An international court has delivered its verdict on Liberian ex-president Charles Taylor, finding him guilty of arming Sierra Leone's rebels who paid him in "blood diamonds". The three judges at a special United Nations court pronounced him guilty of aiding and abetting 11 counts of war crimes or crimes against humanity. But he was acquitted of criminal responsibility and "joint enterpise" on the same 11 charges. His sentence will not be delivered for several months.
The judge says a sentence hearing will be held on 16 May, with the sentence to be handed down on Wednesday 30 May 2012.
Dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and red tie, Taylor listened attentively and made notes as judge Richard Lussick started reading a summary of the verdict – the first ever against a former head of state by a world court since the Second World War Nuremberg trial.
The reading is being screened at the Special Court for Sierra Leone's main headquarters in the west African country's capital Freetown, from where his case was moved in 2006 over security fears.
In Freetown, people slowly started gathering to hear the verdict being issued at the Leidschendam court outside The Hague. Judge Richard Lussick speaking at the opening of the judgement hearing for Liberian ex-president Charles Taylor. In a wing set aside for victims to watch the verdict, Al Hadji Jusu Jarka, former chairman of the Amputees Association, is the first seated. He has followed the trial from the start.
"We as victims expect that Taylor will be given 100 years or more in prison," he said, his prosthetic arms folded in his lap as he recounted how the rebels held him down on the root of a mango tree in the capital and cut off first the left, and then the right, just above the elbow.
Taylor, 64, is accused of helping Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels wage a terror campaign during a civil war that claimed 120,000 lives between 1991 and 2001.
The trial, which saw model Naomi Campbell testify she had received diamonds from the flamboyant Taylor, wrapped up in March 2011. If found guilty, Taylor could be sentenced in four to six weeks. Prosecutors alleged that the RUF paid Taylor with illegally mined so-called blood diamonds worth millions, stuffed into mayonnaise jars.
During the trial, prosecutor Brenda Hollis told the court: "Charles Taylor created, armed, supported and controlled the RUF in a 10-year campaign of terror against the civil population of Sierra Leone."
As president of neighbouring Liberia, he acted as "chief, father and godfather to his proxy rebel forces in Sierra Leone," prosecutors added.
The former warlord has pleaded not guilty to 11 counts, dismissing the allegations as "lies" and claiming to be the victim of a plot by "powerful countries."
During Taylor's trial which began proper on June 4, 2007, some 94 witnesses took the stand for the prosecution and 21 for the defence. Taylor himself testified for 81 hours.
Campbell and actress Mia Farrow gave headline-grabbing evidence in August 2010 about a gift of "dirty" diamonds Taylor gave to Campbell at a charity dinner hosted by then South African president Nelson Mandela in 1997.
Judges also heard gruesome testimony from victims of the Sierra Leone conflict, including a witness who said he pleaded with RUF rebels to cut off his remaining hand so they would spare his toddler son.
Others said Taylor's fighters strung human intestines across roads, removed foetuses from women's wombs and practised cannibalism, while children younger than 15 were enlisted to fight.
One witness said he was present when the Liberian leader ate human liver.
During his own testimony, which began in July 2009, Taylor called the trial a "sham" and denied allegations he ever ate human flesh.
Nigerian authorities arrested Taylor in March 2006 when he tried to flee from exile in Nigeria after stepping down as Liberian president three years earlier in a negotiated end to a civil war in his own country.
He was transferred to the SCSL in Freetown, but in June 2006 a UN Security Council resolution cleared the way for him to be transferred to The Hague, saying his presence in west Africa was an "impediment to stability and a threat to the peace."
The court, set up jointly by the Sierra Leone government and the United Nations, has already convicted eight Sierra Leoneans of war crimes and jailed them for between 15 and 52 years after trials in Freetown.
Ikal Angelei, the founder of Friends of Lake Turkana in Kenya, receives the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in San Francisco (April 16, 2012). The award honors an activist who is defending the interests of 500,000 poor indigenous people against a destructive hydropower dam, and has successfully taken on many of the world's biggest dam builders and financiers.
Ikal Angelei grew up on the shores of Lake Turkana, the world's biggest desert lake. This lifeline of Northwestern Kenya is under threat from the giant Gibe III Dam, currently under construction on the lake's main water source, the Omo River in Ethiopia. When she learned about this threat, Ikal founded Friends of Lake Turkana with a few friends in 2007. Working together with partners around the world, she started an international campaign to stop the mega-dam which threatens her people's livelihoods.
