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Liberian Immigrants React to Taylor Convicton

The son of Liberia's former dictator was convicted of human rights crimes committed during his father's presidency -- 1997 to 2003.

The Liberian Journal, News Report, Wynfred Russell and Alex Redd Posted: Jan 13, 2009

Liberian immigrants from across the United States seemed delighted by the long prison sentence a Miami court handed last week to Charles Chuckie Emmanuel McArthur Taylor for his role in human rights abuses in the Liberian civil war.

Taylor, is the son of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, who ruled the West African country from 1997 to 2003. The elder Taylor is on trial in The Hague, Netherlands, for supporting and funding the Revolutionary United Front, an infamous rebel group that went on a rampage over diamonds in neighboring Sierra Leone, killing, chopping off limbs and raping during that countrys civil war.

I am glad that the Liberian people have finally received some justice, said Nyeah Ukatu, a Liberian immigrant living in Boston.

Federal immigration authorities arrested Chuckie Taylor in 2006 as he tried to slip into the U.S. from the Caribbean island of Trinidad & Tobago a day after his father was arrested trying to flee Nigeria. Chuckie Taylor was initially charged with passport fraud and pleaded guilty. On the day before his sentencing for the passport fraud, he was indicted on human rights violations committed in Liberia.

Chuckie Taylors case is the first of its kind in the United States and is based on a 1994 law that forbids U.S. citizens to commit torture overseas. Chuckie Taylor, 31, was born in Boston but claims Liberian nationality because of his father. He headed the paramilitary Anti-Terrorist Unit, which became notorious for carrying out heinous acts of violence against civilians, while his father ruled Africas oldest republic.

Chuckie Taylor is the only person so far to have been tried and convicted for crimes committed during the violent 14 year Liberian conflict, which the United Nations said killed more than 300,000 people and displaced over a million more.

During trial in Miami, many of the victims Chuckie Taylor tortured testified against him from behind obscured screens to protect them from possible retaliation. They accused him of summarily executing four men and playing a direct role in beatings using burning plastic, hot water and electric shocks to torture his victims. One victim testified that he was stripped naked and placed in a pit as fire ants were shoveled over his body.

In the end, Chuckie Taylor was convicted on five counts of torture, one count of conspiracy to torture, one count of using a firearm during the commission of a violent crime and one count of conspiracy to use a firearm during the commission of a violent crime.

Responding to the news, Rev. Father James Wilson, a priest of the Episcopal Diocese and former executive director of the Liberian Ministerial Association in Minneapolis, said Chuckies successful prosecution would send a message to the villains of Liberias civil war and also serve as a deterrent to others who may want to consider committing atrocities.

I think it is a very good example for perpetrators of the Liberian civil war, Rev. Wilson said. We dont know who may be next.

In a written statement, Robin Philips, the executive director of Minnesota-based The Advocates for Human Rights, said the sentence sent an important message that those who commit human rights violations would be held accountable and that the United States was not a safe haven for people who had committed crimes against humanity.

It is a great precedent and we hope that [Obamas] administration will continue to enforce the law against all those who have perpetrated these human rights abuses, Philips said.

But in a telephone interview, one Minnesota-based Liberian community leader, who preferred anonymity because of the sensitivity of this story, said Chuckie Taylor was singled out and that the 97-year sentence he received was too harsh.

The punishment doesnt fit the crime; it is excessive and disproportionate, the community leader said. Chuckie was not a central figure in the war. His crimes pale in comparison to the egregious acts committed by many warlords and their foot soldiers that are running around scot-free in Minnesota and Monrovia.

But that view didnt sit well with Yudusie Eddie Tarpeh, president of the Liberian Community of Northern California.

Justice is being served, Tarpeh said. This guy (Chuckie) is a desperado and he did a lot of stuff even more than his father.

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