Special Court for Sierra Leone

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Posted by sonny 04/10/2009 @ 04:12

Tags : special court for sierra leone, international justice, world

News headlines
Special Court Rejects Acquittal of Former Liberian President - Voice of America
By Scott Stearns The war crimes tribunal for Sierra Leone has rejected a defense motion to acquit former Liberian President Charles Taylor. Defense lawyers asked the special court to acquit Mr. Taylor because they argue prosecutors failed to present...
Funding, transparency seen as key to tribunal success - Daily Star - Lebanon
Despite the challenges he has faced in the SLCC Waiser remained optimistic that the STL would hopefully "strengthen the Lebanese judiciary and the rule of law in the country" and concluded that "the lesson from the Special Court for Sierra Leone is...
The Spirit of Nuremberg Lives! Remembering Henry King - JURIST
JURIST Contributing Editor David Crane of Syracuse University College of Law, former Chief Prosecutor for the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone, says that the scope and vitality of today's international criminal law is a lasting testament to the life...
RIGHTS-SIERRA LEONE: Special Court Wraps Up, But Has Justice Been ... - Inter Press Service
FREETOWN, Apr 28 (IPS) - On Apr. 8, the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone passed sentences on three former commanders of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), bringing to an end the trials of militia leaders deemed responsible for atrocities...
Court will not free Charles Taylor - Frost Illustrated
The decision by the Special Court for Sierra Leone at The Hague means that Taylor, who has pleaded not guilty, must now present his defense. The case is scheduled to resume on June 29. Tens of thousands of people died in Sierra Leone's decade-long...
Special Court Prosecutors Train Northern Police - Patriotic Vanguard
Prosecutors of the Special Court for Sierra Leone travelled over the weekend to the provincial headquarters of Makeni to train more than 40 northern police officials in the theory and practice of police prosecution. The training, led by Deputy...
In Sierra Leone, 17 year old Boy Remanded in Prison - Awareness Times
By New People (Sierra Leone) On Wednesday 13th May 2009 at the Freetown Magistrate Court, a seventeen year old boy, Gibrilla Koroma, made his first appearance before Magistrate Bankole Shyllon at the Magistrate Court No. 3 on a two count charges....
Goal.com Special: Fields Of Their Dreams - Goal.com
Next, we will probably be building fields in Sierra Leone, then Zambia, then Nigeria and more in South Africa.” “FUNDaFIELD” is in a different stage these days. Twenty-seven high school and middle school kids from Danville and San Ramon, California,...
Sierra Leone: Tony Blair in Country to Boost Tourism - AllAfrica.com
In June last year the former British Prime Minister pledged to help Sierra Leone court private investment and to work with its government to help deliver their vision and priorities. On a visit to the capital Freetown, Blair said he would be working as...
Human rights: Women in Afghanistan, situation in Camp Ashraf ... - ReliefWeb (press release)
MEPs want to ensure that anyone convicted of human rights abuses by the Special Court of Sierra Leone actually serves their sentence. There is currently a risk that this will not happen, which would defeat the purpose of the court....

Special Court for Sierra Leone

Small Flag of the United Nations ZP.svg

The Special Court for Sierra Leone is an independent judicial body set up to "try those who bear greatest responsibility" for the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Sierra Leone after 30 November 1996 during the Sierra Leone Civil War. The court is located in Freetown.

On 12 June 2000, Sierra Leone's President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah wrote a letter to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan asking the international community to try those responsible for crimes during the conflict. On 14 August 2000, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1315 requesting the Secretary-General to start negotiations with the Sierra Leonean government to create a Special Court.

On 16 January 2002, the UN and Government of Sierra Leone signed an agreement establishing the Court. The contract was awarded to Sierra Construction Systems, the largest construction company in Sierra Leone. The first staff members arrived in Freetown in July 2002.

The Special Court consists of four separate institutions: the Registry, the Prosecutor, the Chambers and the Defense Office. The Registry is responsible for the overall management of the Court, and includes the Defence Office. The Defence Office provides support to the defence lawyers hired to defend the accused persons.

On Friday, 20 July 2007, the Special Court for Sierra Leone announced the appointments of a new Registrar and Deputy Registrar. The Court’s new Registrar, Mr. Herman von Hebel, served as Deputy Registrar of the Court from July 2006 until March 2007, when he was named Acting Registrar.

Succeeding Mr. von Hebel as Deputy Registrar is Binta Mansaray. Ms. Mansaray had served for the previous four years as the Special Court’s Outreach Coordinator. She is the first Sierra Leonean to hold the post of Deputy Registrar.

The current Prosecutor, Stephen Rapp, former United States Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa, was appointed by the UNSG and took up his office in January 2007. The Prosecutor and his team investigate crimes, gather evidence and submit indictments to the judges. The Deputy Prosecutor is Joseph Kamara, a national of Sierra Leone, nominated by that government and appointed by the Secretary General. Mr. Kamara took up his post on 15 August 2008.

There are currently twelve judges, of which seven are Trial Judges (5 UN appointed (including one alternate) and two nominated by the Sierra Leone government). The remaining five are Appeals Judges, three of which were appointed by the UN and two nominated by the Sierra Leone government. Since the death of Justice Fernando in November 2008, the Appeals Chamber has operated with only 4 Justices. Judges are appointed for a term of three years. They can be re-appointed.

