Justice at whose whim?
Baffour’s Beefs with Baffour Ankomah
The British lawyer of Liberia’s former president, Charles Taylor, says Britain is not capable of holding him in prison, and thus he must be transferred to Rwanda.
I HAVE a question for everybody: Does it worry you that there are some people in the world, such as the Americans and the British, who seem to have a carte blanche to poke their long noses in other people’s matters? In fact, the word I am struggling to find is “interference” – interference in other people’s affairs! Or is it just a simple matter of arrogating to themselves the power of the world’s policemen?
Why do they think they have the right to poke their noses in everything under the sun? And yet when the tables are turned against them, they try to use political, financial, and sometimes even military, muscles to silence everybody and go scot-free!
Tell me, what kind of international justice is that which is administered at the whim of powerful countries? Or was the Anglo-Irish satirist and essayist, Jonathan Swift, right when he said that “laws are like cobwebs which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through”? Somebody has interpreted this to mean that only small nations are trapped by international law, powerful nations tear it up.
During the past week, while everybody’s attention was riveted on the woes of an unfortunate Libya which is tearing itself apart three years after “liberty and democracy” arrived via NATO bombs, and Western propaganda against Russia was mounting on account of the ill-fated Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, and goodness me I nearly forgot Israel’s unconscionable slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza (at the time of writing the death, sorry kill, toll had risen to nearly 1 400), two things were happening in the international justice system that merit the attention of all Africans.
The first concerns attempts by the former Liberian president, Charles Taylor, who wants to be transferred from a British jail to the United Nations Detention Facility (UNDF) in Rwanda to serve the remainder of his 50-year sentence imposed by the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL).
On May 16 2012, Taylor was sentenced to 50 years imprisonment by the UN-backed SCSL for “aiding and abetting” rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) to cause mayhem in Sierra Leone in the 1990s.
His appeal against the sentence was dismissed on September 26 2013, and 19 days later, on October 15, he was transferred from the International Criminal Court (ICC) Detention Centre in The Hague, Netherlands, to serve his sentence at Her Majesty’s Prison (HMP) Frankland in Durham, in cold northeast England.
No trial by ICC, we are British!
Interestingly, or rather hypocritically, the second thing that is happening in the international justice system is an attempt by Britain to prevent the ICC from investigating British military atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan that could lead to a trial or trials at the ICC of British soldiers involved in the alleged atrocities.
The two matters are serious enough to warrant a detailed treatment in these columns over the next few weeks. So please brace yourself for Part One today.
Let’s start by looking at the attempts by London to prevent its soldiers from standing trial at The Hague. I hope you remember the late Robin Cook who, when still alive and ensconced in his powerful position as Britain’s foreign secretary, told all and sundry that the ICC was not set up to try Western leaders.
The Court is for you and I, the wretched of the earth. Not for those who pay for the Court to exist.
Well, if our ancestors are really up there looking down on us and protecting and guarding us, I would be hugely disappointed if they have not already met Robin Cook and asked him to explain himself, now that the field has been evened by the inevitable end that comes to all of us.
So, as Robin Cook impertinently divulged (i.e., the ICC not being a court to try American and European leaders, and by extension their hangers-on), Britain is finding it difficult to hear from the lipsticked mouth of the ICC chief prosecutor, an African woman from The Gambia called Fatou Bensouda, that the international court has ordered preliminary investigations into alleged British military abuses in Iraq.
As expected, London has received the news with disdain mixed with trepidation. It has already led to strong reactions from British politicians and the military who are now attacking the ICC for daring to send a British lawyer to observe the trial in Libya of Saif Gaddafi, the son of the slain Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi.
Shocked by the ICC’s dare to take on the Mighty Albion, the British are now saying the international court has no right to spend money to support causes such as Saif’s.
Says Rob Wilson, the parliamentary private sectary to Finance Minister (or Chancellor) George Osborne: “The ICC should reconsider its decision to offer Saif Gad-dafi what is effectively legal aid. The Court’s own guidance on the matter states that this support is normally available to those who are “wholly or partly indigent”. This does not seem to be the case with Saif Gaddafi who comes from a hugely wealthy family and is thought to have siphoned off millions of pounds over the years.”
If you thought Wilson was merely warming up, wait for when he started throwing his big punches. “Our support for the ICC’s running costs,” he said, “is something of which Britain should be proud, but this cannot be allowed to be a blank cheque. If the Court is determined to fritter away taxpayer’s money, we have every right to consider whether the ICC is actually using our contribution to meet the aims it was set up to fulfil.”
