Dr Agnes Reeves Taylor, the ex-wife of the former Liberian President, Charles Taylor, has spoken publicly for the first time since a court in the UK in December 2019 dismissed charges of torture against her relating to the Liberian civil war in the 1990s. In June 2017, while a lecturer at the University of Coventry’s London campus, she was arrested at her home at 7 a.m. by the Metropolitan Police’s War Crimes Unit and charged with seven counts of torture committed between January and July 1990 in Nimba and Bong counties. After two-and-a-half-years in detention, the court ruled that there was “a lack of evidence that the Taylor regime had governmental control over the areas where Ms Taylor’s alleged crimes happened”.
Dr Reeves Taylor’s arrest came after Swiss-based Civitas Maxima and the Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP) in Liberia claimed that she had committed the crimes and duly asked the Metropolitan Police to act under universal jurisdiction. This principle became law in the UK in 2011 and it calls for courts in England and Wales to try a person who has been accused of serious human rights violations in another country. The UK’s Ministry of Justice explained then: “Offences covered by universal jurisdiction include certain war crimes, torture and hostage-taking and, under UK law, anyone can apply to the courts for an arrest warrant to ensure those guilty of these crimes abroad face justice here.”
But in the case of Dr Reeves Taylor, she said she was arrested on the flimsiest of evidence: guilt by association, as the wife of ex-President Taylor. Mr Taylor is serving a 50-year jail term in the UK, having been found guilty by the Special Court for Sierra Leone in 2013 of 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity during the civil war in Sierra Leone. Returning to Liberia two weeks ago, Dr Reeves Taylor called a press conference in Monrovia on Monday, which was streamed live on YouTube, to “tell my side of the story”. She explained: “All you have heard is the account given by my so-called accusers, howbeit flawed. “Under normal circumstances I would have ignored what was being said but due to the grievous and heinous nature of these allegations, I am compelled to respond with the truth.” She went on: “I was held in solitary confinement for two weeks and in some instances even denied taking a bath. “I was also held in the category of a terrorist and treated as one.”
She said the charges against her were “based strictly and only on allegations and lies hatched up by” Civitas Maxima and “its Liberian subsidiary, [GJRP], led by one Hassan Bility”. Dr Reeves Taylor told journalists: “I will state categorically that these allegations are total lies and fabrication.” She said she was “in shock” when she was arrested, adding: “I responded that I had never, nor would ever, torture anyone in my life. “Despite my protestation of innocence, I was arrested and taken to a police station, questioned for two days and remanded in custody in a maximum security prison.”
She said she was all the more surprised by the action of the UK police because “I have never been a subject of any criminal investigation nor a person of interest in Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation deliberations, as evidenced in its final consolidated report”. Dr Reeves Taylor added: “In examining the allegations, it was crystal clear that they were malicious and mercenary with a clear ploy, designed to destroy not just my integrity and standing in society, but to destroy my life and career. “All kinds of lies and falsehood were concocted by individuals I have never met in my life. “These individuals were recruited, in the most part, from the refugee camps in Guinea and provided a written script to regurgitate. “Another issue here is that these women in their interviews with the Metropolitan Police of the UK stated that they were born in Guinea and grew up in Guinea yet the GJRP obtained Liberian birth certificates and passports claiming they were born in Liberia. “The UK police reimbursed them for the documents.
“What do we call this?”
She went on: “I [had] hoped that the British Police would have conducted their investigation before an arrest. “Unfortunately, they arrested me first and began to investigate several months later. “Even after they discovered that there was no corroborating evidence from any objective source, they continued to pursue the case.
“It is clear that I was deemed guilty first and needed to prove my innocence. “Up to the time that the charges were dismissed, the UK Metropolitan Police never provided any evidence from their investigative trips to Liberia despite my legal team’s request. “It was clear that they found evidence that contradicted the lies put forward by these so-called victims. “These were not victims but hired liars. “There are real victims and these liars have demeaned them by making up fictitious, malicious lies,” Dr Reeves Taylor said.
By Desmond Davies, London