On 7 March 2003 the first indictments were brought. Thirteen people have been indicted so far for war crimes, crimes against humanity and other violations of international humanitarian law. However, three indictments were dropped later on because of the deaths of the indictees. Of the ten remaining indictees, nine are in the custody of the Special Court.

If found guilty, criminals may be sentenced to prison or have their property confiscated. The Court, as with all other tribunals established by the United Nations, does not have the power to impose the death penalty.

Although the indictees are individually charged, the trials have been placed into four groups.

Three of the indictees were leaders of the Civil Defence Forces (CDF), i.e. Allieu Kondewa, Moinina Fofana, and former Interior Minister Samuel Hinga Norman. Their trial started on 3 June 2004 and concluded with closing arguments in September 2006. Norman died in custody on 22 February 2007 before judgement after having undergone a surgical procedure in Dakar, Senegal. The trial proceedings against him were accordingly terminated.

Five leaders of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) were indicted: Foday Sankoh, Sam Bockarie, Issa Hassan Sesay, Morris Kallon and Augustine Gbao. The charges against Sankoh and Bockarie were dropped after their deaths were officially ascertained. The trial for Kallon, Gbao and Sesay began on 5 July 2004. It concluded on 24 June 2008. Final oral arguments were conducted on 4 and 5 August 2008.

Three of the detained indictees belonged to the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC): Alex Tamba Brima (also known as Gullit), Brima Bazzy Kamara and Santigie Borbor Kanu (also known as Five-Five). Their trial began on 7 March 2005.

The only indicted person who is not detained, and whose whereabouts remain uncertain, is the former dictator and AFRC chairman Johnny Paul Koroma, who seized power in a military coup on 25 May, 1997. He was widely reported to have been killed in June 2003, but as definitive evidence of his death has never been provided his indictment has not been dropped.

In a category on his own is the former President of Liberia, Charles Taylor, who was heavily involved with the civil war in neighbouring Sierra Leone. Taylor was originally indicted in 2003, but he was given asylum in Nigeria after fleeing Liberia. In March 2006, Taylor fled from house arrest in Nigeria and was arrested at the border in a car full of cash. Taylor was extradited to the Special Court following a request to this effect by the Liberian Government. He was immediately turned over to the Special Court for trial.

On 20 June 2007, the three suspects in the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council trial, Brima, Kanu, and Kamara, were each convicted of eleven of 14 counts. These were acts of terrorism; collective punishments; extermination; murder – a crime against humanity; murder – a war crime; rape; outrages upon personal dignity; physical violence – a war crime; conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 15 years into armed forces or groups, or using them to participate actively in hostilities; enslavement; and pillage. They were found not guilty of three counts: sexual slavery and any other form of sexual violence; other inhumane act – forced marriage; and other inhumane acts – a crime against humanity.

These were the first judgments from the SCSL, as well as the first time ever that an international court ruled on charges related to child soldiers or forced marriage, and the first time an international court delivered a guilty verdict for the military conscription of children. Therefore this was a landmark decision, by which the Special Court for Sierra Leone has created a major legal precedent in international criminal law.

On 19 July 2007, Alex Tamba Brima and Santigie Borbor Kanu were sentenced to 50 years in jail, while Brima Kamara was sentenced to 45 years imprisonment. The three are likely to serve their sentences in Europe rather than Sierra Leone due to security concerns.

On 22 February 2008, the Appeals Chamber denied their appeal and reaffirmed the verdicts.

On 2 August, 2007, the two surviving CDF defendants, Kondewa and Fofana, were convicted of murder, cruel treatment, pillage and collective punishments. Kondewa was further found guilty of use of child soldiers. The CDF trial was perhaps the most controversial as many Sierra Leoneans considered the CDF to be protecting them from the depredations of the RUF.

On 9 October, 2007, the Court decided on the punishment. Kondewa was sentenced to eight years imprisonment, Fofana got six years. These sentences were considered a success for the defence as the prosecutors had asked for 30 years imprisonment for both. The Court imposed a lesser sentence because it saw some mitigating factors. These included the CDF’s efforts to restore Sierra Leone’s democratically elected government which, the Trial Chamber noted, “contributed immensely to re-establishing the rule of law in this Country where criminality, anarchy and lawlessness (...) had become the order of the day”.

On appellate judgements announced on 28 May 2008, the Appeals Chamber overturned convictions of both defendants on the collective punishments charge as well as Kondewa's conviction for the use of child soldiers. However, the Appeals Chamber also entered new convictions against both for murder and inhumane acts as crimes against humanity. The Appeals Chamber also enhanced the sentences against the two, with the result that Fofana will serve 15 years and Kondewa will serve 20 years.

On 25 February 2009, convictions of each of the three RUF defendants were handed down. Issa Sesay and Morris Kallon were each found guilty on 16 of the 18 counts on which they had been charged. Augustine Gbao was found guilty of 14 of the 18 charges. Convictions were entered on charges including murder, enlistment of child soldiers, amputation, sexual slavery and forced marriage. The three were all convicted on charges of forced marriage, the first such convictions ever handed down in an international criminal court. All three had pleaded not guilty and shook their heads as the judgment was read. Sentences were handed down on 8 April 2009. Sesay received 52 years, Kallon 40 years and Gbao 25 years. The convictions and sentences can be appealed.