Ikal and her friends carried out research on the $1.7 billion project, educated the local communities and mobilized them for creative protests. They informed international civil society groups, journalists and scientists about their struggle. They issued a complaint with the African Development Bank, which considered funding the Gibe III Dam, and the World Heritage Center, which is charged with safeguarding Lake Turkana's universal ecological value. They mobilized national parliamentarians, and took the Kenyan government to court for failing to defend local people's interests. (The case is still pending.)
During the past five years, no obstacle was too big and no place too far for Ikal Angelei's determined campaign. The young activist, who had never left Kenya before launching her campaign, traveled to Dakar, Prague and Washington to crash the meetings of international financiers. She knocked at the doors of government agencies and banks from Rome to Beijing. She drummed up support for her cause at international civil society meetings from Istanbul to the small Mexican town of Temacapulin.
Ikal Angelei with a community who would by affected by the Gibe III Dam : Photo by Courtesy of the Goldman Environmental Prize
Ikal and her friends did not lose the ground under their feet during their high-
profile campaign. In between meetings and travels, they frequently visit local communities, where they support basic needs with a school and a small maternity clinic. They educate villagers about the threat they face and the campaign they have waged. And they try to mediate the bitter conflicts between different indigenous groups over dwindling resources. These conflicts have already claimed hundreds of lives, and will escalate if the Omo River's flow is dammed for power generation and diverted for sugar plantations.
I have had the privilege of working with Ikal Angelei throughout her campaign. Ikal has the authority of an activist who speaks from her heart, is rooted in her local community, and has put her own life on the line. Her opponents had to learn that she cannot be silenced by threats and bribe offers. So far, Ikal's determination has only been matched by the ruthlessness of Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, for whom the livelihoods of 500,000 poor people are small change. I am convinced that if she had the chance to meet him personally, Ikal would also stare down the Ethiopian strongman.
Thanks to Friends of Lake Turkana's campaign, the African Development Bank did not fund the Gibe III Dam in spite of strong Ethiopian pressure. The World Bank and the European Investment Bank had to recognize that the scheme would violate their social and environmental safeguard policies. An Italian government financier and a big Wall Street bank also stayed out of the project. Construction of the Gibe III Project has been delayed by several years, and the dam is currently about half-completed.
So far only ICBC, a large commercial bank from China, has approved a $500 million loan for the dam's equipment in July 2010. Ikal has held the bank to account for its destructive project in the international media, and will continue to do so. Even in China, ICBC's decision is now being considered a case of lacking corporate social responsibility. A few weeks ago, the Chinese government directed its banks to align overseas projects with "international best practices" on social and environmental risks.
In May the World Bank, which stayed out of the Gibe III Dam the first time around, will decide whether to fund a transmission line that would export the project's electricity with a credit of $676 million. If a project is too destructive for direct support, the Bank should not fund it through the backdoor of a transmission line either. The Goldman Prize, which is awarded today, will give Ikal Angelei another platform from which she can defend her people's livelihoods against such destructive practices. Please join me in congratulating Ikal, and in telling funders to stay out of the Gibe III Project.
South African President Jacob Zuma is all set to take his fourth wife, with whom he has been engaged for a number of years and also has a three-year-old son.
Mr Zuma, who turned 70 on April 12, will tie the knot again next weekend in a traditional ceremony in Nkandla, the media in Johannesburg reported today.
Gloria Bongekile Ngema, with whom Mr Zuma has a three-year-old son, will become the President's fourth wife after having been engaged to him for a number of years, the Sunday Times said.
Mr Zuma's spokesman Mac Maharaj was quoted as saying: "The President is to formalise his relationship with his fiancee, Ms Bongi Ngema, next week at a private traditional ceremony in Nkandla."
Last year, Ms Ngema, who has various academic qualifications including a business degree, joined Mr Zuma on a diplomatic trip to France, her first state visit. The privilege is usually reserved for the first lady.
But she may be the last bride Mr Zuma takes. At his lavish 70th birthday party in Durban on Friday evening, more than 1,000 guests watched a video montage in which he said his marrying days were over, according to the report.
Mr Zuma has married twice during his presidential term which began in May 2009. His other wives are Sizakele Khumalo, whom he met in 1959, Nompumelelo "MaNtuli" Zuma and Thobeka Stacey Mabhija.
He divorced Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in 1998, and his another wife Kate Zuma committed suicide two years later.
Mr Zuma, who reportedly has 20 children, was born into a polygamous family. His father had two wives.
Mali's Dioncounda Traore was sworn in as interim president of the West African country on Thursday after leaders of a March 22 coup agreed to hand back power to civilians. Traore, previously the speaker of the national parliament, was sworn in by Supreme Court President Nouhoum Tapily at a brief ceremony in the capital Bamako.
