When Nelson Mandela was released from jail in 1990 and during the subsequent 1994 independence and elections in South Africa, the United States displayed a dramatic commitment to the democratic movement in Africa that has not been in evidence since. That seemed to change, however, with the U.S.-sanctioned arrest of Liberia's former president, Charles Taylor, on March 29, 2006, for human rights violations in neighboring Sierra Leone.
The United States, which helped broker the 2003 political arrangement that offered Taylor safe haven in Nigeria and shielded him from prosecution, reversed its position and demanded his extradition to Sierra Leone. In a rare departure, the United States held itself and its African allies, such as Nigeria's Olusegun Obasanjo and Liberia's Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, to Jeffersonian standards and ideals of justice and freedom.
Africans have fought for the respect of human rights for the past 50 years with limited success. During the last two decades, however, they have instigated several initiatives to end impunity, including special tribunals in Ethiopia, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (Arusha), attempts to prosecute Chad's former president, Hissen Habré, and Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in South Africa, Ghana, and Sierra Leone.