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Virtual Tribunal of the Special Court for Sierra Leone

Professor David Cohen, Director of the Berkeley War Crimes Studies Center (WCSC), and Professor Ruzena Bajcsy of the Department of Computer Science are currently partnering on an interdisciplinary project that brings together cutting-edge Berkeley research in computer science, humanities, and human rights.

In 2003 the WCSC began monitoring trials at the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone and providing training seminars for the judges of the Special Court. These projects led to a long-term engagement with the work of the Special Court and in particular to our assistance in exploring ways to support the Court’s efforts to leave an enduring legacy for the people of Sierra Leone.

The Virtual Tribunal provides a modular rich media educational tool for preserving the legacy of the Special Court in a way that will enhance the Special Court’s historical, educational, and cultural potential to educate in Sierra Leone and around the world. It brings cutting-edge information technology to bear on what has previously been conceived as a largely archival function of preserving the documentary record of ad hoc courts and tribunals. The Virtual Tribunal will breathe life into the historical record of the Special Court for generations to come through its unique integration of archival materials, videos of the trials, photographs, hundreds of hours of interviews with participants and Sierra Leoneans, expert commentary and analysis, and three-dimensional imagery.

The virtual tribunal’s core software, currently being developed under Professor Bajcsy’s direction, makes possible the realization of the project’s goals. It will synchronize the video record of trials with transcripts and make both, together with the full document record of the trial, interviews, and commentary, searchable through “intelligent search” and “computer vision” technologies. In addition, three-dimensional image scanning technology will enable the user to enter into a virtual courtroom, tour its facilities while guided by court officials, and receive an orientation of the courtroom and the function of all the participants. The different modules will be accessible through an interactive and user-friendly interface that will enable the user to easily explore the vast resources of the virtual tribunal’s interlinked databases.

In doing so, the virtual tribunal will preserve not only the documentary record of the court, but also the human legacy. It will incorporate a variety of modules, customized for various educational, informational, and research purposes. Modules can be built for training and advocacy, professional education, jurisprudence, scholarly research, and so on. In Sierra Leone and around the world, the virtual tribunal will promote education and professional training, and underscore the value of the rule of law and accountability of governmental leaders. It will also set a new standard of legacy preservation for all other tribunals that have previously considered document preservation the main goal.

War crimes and human rights tribunals like the Special Court for Sierra Leone are ad hoc creations with limited life spans. When they complete their work the international participants go home and the physical structures are dismantled or put to other use. All that remains is a paper trail that is accessible only to a small coterie of experts. The Special Court is the first such institution that has taken seriously how it might leave behind something that will be of lasting value for the people in whose name it is pronouncing justice. While other courts speak of their work as promoting reconciliation, understanding, historical truth, and societal reconstruction for countries torn asunder by genocide or bloody internal conflict, most have done little to realize these lofty goals.

The immediate aim of the Virtual Tribunal Project is to assist the legacy preservation of the Special Court by turning its records into a powerful educational tool for Sierra Leonean and international use. The Virtual Tribunal Project is already an official component of the Special Court’s legacy plan. The long term goal is to use the Special Court as a pilot project to create a virtual tribunal framework that can then be applied to other, and much larger, international courts. Currently, we have concluded informal agreements with officials at the two largest and most important international criminal tribunals (for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda) to develop such projects for their institutions.

What is the Virtual Tribunal?

The Virtual Tribunal will breathe life into the historical record of the Special Court for generations to come through its unique integration of archival materials, videos of the trials, photographs, hundreds of hours of interviews with participants and Sierra Leoneans, expert commentary and analysis, and three-dimensional imagery. In so doing it will preserve not only the documentary record of the court, but also its human legacy. It will incorporate a variety of modules that draw upon this wealth of material for various educational, informational, and research purposes. In Sierra Leone and around the world, it will promote education and professional training, and underscore the value of the rule of law and accountability of governmental leaders. It will also set a new standard of legacy preservation for all other tribunals that have previously considered document preservation the main goal.

In addition to its international contribution, the Virtual Tribunal will have a lasting impact in Sierra Leone. Because Sierra Leone currently have the resources to allow full public access to the Virtual Tribunal, one part of the project will consist of providing personal computers and internet access to key schools and institutions in the main cities of Sierra Leone. Without such tools the generation of students coming of age in the aftermath of the civil war and the trials will not benefit from the tremendous international expense and effort that have made these trials possible.

The Virtual Tribunal can make these crucial events come alive for these students and for future generations so that they can learn from this foundational experience of accountability, justice, and the rule of law. Beyond the general school population that the Virtual Tribunal may serve, members of the Law Department and the Peace and Conflict Studies Department at Fourah Bay College—Sierra Leone’s first university and considered an intellectual hub in West Africa prior to the war—will also use the project. The War Crimes Studies Center will continue discussions with Mrs. Memonata Pratt, Head of the Peace and Conflict Studies Department at Fourah Bay College, about integrating the virtual tribunal into university and law school curricula. As part of the project, we will ask faculty of UC Berkeley and other universities to sponsor exchanges and instructional programs to enable Sierra Leonean institutions to take full advantage of the Virtual Tribunal’s resources. Through such professional development programs and modest improvements in the IT resources of educational institutions, the Virtual Tribunal project can make a significant contribution to ongoing development efforts in Sierra Leone.