Please mind the words: “the aims it was set up to fulfil”. Which is what? We must go back to Robin Cook to decode it. “The aims it was set up to fulfil” is to try people like you and I, not the British and the Americans, or the Germans and the Israelis! It is for you and I, this Court.
And how dare this woman from that small country in West Africa, The Gambia, to tell the Mighty Albion, in the heart of London when she visited in May this year, that she “will be guided by the evidence”, adding that “all the parties in the conflict in Iraq are being investigated”.
Chew your heart out, Mr George W. Bush! Your comeuppance is near. And please when coming to The Hague, don’t forget your prime minister, Tony Blair. He will be hiding in the bushes behind the Oval Office.
Bashing the ICC
The prospect of seeing the ex-mighty men of the West at The Hague, stammering into the microphone to announce their ex-mighty names before the same judges that they had paid, sorry funded, to do the hatchet job on us on their behalf, has so pissed off some ex-generals in the British Army to the point when one of them, Retired Major-General Julian Thompson, has called on the mighty UK to leave the ICC.
“We should have followed the American lead and never signed up to the court in the first place. This is a complete waste of our money,” the ex-Major General told the ever-obliging rightwing paper, The Daily Telegraph.
Well, the Africans have been saying the same thing for a long time and have been laughed at: “We should never have signed up to the court in the first place”. Poor Britain. You cannot have justice administered at your whim all the time.
Now Fatou Bensouda, the lady from The Gambia, has got the message loud and clear from the many throats of the Africans and others from elsewhere who have been pointing to the ridiculousness of a so-called international criminal court that cannot try the horrible abuses in Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel where firing tank-shots, “smart” bombs or cruise missiles into built-up areas and killing human beings, dear Jesus, human beings, as if they are goats have become the norm.
Even goats, reared and fed on our hard-won cassava leaves, if we were to slaughter them in the way human beings are slaughtered, or have been slaughtered, in Gaza or Iraq or Afghanistan or Libya, we would attract the harshly waving fingers of displeased animal rights activists.
But there appears to be nobody to speak for the human beings in Gaza or Iraq or Afghanistan or Libya because the people doing the slaughtering are either the men who paid for the existence of the ICC or their stooges foisted on those sad countries.
But now Fatou Bensouda says enough is enough. Everybody is fair game. And the British do not like it.
Back to Charles Taylor
Now let’s turn our attention to Charles Taylor. Bad treatment at HMP Frankland since his transfer there last October, and the British immigration authorities’ refusal to grant his wife and children visas to visit him, have led to concerns by Taylor himself and his British lawyer, John RWD Jones, to ask for an immediate transfer to Rwanda where they think Taylor will receive better treatment.
Barrister John RWD Jones is a London-based Queens Counsel (QC) who is now handling Taylor’s legal affairs. According to him, Britain has shown by actions and behaviour exhibited towards Taylor and his family since last October that the country is incapable of holding the ex-president “in humane and appropriate conditions of imprisonment”, and therefore Taylor should be transferred to Rwanda.
“This would comply with the basic norms and practices required by the UN,” Barrister Jones cared to add.
Taylor’s transfer from The Hague came in bizarre circumstances, to say the least. According to both his wife and Barrister Jones, Taylor was given a bad welcome by the British prison authorities in Durham. And to add more salt to his wounds, his wife, Mrs Victoria Addison Taylor and their three little children have since been refused UK visas to visit him in jail.
Taylor now holds the record of being the only person convicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone to serve his sentence outside Africa, a “discrimination” which his wife describes as an additional “highly punitive treatment” meant to aggravate his already long sentence.
In a December 10 2013 letter to the African Union, appealing to African leaders to intervene to save her husband from further indignities in the UK jail, Mrs Taylor wondered whether her husband’s transfer to Britain instead of Rwanda was “because certain powerful countries, one of which is the former colonial authority over Sierra Leone, would wish to ensure harsher conditions of detention for the former Liberian statesman?”
And it got worse
According to Mrs Taylor who was in The Hague on the day her husband was transferred to Britain, the former president was only given a travel document issued by the Liberian government, instead of his normal diplomatic passport.
And, contrary to a July 2007 agreement between the UK and the Special Court which clearly states that the registrar of the Court “shall make appropriate arrangements with the United Kingdom for the transfer of the convicted person from the Special Court to the competent authorities of the United Kingdom”, Taylor did not have a UK visa in his travel document, and bizarrely this was held against him on his arrival in the UK when the private jet chartered by the Special Court touched down in Durham.
