BY GLENNA GORDON | JULY 28, 2009
It is nine o'clock in the morning on a rainy Wednesday in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. The main courtroom at the Special Court sits empty, save for televisions filled with former Liberian President Charles Taylor's face. The half-dozen screens are broadcasting live footage from The Hague. Four rows of wooden benches and 14 rolling black office chairs are unoccupied.
The Sierra Leonean government and the United Nations established the Special Court to try those who bear the greatest responsibility for the decade-long war that displaced a third of the country's population of six million and left tens of thousands dead. During the war, which started in 1991, armed factions funded and supplied by countries like Liberia and Libya battled for control of Sierra Leone's diamond mines. They used revolutionary rhetoric and sheer brutality to recruit young men, and often children, to their swelling ranks -- and to the decimation of Sierra Leone.
All the other cases that have been and will be tried by the Special Court have taken place in this very room.
But not Taylor's. The Special Court indicted him on 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international humanitarian law. Sierra Leoneans and the international community agreed that trying him in Freetown was a grave threat to regional security. He still enjoys widespread popular support in Liberia to this day. The fear that his supporters would return to Sierra Leone and wreak more havoc was very real.
His case was transferred to The Hague, to keep him and Sierra Leone safe. It streams live across the world over the Internet. And it is broadcast in this courtroom in Freetown.
As I write this, Taylor is identifying people by name in a faded color photograph, 3,200 miles away. Not that most Sierra Leoneans care. Taylor has brutalized and terrorized this country since 1991. His case sparked a flurry of interest at first. But now, most seem more interested in moving forward than looking back at the Liberian strongman they blame for most of their problems.