Beyond its immediate impact in Sierra Leone, the Virtual Tribunal will support lawyers, legal academics and students working and studying in the fields of international criminal law and human rights. The Virtual Tribunal will be built with different modules, customized for different audiences and purposes. Modules can be built for training and advocacy, professional education, jurisprudence, scholarly research, and so on.

The content of the Virtual Tribunal can be divided into eight main modules: (i) Background to the Conflict; (ii) Establishment of the Special Court for Sierra Leone; (iii) Structure of the Special Court; (iv) Trials at the Special Court (v) Significance and Impact of the Special Court Trials for Sierra Leone and for the Region; (vi) Jurisprudential Legacy of the Special Court; (vii) “Best Practices” of the Court and Other International and “Hybrid” Tribunals; (viii) Trial Advocacy at the Court.

The virtual tribunal’s core software, currently being developed under Professor Bajcsy’s direction, makes possible the realization of the project’s goals. It will synchronize the video record of trials with transcripts and make both, together with the full document record of the trial, interviews, and commentary, searchable through “intelligent search” and “computer vision” technologies. In addition, three-dimensional image scanning technology will enable the user to enter into a virtual courtroom, tour its facilities while guided by court officials, and receive an orientation of the courtroom and the function of all the participants. The different modules will be accessible through an interactive and user-friendly interface that will enable the user to easily explore the vast resources of the virtual tribunal interlinked databases.

Compared with its better-funded counterparts in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, The Special Court for Sierra Leone is a very small tribunal. However, with individual trials lasting three years or more, the documentary record of the court is vast and a challenge to navigate. The court’s website allows access to transcripts and decisions, but not in a format that is searchable, let alone linked to the massively long trial transcripts. The Virtual Tribunal will thus go far beyond the current capabilities of the Special Court and all other international criminal tribunals in making records easily accessible in a way that links them all together. In providing additional resources in the form of interviews with participants in the trials and with Sierra Leoneans, as well as expert commentary on the aspects of the trials relevant to particular modules, the Virtual Tribunal will provide a new model for the preservation and the dissemination of the work of international justice institutions.

The successful realization of the Virtual Tribunal project will make UC Berkeley the international focal point for legacy preservation of international war crimes tribunals. The campus has many resources that can further enhance its position as the leading center in this area. As discussed above, the War Crimes Studies Center is compiling the world’s largest collection of WWII war crime trial records. The WCSC has begun work on a database to make these unpublished archival records more accessible to researchers. The Berkeley Human Rights Center, directed by Professor Eric Stover, has two database projects, both in their early phases, connected to international criminal tribunals. Bringing all of these UC Berkeley database projects under the Virtual Tribunal umbrella will only increase the importance of the virtual tribunal as a vital international research tool for all those interested in international justice and human rights issues.

The virtual tribunal project outlined above is an ambitious project with many successive steps to completion. Developing the Virtual Tribunal for the Special Court for Sierra Leone is a very large project. Applying the Virtual Tribunal framework to the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda will require considerable resources and several million dollars in funding. It also requires the collaboration of experts in computer science and international justice. The key partnership between Professors David Cohen and Ruzena Bajcsy and their students is already well-established. Professor Eric Stover has also indicated interest in joining his two database projects to this larger research framework. Grant proposal combining these three UC Berkeley institutions (War Crimes Studies Center, Computer Science, and Human Rights Center) will be competitive because each is a leader in its respective discipline and field and is represented by equally renowned faculty. There is no other institution that similarly combines such resources.

What is required now is support for developing grant proposal appropriate for a project of this scale. Professors Bajscy and Cohen are currently applying as co-PIs for two other grants that can assist this project in its early phases. The first of these is a pilot-project grant to the Google Foundation, with whom Professor Bajscy has been in intensive contact. The second is an NEH seed money grant for applying technology in the humanities. The Google Foundation grant would enable us to hire programmers to begin the work of writing the software for implementing key components of the Virtual Tribunal. The NEH grant would be applied to the archival component of the project. A Futures grant would enable us to focus our efforts on applying for much larger grants that could fund substantial parts, if not all, of the Virtual Tribunal. These applications would be directed towards IT company foundations such as those at Google, Microsoft, and Hewlett Packard, as well as large foundations that support the work in international justice such as MacArthur, Ford, and Open Society Institute.

Futures grant funds will be used to obtain teaching relief and to fund a graduate student assistant to work on the demonstration model of the Virtual Tribunal, currently in development, and to assist in the process of applying for much larger grants. This proposal is not a resubmission. If awarded a grant, the administrative contact person is Jane Taylorson, MSO of the Department of Rhetoric (642-5162, astobiza@berkeley.edu, 7408 Dwinelle Hall #2670).

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Special Court for Sierra Leone Monitoring Reports

The Special Court for Sierra Leone Monitoring Reports are a collection of reports of the Court's proceedings written and researched by trial monitors stationed at the Special Court. The reports have been produced for the University of California, Berkeley's War Crimes Studies Center and are available on-line through the Center's website.

The monitors issue weekly reports on the trials, as well as special reports on various aspects of the justice process, including the treatment of charges of sexual violence, child witnesses, and the Defense Office. Researchers for the Center have also reported on the Gacaca courts of Rwanda. As noted above, the regional monitoring program will provide comprehensive analysis for the trials of Khmer Rouge leaders now in their early stages in Cambodia.