Mrs Taylor quotes her husband as saying that “when he arrived in the UK, an immigration officer came on the plane, flipped through his travel document, and having found no visa in it, said: ‘Well, Mr Taylor, all indications are that you do have a travel document but you don’t have a visa. Because of that you pose a threat to British national security’.
“Taken aback, my husband said he first thought it was a joke,” Mrs Taylor told this writer in February this year. “He then asked the immigration officer what he meant by being a threat to British national security. ‘You will know,’ the immigration officer arrogantly added.”
This, Mrs Taylor believes, is why her husband was categorised as a “Class A high-risk prisoner” and “put in a maximum security prison where strip searches, isolation, and other restrictions are common”.
“This detestable regime,” Mrs Taylor said in her December letter to the AU, “is particularly difficult, considering [my husband’s] exemplary record in detention throughout Court time at The Hague. The frequent failure to take account of his personal circumstances can only be a reflection of prejudice or racism.”
Mrs Taylor, who has been married to ex-President Taylor for 11 years and has three young children with him (all girls, aged 10, 7, and 3, the last of whom was born in The Hague while their father was in detention), was refused the visa on the grounds that she is not “living in settled circumstances in Liberia”.
Yet, she is the same woman who, in the seven-and-a-half years that her husband was detained at The Hague, was continually given Schengen visas by the Dutch government to visit her husband, and she did not for once overstay her visa even though as a Schengen visa holder, she could travel to the other European countries that are signatories of the Schengen Treaty.
Additionally, even after giving birth to their third daughter in The Hague, Mrs Taylor meticulously respected the conditions attached to her Schengen visas and returned home to Monrovia on time, every time she visited her husband.
Not with the British
But that cut no ice with the entry clearance officer at the British High Commission in Accra, Ghana, who handled Mrs Taylor’s visa application. Because there is no British embassy in Monrovia, Liberians wishing to travel to the UK have to travel to Accra to secure visas.
Though the entry clearance officer said he was aware that Mrs Taylor’s husband was serving a long sentence in HMP Frankland, “the attraction for you and your family to remain in the UK, having gained entry, is a risk that needs to be weighed up against your current circumstances.
“You have now lost the security that your husband’s presence provided,” the officer continued, “and on the basis of the very limited information about your circumstances, I am not satisfied that you are living in settled circumstances in Liberia.”
He went on: “Taking all of the above into account, I am not satisfied that you are genuinely seeking entry as a visitor and that you intend to leave the UK at the end of your visit … I am not satisfied that you will be adequately maintained and accommodated in the United Kingdom, or that you can meet the cost of your return or onward journey…
“I have therefore refused your application because I am not satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that you meet all of the requirements of the relevant paragraph(s) of the United Kingdom Immigration Rules.”
Mrs Taylor and her children applied for the visas in late November 2013, intending to spend Christmas with their imprisoned husband and father, but they only got their passports back on 9 January 2014, with “refused” stamped all over them.
To Taylor’s British barrister, the visa refusal was one event too many. On 16 January 2014, he fired an 11-page letter to the President of the Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone (RSCSL) – the court was dismantled after Taylor’s trial, leaving a skeleton staff in situ – saying: “The UK has a duty to ensure that Mr Taylor enjoys family visits, notwithstanding his incarceration to serve a 50-year sentence, and it has signally failed to do so. Nor has it shown itself capable of holding him in humane and appropriate conditions of imprisonment.”
Therefore, as Barrister Jones put it, “the initial discriminatory treatment meted out to Mr Taylor [by the then president of the Special Court, Justice George Gelaga King] by sending him, alone of all the SCSL detainees, out of Africa to the UK, must be continued no longer.”
Britain’s apparent “prejudice” against Taylor goes back a long time. On 15 June 2006, a full 6 years before Taylor was convicted in 2012 and sentenced to 50 years in prison, the British government, then headed by Prime Minister Tony Blair, offered a place in its many prisons to enforce Taylor’s sentence, if he was convicted.
A year later, on 18 June 2007, even before Taylor’s trial started, Blair’s government passed a law, titled the “International Tribunals (Sierra Leone) Act, enabling London to fulfill its [proposed] commitment to imprison Taylor if he was found guilty.”
If that was not a tacit attempt to encourage the Special Court to find Taylor guilty willy-nilly, nothing was!
And Blair’s government did not stop there. On 10 July 2007, it moved to concretise its offer to incarcerate Taylor in an agreement signed with the Special Court.
