UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki moon has appointed Zainab Hawa Bangura as new Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict. Zainab Hawa Bangura is currently the Minister of Health and Sanitation in Sierra Leone. She is the second person to recieve this mandate, and will replace Margot Wallström, who concluded her two years on the post on the 31st of May this year.
Zainab Hawa Bangura, new UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict. Photo: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras.
Zainab Hawa Bangura has worked for over 20 years with issues of governance, conflict resolution and reconciliation in Africa.
She was responsible for managing the largest civilian component within the UN peacekeeping operations in Liberia (UNMIL), and in Sierra Leone she has been an important advocate for the elimination of female genital mutilation, has managed the country’s Peace building commission and been instrumental for the development of national programs on affordable health. She is also an experienced civil society, human and women’s rights campaigner and democracy activist.
Read the UN statement on the appointment of Zainab Hawa Bangura here.
Liberia’s ex-president, 64-year-old Charles Taylor, was yesterday sentenced to 50 years in prison for war crimes committed in Liberia’s neighbouring country Sierra Leone.
- The sentence is a clear indication for other heads of states and former warlords still in position of power, that you can be found guilty of war crimes in international courts, says Susanna Elmberger, coordinator for Liberia at the women’s right and peace organization The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.
The 26th of April Charles Taylor was convicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone in Hague, for aiding and abetting in crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Sierra Leone. Yesterday his sentence was announced to be 50 years in prison. The prosecuter had asked for an 80-year prison term.
- For those who survived these crimes the long term impact on their lives is devastating; amputees without arms will now have to live on charity because they can no longer work. Young girls who had been publicly stigmatized and will never recover from the trauma of rape and sexual slavery to which they were subjected in some cases resulting in pregnancy and additional stigma of the children born there off, said Judge Richard Lussick, and referred to the actions as “the worst crimes in human history”.
First conviction of rape
Charles Taylor was the first former head of state convicted of war crimes since the second world war, and the first former head of state ever to be convicted for crimes of sexual violence and rape. Susanna Elmberger believes that it’s important that the sentence was as severe as 50 years imprisonment. It sends a clear message to other leaders that they shouldn’t count on being able to escape justice.
The crimes that Charles Taylor was convicted for, include rape, forced enlistment of child soldiers and murder. But he also has crimes committed in Liberia on his conscience. More than 200 000 people were killed and many women and girls were raped during the civil war that took place in the country between 1989 and 2003.
Still much support in Liberia
Susanna Elmberger is sure that Charles Taylor now will appeal and that the court process therefore will continue on for at least another few months. And the sentence will probably be met with mixed reactions in Liberia.
- Taylor still holds much support among people on the ground in Liberia. But I do believe that the many women who have been subjected to rape and abuse will welcome it, she says.
More on the sentence and the reactions in Liberia: Taylor Goes to Jail: Dust Finally Settles: But Liberians’ Sentence Reaction Mixed by FrontPage Africa Online.
Former Liberian President Charles Taylor waiting for the verdict in the court room of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in Leidschendam, near The Hague, Netherlands. Photo: UN Photo/SCSL/AP Pool/Peter DeJong.
For the first time ever a former head of state has been convicted of rape and sexual violence during conflict. This took place last week when Liberia’s former president, Charles Taylor, was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the war in Sierra Leone.
- I think that many Liberians felt relieved after the verdict. Especially the political establishment, headed by president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who were active in the extradition of Taylor. If he had been declared not guilty and had returned to Liberia, there would have been a great risk of increased instability in the country. At the same time Charles Taylor has many supporters, who see him as the hero who liberated Liberia from former oppression. So far from everyone are celebrating, says Susanna Elmberger, coordinator for Liberia at the Swedish women- and peace organization The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.
Crimes during the civil war in Sierra Leone
Charles Taylor was prosecuted in the Special Court for Sierra Leone, operating out of the Hague, on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the 10-year-long civil war in Liberia’s neighbouring country Sierra Leone. Taylor was accused of backing rebels in Sierra Leone, as said in the verdict: ”by providing them with arms and ammunition, military personnel, operational support and moral support”. The war took 120 000 peoples’ lives and many more were severely maimed. Taylor was convicted on all counts, for aiding and abetting in, among other, murder, rape, slavery and the forced enlistment of child soldiers.
But he was not convicted of bearing the major responsibility for these crimes, a fact that may lead to strong reactions from the many people who suffered from the war. Judges say Taylor knew about the crimes rebel troops were committing, but prosecutors could not prove that he was actually commanding those troops.
The verdict is historical since it is the first time since the Nuremberg trials – held after the Second World War – that a former head of state is being convicted in an international court. It is also the first conviction that includes rape and sexual violence, since there were no prosecutions of these types of crimes in the Nuremberg trials. The legal process has taken nine years and Taylor has consistently claimed his innocence.
Charles Taylor’s sentence will be announced on May 30th.