In addition to its trial monitoring project in Sierra Leone that commenced in June 2004, the Center is currently developing a regional monitoring program for the new Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). This program will include trial monitors from eight countries in the region as well as from the WCSC. Since 2003 the center has worked with the Indonesian Supreme Court in developing and implementing a training program for judges, prosecutors, and investigators in the Indonesian Human Rights Courts. In 2005, eleven United States Supreme Court Justices attended an international humanitarian law workshop co-sponsored by the WCSC and the East West Center (EWC), Honolulu. In 2006, the WCSC and EWC organized a "training the trainers" workshop for Indonesian Human Rights Court judges and prosecutors in Jakarta and participated in regional training workshops in Makassar.

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Coat of arms of Liberia

Liberia /laɪˈbɪəriə/ (help·info), officially the Republic of Liberia, is a country on the west coast of Africa, bordered by Sierra Leone, Guinea, Côte d'Ivoire, and the Atlantic Ocean. As of 2008, the nation is estimated to be home to 3,489,072 people and cover 111,369 square kilometers (43,000 sq mi). Liberia has a hot equatorial climate with most rainfall arriving in summer with harsh harmattan winds in the dry season. Liberia's populated Pepper Coast is composed of mostly mangrove forests while the sparsely populated inland is forested, later opening to a plateau of drier grasslands.

The history of Liberia is unique among African nations, due to its roots as a colony founded by freed slaves from the United States. These freed slaves formed an elite group in Liberian society, and, in 1847, formed a government based on that of the United States, naming their capital city after James Monroe, the fifth president of the United States. This government was overthrown by a military-led coup in 1980, which marked the beginning of a period of instability and civil war that left hundreds of thousands of people dead and devastated the country's economy. Today, Liberia is recovering, and despite its lack of adequate infrastructure and poverty, it has experienced economic growth.

The name Liberia denotes "liberty" as Black Americans were sent to Liberia in 1822, and founded the country in 1847 with the support of the American Colonization Society creating a new ethnic group called the Americo-Liberians. However, this introduction of a new ethnic mix resulted in ethnic tensions with the sixteen other main ethnicities.

Anthropological research shows the region of Liberia was inhabited at least as far back as the 12th century, perhaps earlier. Mende-speaking people expanded westward, forcing many smaller ethnic groups southward towards the Atlantic ocean. The Deys, Bassa, Kru, Gola and Kissi were some of the earliest recorded arrivals. This influx was compounded during the ancient decline of the Western Sudanic Mali Empire in 1375 and later in 1591 with the Songhai Empire. Additionally, inland regions underwent desertification, and inhabitants were pressured to move to the wetter Pepper Coast. These new inhabitants brought skills such as cotton spinning, cloth weaving, iron smelting, rice and sorghum cultivation, and social and political institutions from the Mali and Songhay Empires.

Shortly after the Manes conquered the region, there was a migration of the Vai people into the region of Grand Cape Mount. The Vai were part of the Mali Empire who were forced to migrate when the empire collapsed in the 14th century. The Vai chose to migrate to the coastal region. The ethnic Kru opposed the influx of Vai. An alliance of the Manes and Kru was able to stop further influx of Vai, but the Vai remained in the Grand Cape Mount region (where the city of Robertsport is now located).

People of the Littoral coast built canoes and traded with other West Africans from Cap-Vert to the Gold Coast. Later European traders would barter various commodities and goods with local people, sometimes hoisting their canoes aboard. When the Kru began trading with Europeans, they initially traded in commodities, but later they actively participated in the African slave trade.

Kru laborers left their territory to work as paid laborers on plantations and in construction. Some even worked building the Suez and Panama Canals.

Another tribal group in the area was the Glebo. The Glebo were driven, as a result of the Manes invasion, to migrate to the coast of what later became Liberia.

Between 1461 and late 17th century, Portuguese, Dutch and British traders had contacts and trading posts in Liberia. The Portuguese had named the area Costa da Pimenta, later translated as Grain Coast, because of the abundance of grains of melegueta pepper.

In 1822, the American Colonization Society established Liberia as a place to send people who were formerly enslaved. Free African Americans, a growing population in the US, due to abolition in the North and manumission, chose to emigrate to Liberia as well. African-Americans gradually migrated to the colony and became known as Americo-Liberians, from whom many present day Liberians trace their ancestry. On July 26, 1847, the Americo-Liberian settlers declared the independence of the Republic of Liberia.

The settlers regarded Africa as a "Promised Land," but they did not integrate into an African society. Once in Africa, they referred to themselves as Americans and were recognized as such by local Africans and by British colonial authorities in neighboring Sierra Leone. The symbols of their state — its flag, motto, and seal — and the form of government that they chose reflected their American background and diaspora experience. Lincoln University (founded as Ashmun Institute for educating young blacks in Pennsylvania in 1854) played an important role in supplying Americo-Liberians leadership for the new nation. The first graduating class of Lincoln University, James R. Amos, his brother Thomas H. Amos, and Armistead Miller sailed for Liberia on the brig Mary C. Stevens in April, 1859 after graduation.