He faces the uphill task of organising new elections in the mostly desert state, where Tuareg-led rebels and Islamist allies earlier this month seized the northern half of the country in a lightning advance made in the aftermath of the coup.
"I am president of a country that loves peace," Traore, 70, who donned a presidential sash over his dark suit, said after the swearing-in.
"I call on the rebels to halt all abuses," added Traore, a labour activist who was jailed for opposing Mali's dictatorship in the 1980s but went on to hold a number of cabinet posts after the launch of multi-party politics in the country in the 1990s.
Mali's north, a zone larger than France, has been hit by pillaging and reports of human rights abuses including rapes and killings since the rebel seizures of key towns including the ancient trading post of Timbuktu and the garrison town of Gao.
Mali's neighbours and security experts fear this heralds the emergence of a new "rogue state" providing a haven for local al Qaeda allies and Islamists who are currently seeking to impose sharia law on the parts of northern territory they control.
Leaders of the Tuareg-led separatist rebels have distanced themselves from their Islamist companions-in-arms. They have declared a secular Tuareg homeland of "Azawad" in northern Mali - a secession bid that has been snubbed by the world.
Men wear what they say are "pinching and uncomfortable" women's high-heels in protest to support women's equal rights as they 'walk a mile in her shoes' in Bamenda, Cameroon. Image: ACF
Bamenda, CAMEROON AFRICA: In a striking show of solidarity, a group of men from Cameroon who have named themselves ‘A Common Future,’ are showing the world they mean business when it comes to equality of the sexes in West Africa.
Wearing women’s high-heeled shoes as they marched in protest down a public street in Bamenda, Cameroon during International Women’s Day on March 8, the men placed themselves in a dangerous line as targets of social ridicule or worse. In spite of this they continued.
In an effort to ‘walk a mile in her shoes’ concerned men in Bamenda wore what they called were “pinching and uncomfortable” high-heels as they joined in a protest with 40 women’s groups down Commercial Avenue in Bamenda.
Capital of the Northwest Province in Cameroon, Bamenda’s urban population, according to 2010 figures, numbers 269,530 people in the city and 1,804,700 people throughout the province.
The men involved locally in ‘A Common Future’ are now promoting numerous other events to bring the issues of women’s equality with men to the attention of those who need it the most.
“We seek to end men’s violent and aggressive behavior towards women, children and other men,” says the Mission Statement for ‘A Common Future.’ “We believe that ending violence against women is primarily the responsibility of men.
Although women are at the forefront of addressing this issue, we think it is essential that men play a primary role in the solution to end it, as recommended by Ban ki Moon, U.N Secretary General during the launch of the Network of Men Leaders. To do that, well meaning men …men who do not see themselves as part of the problem…need to get involved.”
As a major concern to women throughout Africa, the problem for women and equality in Cameroon does not have a simple solution. It comes from decades of societal attitudes and belief, a belief that is now beginning to be shattered by organizations like ‘A Common Future.’ 52 percent of Cameroon’s nationwide 18 million inhabitants (National Institute of Statistics Cameroon 2008) are women, where an overwhelming amount of 70 percent of the population continues to live in mostly rural areas.
A majority of farming inside the region is conducted by women, even though women are not allowed by law to hold administrative rights over any property and may only be involved with legal paperwork with a husband’s approval.
“We work with men to end violence against women by proposing alternative models of masculinity that are not necessarily in opposition to models of femininity and that allow men and women as well as boys and girls to share love, reproductive health and decision making responsibilities.
We achieve this by strategizing with schools, colleges and constituted groups across Cameroon,” says ‘A Common Future’ co-founder Gwain Colbert Fulai.
Literacy and education too is much lower for women than men in the region. Only approximately 21 percent of all women in Cameroon ever reach secondary or higher levels of school in the region (UNDP Gender Equality Index 2011).
Additional program outreach for ‘A Common Future’ also includes training local police in gender sensitivity and awareness, so security officers in the region will be encouraged to file crimes, instead of ignoring them, when women in Cameroon report violence.
The group is also calling on legal reform in court to help enable women have more legal rights.
“Human rights concerns appear in all spheres-home, school, workplace, elections, court, etc. By bringing critical dialogues about masculinities, women and justice into the public sphere we hope bring about gender-sensitive, non-violent advocates,” says ‘A Common Future.’
In addition to their work to educate men on the topics of women’s need for equality, the organization also hopes to get more men to help and support women to enter political office in any future election coming for Cameroon.