When I travelled to Liberia only a year ago it seemed almost impossible to imagine that today’s verdict at The Hague. What a day for celebration!
I knew about the horrific history and that at some point in the future Charles Taylor would be tried in an international court, but even though this had been on the cards for a long time, was it really ever going to come?
Today this has become a reality and it’s so necessary. How else can everyone in Liberia move on?
So many people were either directly or indirectly affected and they still have to deal with the fallout even now.
On the day Charles Taylor was found guilty I spoke to Korto, the ActionAid Liberia Country Director and she said, “We can see from the guilty verdict that’s been given to Charles Taylor that now justice has been served there is hope for the future of all the people in Liberia and Sierra Leone.”
Although this is a time for rejoicing, Liberia is a country that has a long way to go and still needs our help.
When I was there I visited a group of people who had been brought together by a community radio station. Many of the children I met were sponsored or waiting to be sponsored through ActionAid. As well as meeting the kids I met their parents and the younger people in the community who had been helped by a peer coordinator, Albert, whose project aimed to help rehabilitate them back into their communities.
Many young people had been forced to do things against their own people so this was an essential programme to bring unity back to the area.
It was impossible to ignore that this was a country that had been ravaged by conflict. Every family had lost someone or had been affected.
When we finally gathered it was midday and sweltering hot. We sat on wooden benches covered by a roof. The elders of the village and the children came along and even though I had arrived during a period when people should have been working, the young people felt so strongly about telling their stories that they broke from work and came over to share what they had been through.
First of all I chatted to four women about their experiences and was just so impressed by the strength of these teenage girls.
As Matu, 18, from the village of Kanga told me how she’d been forced to become a sex slave all I could think was ‘how could she look so stoic?’
From the expression on her face you’d think she was simply telling me about an issue that was bothering her about her best friend, not about the horrors she’d been through.
She has two children and her main priority is for them to get the education that had been cruelly cut short for her.
When I met Dennis, 23, he told me his woefully familiar tale of having been forced to be a child soldier at 16. The atrocities he described made the hair on my skin stand on end.
He told me that when he returned to his village he was so confused. He still felt like an angry rebel and had bursts of anger, but he was also ashamed of what he’d done.
The ActionAid project helped him to learn to respect himself and - just as importantly - women again. Dennis’ little sister Hannah is his closest relative. If she’s sick he takes her to the clinic. If she needs advice she asks him.
This is the Liberia of today. Despite what happened people have to carry on and this verdict is a sure sign of confidence. As Korto said this morning, “the international community’s clear intent that any leader who misuses their power and carries out state sanctioned violence will be held responsible for their crimes and will be punished.”