Victims Find Justice After Liberian Leader Is Charged

In Sierra Leone, victims of the brutal civil war there watched as the verdict was rendered against former Liberian President Charles Taylor. Many blame Taylor for thousands of deaths and mutilations in the fight over diamonds in their country.

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When Charles Taylor was first indicted, his trial was set to take place at the special court of Sierra Leone in Freetown, but the young government there expressed concern that the trial could destabilize the nation's fragile peace, so it was moved to The Hague. Today, though, the special court in Sierra Leone hosted a live broadcast of the verdict. NPR's Susannah George was there. She sent this report.

SUSANNAH GEORGE, BYLINE: Hundreds of civil war victims, government ministers and tribal leaders were invited to watch the reading of today's verdict broadcast live at the special court here in the capital of Freetown. Mohammed Bah sat in silence as the judge read Charles Taylor's verdict, the man accused of backing the rebels who amputated his arm at the elbow, the disfiguration known as short-sleeved.

Mohammed lost his arm at the age of 24. Now, more than 10 years later, he says he's found justice.

MOHAMMED BAH: I feel great. I feel happy for this judgment - long awaited judgment. I thank the international community. I think the government of Sierra Leone.

GEORGE: He now works for a human rights organization. He says that after what he went through, he wanted to help others. Two dozen students who lost family members to civil war violence stand outside the courtroom holding signs that read shame on you, Taylor and, give us our diamonds. Isaac Bengura is 28 years old.

ISAAC BENGURA: My plaque reads - this judgment sends a strong message to potential perpetrators of violence.

GEORGE: He says that the lengthy trial was worth it. Now that Sierra Leone has justice, the country can move on, develop its economy and grow. But outside the walls of the special court, some Sierra Leoneans battling fuel and water shortages are less interested in trying the crimes of the past. Alfred Tu-Ray fled his village during the war. Now, he's a film student in Freetown. He says he's not paying attention to the Taylor trial. He wants to forget about the war and move on.

ALFRED TU-RAY: If I have a memory, I have it in my head, too. I don't want to see something about the war again.

GEORGE: His mentor, Julius Spencer, a film producer, agrees. He says very few people tuned into the Taylor verdict this morning.

JULIUS SPENCER: The war is there in the background. It is not in the forefront of people's memories. It is not an issue that people think or talk about here in Sierra Leone.

GEORGE: But Spencer says that this public amnesia worries him.

SPENCER: As soon as you forget about what we've been through, we seem to be going back to the attitudes and behaviors that led us to war in the first place.

GEORGE: Especially, he says, with national elections just months away. Susannah George, NPR News, Freetown, Sierra Leone.

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