor Jr. arrested him in early 2003 while fleeing a gun battle between militias of former president Taylor and rebel fighters in the northwestern town of Tubmanburg.
“They brought me to Monrovia and placed me in muddy water with faeces and other filth,” Willie said. “Then [Chuckie] personally ordered me to open my eyes and look at the sun for several hours.”
Human rights groups, including New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), have already collected testimony from the victims and families of people allegedly tortured, raped and killed by the ATU between 1999 and 2003.
“His abuses were not only against alleged rebels but against his own ATU recruits,” said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher with HRW.
Taylor Jr.’s indictment marks a historic moment for international criminal justice, Liberian human rights advocate Aloysius Toe told IRIN.
“This action on the part of the US Department of Justice to indict Chuckie is a commendable step and this is a milestone both in Liberia and internationally against impunity,” he said.
Born in the US state of Massachusetts, Taylor Jr. is also known as Charles McArther Emmanuel and Roy Belfast Jr. He reportedly has a long juvenile arrest record for such crimes as assault and battery, auto theft, robbery, resisting arrest and grand larceny.
Prosecutors are looking into whether he also committed illegal arms trafficking. He has been in federal custody in Miami, Florida, since 30 March when he was arrested at Miami International Airport and charged with a passport violation.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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