Justice delayed is justice denied, lawyers are happy to say. Then the case of Charles Taylor is a good example. For much of the 1990s, Taylor has been one of the pivot forces behind the violence in Liberia and Sierra Leone. He is directly responsible for the death of thousands of people, for the rape, assault of thousands more, for the destruction of the infrastructures in those countries, and simply for making the life of Liberian and Leoneans a living hell. Yet, he got scot free in a deal that put him in power as Liberian President and later allowed him to go into exiles without having to face the courts. People were simply tired, better to get rid of him and get on with life. However, the deal did not cover crimes committed in Sierra Leone. Taylor’s golden exile in Nigeria came to an abrupt end in March 2006, when he was arrested and handed over to the Special Court for Sierra Leone to respond for his deeds.
Six years later, on May 30, 2012, the Court sentenced Taylor to 50 years in prison for his central role in the vicious war in Sierra Leone. The Court, presided by Richard Lussick, a Samoan judge, had already found Taylor guilty on five counts of crimes against humanity, five of war crimes, and one of other serious violation of international humanitarian law. Taylor’s role in murder, rape, other inhumane acts, acts of terrorism, pillage, outrages upon dignity and recruiting children as soldiers was finally recognized.
The former Liberian president’s defence argued that their client could not possibly have supported the civil war in Sierra Leone since Liberia was bankrupt and Taylor had no interest in Sierra Leone’s natural resources. Yet, the judges of the Special court found that Taylor was the backer of Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and aware of its atrocities at the time. Diamonds which the RUF had mined or stolen were taken to Taylor in Liberia in exchange for weapons and training. Taylor’s support for RUF was driven by pillage, not politics, but it was true nonetheless. Besides, Taylor took the time to cover his tracks, proving he knew that what he was doing was wrong. Notwithstanding the evidence against Taylor, his defence team has already declared the intention to appeal the verdict. An appeal will do great things for the lawyers’ bank account, but cannot do much to diminish Taylor’s responsibilities.
The real question we are left to face is if Taylor is really a scapegoat or there is hope for international justice to start working. No one else has, so far, faced a jury for his involvement in Liberia’s civil war. About 200,000 thousand people dies, many more suffered violence of one kind or another. Yet, political and military leaders from that war still sleep peacefully in Monrovia. Prince Yormie Johnson, Taylor’s ally later turned enemy, has been a Senior Senator since 2006. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf appointed Alhaji G.V, Kromah – another warlord – Ambassador-at-Large. Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaore also supported both Taylor and the RUF. Evidence of this is found in the documents presented before the Special court. Yet he was not called to witness, nor has been indicted himself.
In the past years, Compaore has styled himself as a regional statesman capable to broker peace deals in Guinea and Mali. The list of political leaders who should be indicted is long. President Paul Kagame’s involvement in the 1994 genocide in his own country is still to be clarified, while his support of rebels in eastern Congo-Kinshasa – who use child soldiers and plunder mineral resources – has been proven by several United Nations reports. Yet, he remains a darling of the West.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has indicted Sudanese President Orner Hassan Ahmed al Bashir for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. However, the indictment is fought by the African Union and al Bashir is free to journey to neighbouring countries without fear of being arrested. The ICC is also to rule over Ivorian ex-President Laurent Gbagbo for rejecting an election result and unleashing violence on his opponents and on pro-democracy protestors. If the ICC finds Gbagbo guilty, this might have a deterrent effect on other leaders who think little of using violence to win political posts. In the meantime, we are still waiting for the trial to shed light on the 2007 post election violence in Kenya. That trial will start only after the 2013 general elections, where two of the four indicted are vying for the President and Prime Minister posts.
Mepukori ole Karam