The religious practices, social customs and cultural standards of the Americo-Liberians had their roots in the antebellum American South. These ideals strongly influenced the attitudes of the settlers toward the indigenous African people. The new nation, as they perceived it, was coextensive with the settler community and with those Africans who were assimilated into it. Mutual mistrust and hostility between the "Americans" along the coast and the "Natives" of the interior was a recurrent theme in the country's history, along with (usually successful) attempts by the Americo-Liberian minority to dominate what they identified as savage native peoples. They named the land "Liberia," which in the Romance languages, and in Latin in particular, means "Land of the Free," as an homage to their freedom from slavery.

Historically, Liberia has enjoyed the support and unofficial cooperation of the United States government. Liberia’s government, modeled after that of the US, was democratic in structure, if not always in substance. In 1877, the True Whig Party monopolized political power in the country. Competition for office was usually contained within the party, whose nomination virtually ensured election. Two problems confronting successive administrations were pressure from neighboring colonial powers, Britain and France, and the threat of financial insolvency, both of which challenged the country’s sovereignty. Liberia retained its independence during the Scramble for Africa, but lost its claim to extensive territories that were annexed by Britain and France. Economic development was hindered by the decline of markets for Liberian goods in the late 19th century and by indebtedness on a series of loans, payments on which drained the economy.

Two events were particularly important in releasing Liberia from its self-imposed isolation. The first was the grant in 1926 of a large concession to the American-owned Firestone Plantation Company; that move became a first step in the (limited) modernization of the Liberian economy. The second occurred during World War II, when the United States began providing technical and economic assistance that enabled Liberia to make economic progress and introduce social change. Both the Freeport of Monrovia and Roberts International Airport were built by U.S. personnel during World War II.

On April 12,1980, a successful military coup was staged by a group of noncommissioned army officers led by Master Sergeant Samuel Kanyon Doe. The soldiers were a mixture of the various ethnic groups that claimed marginalization at the hands of the minority Americo-Liberian settlers. In a late-night raid, they killed William R. Tolbert, Jr., who had been president for nine years, in his mansion. Constituting themselves the People’s Redemption Council, Doe and his associates seized control of the government and brought an end to Africa’s first republic. Significantly, Doe was the first Liberian head of state who was not a member of the Americo-Liberian elite.

Doe favored authoritarian policies, banning newspapers and outlawing various opposition parties. His tactic was to brand popular opposition parties as "socialist", and therefore illegal according to the Liberian constitution, while allowing less popular minor parties to remain as a token opposition. Unfortunately for Doe, popular support would then tend to realign behind one of these smaller parties, causing them to be labeled "socialist" in their turn.

In October 1985, Liberia held the first post-coup elections, ostensibly to legitimize Doe's regime. Virtually all international observers agreed that the Liberia Action Party (LAP) led by Jackson Doe (no relation) had won the election by a clear margin. After a week of counting the votes, however, Samuel Doe fired the count officials and replaced them with his own Special Election Committee (SECOM), which announced that Samuel Doe's ruling National Democratic Party of Liberia had won with 50.9% of the vote. In response, on November 12 a counter-coup was launched by Thomas Quiwonkpa, whose soldiers briefly occupied the Executive Mansion and the national radio station, with widespread support throughout the country. Three days later, Quiwonkpa's coup was overthrown. Government repression intensified, as Doe's troops killed more than 2000 civilians and imprisoned more than 100 opposing politicians, including Jackson Doe, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and BBC journalist Isaac Bantu.

In late 1989, the First Liberian Civil War began. The harsh dictatorial atmosphere that gripped the country was due largely to Samuel Doe's rule. Americo-Liberian Charles Taylor, with the backing of neighboring countries such as Burkina Faso and Cote d'Ivoire, entered Nimba County with around 100 men. These fighters quickly gained control of much of the country, thanks to strong support from the local population who were disillusioned with their present government. By then, a new player also emerged: Yormie Prince Johnson (former ally of Taylor) had formed his own army and had gained tremendous support from the Gio and Mano ethnic groups.

In August 1990, the Economic Community Monitoring Group under the Economic Community of West African States organized its own military task force to intervene in the crisis. The troops were largely from Nigeria, Guinea and Ghana. On his way out after a meeting, Doe, who was traveling only with his personal staff, was ambushed and captured by members of the Gio Tribe who were loyal to Prince Yormie Johnson. The soldiers took him to Johnson's headquarters in neighboring Caldwell, tortured and killed him.

By then, Taylor was a prominent warlord and leader of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia. After some prompting from Taylor that the anglophone Nigerians and Ghanaians were opposed to him, Senegalese troops were brought in with some financial support from the United States. But their service was short-lived, after a major confrontation with Taylor forces in Vahun, Lofa County on 28 May 1992, when six were killed when a crowd of NPFL supporters surrounded their vehicle and demanded they surrender the vehicle and weapons.

By September 1990, Doe's forces controlled only a small area just outside the capital, Monrovia. After Doe's death, and as a condition for the end of the conflict, interim president Amos Sawyer resigned in 1994, handing power to the Council of State. Taylor was elected as President in 1997, after leading a bloody insurgency backed by Libyan President Muammar al-Gaddafi. Taylor's brutal regime targeted several leading opposition and political activists. In 1998, the government sought to assassinate child rights activist Kimmie Weeks for a report he had published on its involvement in the training of child soldiers, which forced him into exile. Taylor's autocratic and dysfunctional government led to the Second Liberian Civil War in 1999.