The agreement was signed on behalf of the British government by Mark Malloch-Brown, Blair’s hatchet man who doubled as the then minister of state for Africa, Asia and the United Nations. The agreement was legally witnessed by another hawk, David Miliband, Blair’s then foreign secretary.
Now, to understand the Blair government’s hawkish behaviour towards Taylor, you need to put all the small matters in context. Sierra Leone was a former British colony where Blair’s father once worked as a colonial officer, and where Blair himself invested British money, politics, and soldiers to defeat the RUF rebels who were said to have been “aided and abetted” by Taylor from across the border.
It was no surprise therefore that Taylor’s trial, and the preceding events leading to his arrest and transfer to the ICC facilities in The Hague (where a special session of the Special Court for Sierra Leone was arranged to try him), were driven from behind the scenes by the governments of the USA (under George W. Bush) and Britain (under Blair).
And it is no small matter that all the chief prosecutors of Taylor in The Hague were American, in fact American ex-military and ex-intelligence officers turned lawyers. And they all had a huge axe to grind – on behalf of their home government!
Gunning for Taylor
Experts with deep knowledge of Taylor’s background insist that he was an American project gone awry. At some point in their relationship, the experts say, Taylor turned tail and refused to follow the Washington line and thus went his own way – an unpardonable crime Washington could not bring itself to forgive.
Thus, way back in 1990 and throughout the next 10 years, Washington worked assiduously with Taylor’s opponents and enemies to stop him from coming to power, and when that failed, to remove him from power.
This is quite evident from a 8 December 2000 classified memo drafted by Mark Bellamy, an official of the State Department’s African Desk in Washington, on behalf of the Secretary of State, titled “Liberia: Undermining Charles Taylor”, which was sent to the US embassy in Monrovia.
Marked “confidential”, the memo said in part: “[State] Department seeks Embassy’s assistance in developing information required to weaken and discredit the Taylor regime internationally. We view this as a long-term campaign, but one which we hope to launch with the imposition of UN sanctions on Liberia in January .
“The success of our efforts at the UN will depend in large measure on our ability to convince other UN members of what we already know – that Charles Taylor is instigating cross-border conflict, trafficking arms, looting resources (Liberia’s and neighbouring nations’) and, in general, sowing instability throughout West Africa.”
Bellamy’s memo claimed that: “While Taylor has few friends internationally, a number of non-African governments tend to regard him as simply another African strongman, little different from some of his predecessors and contemporaries. Thus categorised, Taylor does not stand out as a case requiring urgent UN action …
“Demonstrating conclusively that Taylor is the driving force behind much of the violence and deepening human misery in the region is an important, ongoing USG [US Government] priority.”
The memo went further by asking whether there was “a democratic opposition to Taylor that can/should be supported? Who and where are they? Is it possible to envisage political alternatives to Taylor’s warlordism (or that of warlords who might succeed him?).”
To Zimbabweans, this American ploy is not new – “is there a democratic opposition to Robert Gabriel that can/should be supported? Who and where are they?” Same template, change of names!
America vs Taylor
It is not difficult to surmise from Bellamy’s memo that getting Taylor out of power or even keeping him behind bars forever, or till he goes to his ancestors, was a long-term American agenda driven through the Special Court for Sierra Leone, whose activities were largely funded by the USA.
Interestingly, in court, the kind of allegations contained in Bellamy’s classified memo, and others in the same vein spread around the world about Taylor by American and British propaganda, could not be substantiated when his accusers had the chance to substantiate their claims with concrete evidence. Akuna! Not one shred of concrete evidence they had!
This led to Taylor’s acquittal on the 11 main charges brought against him at the Court. But, rather, amazingly, he was found guilty on a lesser charge of “aiding and abetting”, which earned him … wait for this … 50 years in prison.
This has led many interested analysts to ask how many years in jail would Taylor have got if he had been found guilty on the 11 main charges – “1,000 years maybe?”, one cynical analyst has said.
It is the political undertones of the trial, driven mainly by the USA, which have led to some unconscionable legal and other somersaults at the Special Court, which, in turn, have meant that even clear-cut legal matters have many times become not very clear-cut at all.
One example is how Taylor has become the only convict of the Court to serve his term outside Africa – it doesn’t matter even if this means the Court has to break its own rules to keep Taylor in a UK jail where the powers that be want him to see the difference between gari and sadza. The end justifies the means! So Taylor’s ordeal continues.
But because of space constraints, we shall stop here, and continue next week, when we shall go into the mechanisations leading to Taylor’s conviction. One of the judges who sat on the five-year trial describes it as a “perversion of justice”.
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