Liberia: The Charles Taylor Verdict

By IndepthAfrica
In Liberia
Jun 4th, 2012

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor waits for the start of the sentencing hearing in Leidschendam, near The Hague, Netherlands. Picture: Evert-Jan Daniels Source: AP

Former Liberian president, Mr Charles Taylor, was sentenced to fifty years imprisonment by the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague for his role during the civil war in Sierra Leone. Taylor was charged with aiding and abetting former Sierra Leone rebel leader Foday Sankoh’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) loyalists in committing crimes including murder, recruiting child soldiers, rape and enforced amputations in return for “blood diamonds”.

Taylor now holds the dubious record of being the first head of state to be convicted and sentenced for crimes against humanity since Nuremberg trials that followed World War II. His conviction is a major boost for international law and a stern warning to other leaders, particularly those in Africa, steeped in the culture of impunity that has been the bane of governance in many countries on the continent. Leaders can no longer hide under sovereignty and the principle of non-interference to do as they please to their citizens.

Reactions to the verdict have been generally positive of the work of the special court. Korto Williams, director of Action Aid Liberia said “not only is this verdict an opportunity for Sierra Leone and Liberia to move forward, it also signals the international community’s clear intent that any leader who misuses their power and carries out state-sanctioned violence will be held responsible for their crimes and will be punished”

There are currently a host of African leaders awaiting trial for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court (ICC). They include two prominent Kenyan politicians, Uhuru Kenyatta, (son of the founding president of Kenya, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta) and William Ruto; former president of Ivory Coast Laurent Gbagbo and Jean Pierre Bemba, former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The ICC has also issued warrants for the arrest of others such as Joseph Kone the Ugandan rebel leader and the president of Sudan Omar el Bashir.

It is true that aside from a few Yugoslavian leaders such as Slobodan Milosevic, Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic arraigned before the Tribunal on Yugoslavia, it is mostly Africans who have been charged for crimes against humanity at international tribunals including the ICC. This has encouraged the perception that the ICC is targeted at African leaders who refuse to kowtow to the West, and is there doing the bidding of Western neo-imperialism.

Still, this should not be an excuse for allowing African leaders to get away with misrule and policies that tolerate or even allow the killing and maiming of their own people. In any case two wrongs don’t make a right. States are obliged to protect their own citizens from mass killings and crimes against humanity in keeping with the UN doctrine of responsibility to protect.

Nevertheless, big powers such as the United States would be well advised to sign up to the ICC charter and submit to its jurisdiction. This would go a long way in helping to debunk accusations of double standards and further the cause of international justice by broadening its scope and bringing those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity to justice regardless of their nationality.

The Taylor verdict has rekindled calls to bring the perpetrators of crimes committed during the Liberian civil war to justice. Indeed there are questions over why Taylor was not arraigned for war crimes during the civil wars in his native Liberia from 1989-2003.

It was perhaps no surprise that the Liberian government’s response to the Taylor verdict was muted, a reflection of the divisions in the country, that the wounds from the civil wars are yet to heal. Taylor deserved his 50-year sentence, but is unlikely to bring closure to the lingering scars of the war in Sierra Leone. However, the sentence should assuage some of the anger of its victims.Daily Trust

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