The conflict intensified in mid-2003, and the fighting moved into Monrovia. An elite rapid response unit of the US Marines known as 'FAST' deployed to the US Embassy to ensure the security and interests of the US. The Marines would use US Air Force HH-60 Pave Hawk to airlift non-combatants and foreign nationals to Dakar, Senegal. A hastily assembled force of 1000 Nigerian troops, the ECOWAS Mission In Liberia (ECOMIL), was airlifted into Liberia on August 15, 2003 to prevent the rebels from overrunning the capital city and committing revenge-inspired war crimes. Meanwhile the US Joint Task Force Liberia commanded from USS Iwo Jima (LHD-7) was offshore, though only 100 of the 2,000 US Marines landed to liaise with the ECOMIL force.

As the power of the government shrank, and with increasing international and US pressure for him to resign, President Taylor accepted an asylum offer from Nigeria, but vowed: "God willing, I will be back." Some of the ECOMIL troops were subsequently withdrawn and at least two battalions incorporated into the 15,000 strong United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) peacekeeping force.

More than 200,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the civil wars.

After the exile of Taylor, Gyude Bryant was appointed Chairman of the transitional government in late 2003. Because of failures of the Transitional Government in curbing corruption, Liberia signed onto GEMAP, a novel anti-corruption program. The primary task of the transitional government was to prepare for fair and peaceful democratic elections. With UNMIL troops safeguarding the peace, Liberia successfully conducted presidential elections on October 11, 2005. There were 23 candidates; an early favorite was George Weah, internationally famous footballer, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and member of the Kru ethnic group expected to dominate the popular vote. No candidate took the required majority, prompting a run-off election between the top two canididates, Weah and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. The November 8, 2005 presidential runoff election was won decisively by Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a Harvard-trained economist. Both the general election and runoff were marked by peace and order, with thousands of Liberians waiting patiently in the Liberian heat to cast their ballots.

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was born in rural Liberia. She was the daughter of the first indigenous Liberian to be elected to the national legislature, Jahmale Carney Johnson. She was the first elected female head of state in Africa. She was jailed twice during the Doe administration before escaping and going into exile.

President Johnson-Sirleaf established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to address crimes committed during the later stages of Liberia's long civil war.

On March 29, 2006, Special Court for Sierra Leone (a war crimes tribunal) charged Charles Taylor with crimes against humanity, violations of the Geneva Conventions and "other serious violations of international humanitarian law". He was extradited from Nigeria to Sierra Leone, but the trial by the Special Court is being held in the Hague, for security.

Liberia has a dual system of statutory law based on Anglo-American common law for the modern sector and customary unwritten law for the native sector for exclusively rural tribes. Liberia's modern sector has three equal branches of government in the constitution, though in practice the executive branch headed by the President of Liberia is the strongest of the three. Following the dissolution of the Republican Party in 1876, the True Whig Party dominated the Liberian government until the 1980 coup. Currently, no party has majority control of the legislature. The longest serving president in Liberian history was William Tubman, serving from 1944 until his death in 1971. The shortest term was held by James Skivring Smith, who controlled the government for two months. However, the political process from Liberia's founding in 1847, despite widespread corruption, was very stable until the end of the First Republic in 1980.

Former 22nd president Charles Taylor was later captured trying to escape across the border of Cameroon and has been sent to the International Criminal Court in The Hague for trial.

Liberia is situated in West Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean to the country's southwest. The landscape is characterized by mostly flat to rolling coastal plains that contain mangroves and swamps, which rise to a rolling plateau and low mountains in the northeast. Tropical rainforests cover the hills, while elephant grass and semi-deciduous forests make up the dominant vegetation in the northern sections. The equatorial climate is hot year-round with heavy rainfall from May to October with a short interlude in mid-July to August. During the winter months of November to March dry dust-laden harmattan winds blow inland causing many problems for residents.

Liberia's watershed tends to move in a southwestern pattern towards the sea as new rains move down the forested plateau off the inland mountain range of Guinée Forestière, in Guinea. Cape Mount near the border with Sierra Leone receives the most precipitation in the nation. The country's main northwestern boundary is traversed by the Mano River while its southeast limits are bounded by the Cavalla River. Liberia's three largest rivers are St. Paul exiting near Monrovia, the river St. John at Buchanan and the Cestos River, all of which flow into the Atlantic. The Cavalla is the longest river in the nation at 515 kilometres (320 mi).

Liberia's highest point is Mount Wuteve at 1,380 metres (4,500 ft) above sea level in the northwestern Liberia range of the West Africa Mountains and the Guinea Highlands. However, Mount Nimba near Yekepa, is taller at 1,752 meters (5,748 ft) above sea level but is not wholly within Liberia as Nimba shares a border with Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) and is their tallest mountain as well.

Historically, the Liberian economy depended heavily on iron ore and rubber exports, foreign direct investment, and exports of other natural resources, such as timber. Agricultural products include livestock (goats, pigs, cattle) and rice, the staple food. Fish are raised on inland farms and caught along the coast. Other foods are imported to support the population. Electricity is provided by dams and oil-fired plants.

