Taylor in Court | U.N Photo

Historic news this week from a special U.N court. Former Liberian President Charles Taylor was convicted of “aiding and abetting” crimes against humanity.

The charges included sexual slavery of women, and conscripting children to fight as soldiers, which is also a form of slavery. The charges are a result of Taylor’s support for rebel troops during the civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone.

The court determined Taylor did not directly command rebel troops who committed the atrocities, but he was guilty nonetheless because of his support for them.

“This judgment confirms that with leadership comes not only power, but also responsibility,” said the chief prosecutor in the case.

Taylor’s conviction on Thursday is the first time a former head of state has been convicted of war crimes since World War II.

You can read more in the Washington Post and the U.N. News Service, and see broadcast coverage on Al Jazeera.

In Northern Uganda, Free the Slaves partner Friends of Orphans heals entire communities with their Peace Scout program.

The founder of Uganda’s Friends of Orphans, Ricky Anywar, was the 2008 recipient of the Harriet Tubman Freedom Award, given every year to exemplary organizations that work to create sustainable freedom in communities vulnerable to slavery.

Friends of Orphans (FRO) has become a Free the Slaves partner. And just this week, they sent us an update of their recent successes.

FRO works with the population in Pader District in Northern Uganda—survivors of child soldiering, abductions and other human rights abuses. Anywar was himself an orphaned, former child soldier, who created his organization to rehabilitate and support others.

Part of the services and programs FRO provides is a community-based, conflict resolution program. Survivors of child soldiering, captivity and forced marriage rebuild their lives through psychological counseling and education. They become economically independent through agricultural, income generating projects. And FRO has nurtured entire communities to become peace builders, by training survivors of war to become peace scouts—people who help mediate disputes. Since July, FRO scouts have assisted in the resolution of 130 conflict cases.

The FRO report says “Many [survivors] used to think that violence was the best way to solve conflict.” But now, community-based peace scouts help “sensitize the rest of the community,” and encourage mediation to resolve disputes. In the last few months, bicycles have been procured for every FRO peace scout (there are 45 in all)—greatly improving their ability to have face-to-face access to communities.

Okot David Oketa is a Peace Scout for Friends of Orphans, Free the Slaves partner in Uganda.

FRO shared the story of Okot David Oketa, a former abducted child soldier, who struggled with the trauma of his experiences—and found meaning stability through his work as an FRO peace scout. Here is his story:

Okot David Oketa is a peace scout from Lira Palwo Sub County, Ademi parish. He is handling disputes and incidence cases in 4 villages.

David is the chairperson of peace scouts in the sub county; he has reported 20 cases and reffered 10 in the last 2 months.

He is formerly abducted youth who lived in the bush for nearly 2 years.  Before the project, David was a redundant drunkard youth who was always causing chaos and hooliganism in the village. In fact one day he was arrested for fighting over land with his own uncle.

Since David attended the training and started working as a peace scout, his life style has greatly changed. He no longer drinks alcohol during working hours, he is ever busy solving cases, reporting and referring some to the concerned authority. He calls bi-weekly meetings for the others to attend.

Communities now respect him, a thing that was not happening in his life before the project. He gets knowledge from various stake holders on how to resolve conflict, and as he reports he says the level of conflict in his area has gone down.

This is the first of three case studies, written back in July, on the work of Friends of Orphans (FRO), our partner organization in Uganda. FRO founder Anywar Ricky Richard was the recipient of the annual Harriet Tubman Freedom Award.

Abducted in 1998 as a young girl, Akello Betty (pictured to the right) spent six years in the bush as a wife of an LRA soldier. Her forced marriage produced two children before Ugandans soldiers captured her husband. Now 23, Akello is the mother of three children and the sole provider for her family; her husband, that same LRA soldier, whom she willfully married some years later, is disabled and unable to work. Life had not been easy. Akello cultivated her neighbors’ gardens by hand and was earning enough to send her oldest child to school, but she worried for the future. She sensed her community’s rejection of her because of her past, and felt she had little control over the outcome of her life and that of her children.

Earlier this year, through the Free the Slaves-Friends of Orphans agricultural program, Akello’s outlook began to change. She received seeds, goats, and an ox and ox plough, which she shares with another community member. She worked with the whole community to cultivate the land and their crops are doing well, much greener and healthier and more abundant than the crops of their neighbors. The process of shared farming has encouraged more dialogue among community members, including open discussion about difficult past experiences. The rejection that Akello once felt is dissipating.

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