Foreign trade was primarily conducted for the benefit of the Americo-Liberian elite. The 1864 Ports of Entry Act severely restricted trade between foreigners and indigenous Liberians throughout most of Liberia's history by. Little foreign direct investment benefited the 95% majority population, who were often subjected to forced labor on foreign concessions. Liberian law often did not protect indigenous Liberians from the extraction of rents and arbitrary taxation, and the majority survived on subsistence farming and low wage work on foreign concessions.

While official export figures for commodities declined during the 1990s civil war as many investors fled, Liberia’s wartime economy featured the exploitation of the region’s diamond wealth. The country acted as a major trader in Liberian, Sierra Leonian and Angolan blood diamonds, exporting over $300 million in diamonds annually. This led to a United Nations ban on Liberian diamond exports, which was lifted on April 27, 2007. Other commodity exports continued during the war, in part due to illicit agreements between Liberia’s warlords and foreign concessionaires. Looting and war profiteering destroyed nearly the entire infrastructure of the country, such that the Monrovian capital was without running water and electricity (except for fuel-powered generators) by the time the first elected post-war government began to institute development and reforms in 2006.

Once the hostilities ended, some official exporting and legitimate business activity resumed. For instance, Liberia signed a new deal with steel giant Mittal for the export of iron ore in summer 2005. But, as of mid-2006 Liberia was still dependent on foreign aid, and had a debt of $3.5 billion. Liberia currently has an approximate 85% unemployment rate(EST. 2003), the second highest in the world, behind only Nauru.

The Liberia dollar currently trades against the US dollar at a ratio of 65:1. Liberia used the US dollar as its currency from 1943 until 1982. Its external debt ($3.5 billion) is huge compared to its GDP ($2.5 billion/year); it imports approximately $4.839 billion in goods per year, while it exports only about $910 million. Inflation is falling, but still significant (15% in 2003, 4.9% in the 3rd quarter of 2005); interest rates are high, with the average lending rate listed by the Central Bank of Liberia at 17.6% for 3rd quarter 2005 (although the average time deposit rate was only 0.4%, and CD rate only 4.4%, barely keeping pace with inflation). It continues to suffer with poor economic performance due to a fragile security situation, the devastation wrought by its long war, its lack of infrastructure, and necessary human capital to help the country recover from the scourges of conflict and corruption. Liberia has one of the world's largest national registries of ships, due to its status as a "flag of convenience".

The population of over 3 million comprises 16 indigenous ethnic groups and various foreign minorities. Indigenous peoples comprise about 95% of the population, the largest of which are the Kpelle in central and western Liberia. Americo-Liberians, who are descendants of African-American settlers, make up 2.5%, and Congo people, descendants of repatriated Congo and Afro-Caribbean slaves who arrived in 1825, make up an estimated 2.5%. There also is a sizable number of Lebanese, Indians, and other West African nationals who make up a significant part of Liberia's business community. A few whites (estimated at 18,000 in 1999; probably fewer now) reside in the country.

As of 2006, Liberia has the highest population growth rate in the world (4.50%). Similar to its neighbors, it has a large youth population, with half of the population being under the age of 18.

Of the population, 40% hold indigenous beliefs, 40% are Christians, and 20% are Muslims.

Liberia was traditionally noted for its hospitality, academic institutions, cultural skills, and arts/craft works. Liberia has a long, rich history in textile arts and quilting. The free and former US slaves who emigrated to Liberia brought with them their sewing and quilting skills. The census of 1843 indicated a variety of occupations, including hatter, milliner, seamstress and tailor. Liberia hosted National Fairs in 1857 and 1858 in which prizes were awarded for various needle arts. One of the most well-known Liberian quilters was Martha Ann Ricks, who presented a quilt featuring the famed Liberian coffee tree to Queen Victoria in 1892.

In modern times, Liberian presidents would present quilts as official government gifts. The John F. Kennedy Library and Museum collection includes a cotton quilt by Mrs. Jemima Parker which has portraits of both Liberian president William Tubman and JFK. Zariah Wright-Titus founded the Arthington (Liberia) Women's Self-Help Quilting Club (1987). In the early 1990s, Kathleen Bishop documented examples of appliquéd Liberian quilts. When current Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf moved into the Executive Mansion, she reportedly had a Liberian-made quilt installed in her presidential office.

The tallest man-made structure of Africa, the mast of former Paynesville Omega transmitter, is situated in Liberia.

Liberia is one of only three nations to use primarily a non-metric system of units, the others being Burma and the United States.

The University of Liberia is the country's largest college and is located in Monrovia. Opened in 1862, it is one of Africa's oldest institutes of higher learning. Civil war severely damaged the university in the 1990s, but the university has begun to rebuild following the restoration of peace. The school includes six colleges, including a medical school and the nation's only law school, Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law.

Cuttington University was established by the Episcopal Church of the USA (ECUSA) in 1889; its campus is currently located in Suakoko, Bong County (120 miles north of Monrovia). The private school, the oldest private college in Liberia, also holds graduate courses in Monrovia.

According to statistics published by UNESCO for 2004 65% of primary-school age and 24% of secondary-school age children were enrolled in school. This is a significant increase on previous years; the statistics also show substantial numbers of older children going back to earlier school years. On average, children attain 10 years of education, 11 for boys and 8 for girls. Children ages five to eleven are required by law to attend school, though enforcement is lax. A 1912 law required children ages 6 to 16 to attend school.

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Source : Wikipedia