Extradition And Trial, A Necessity : A Rejoinder


By Bai Gbala


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
February 10, 2006



In an “exclusive interview “ with the Liberian Daily Observer newspaper published on the internet on December 14, 2005, Mrs. Jewel Howard-Taylor, estranged wife of Former President Charles Ghankay Taylor, said that “I will not support extradition”. It can be recalled that the former president, now exiled in the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is under indictment for War Crimes & Crimes Against Humanity by the Un-backed, Special War Crimes Tribunal, now sitting in the Republic of Sierra Leone.

The International Community (led by the USA/UN); the local, Liberian Human Rights Organizations; and the Liberian people in general have applied and continue to apply pressure increasingly upon the newly elected, Liberian President, Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, to request extradition of the former president to stand trial.

It will also be recalled that the former president was the organizer/leader of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia whose unprovoked, military attack upon the Liberian nation resulted to the historic, national tragedy of a fourteen-year civil war of destruction, brutality, human suffering and death. Mr. Charles Taylor is alleged to be the architect and behind-the-scenes supporter/manager of the ten-year, deadly rebel war “transported” to neighboring Sierra Leone. “If I am asked to give a vote to send Charles Taylor to Free Town (Sierra Leonean Capital) for trial, I will not”, said Mrs. Jewel Howard-Taylor.

This Rejoinder is not, particularly or specifically, intended to advocate the extradition of former President Charles Taylor for trial by the UN-backed Special Court whose Competence – Organization, Structure & Powers (see http://www.specialcourt.org/documents/statute/html) – are being questioned and are highly likely to be challenged successfully. Moreover, I am not informed as to whether or not the Special Court’s indictment against the former president is for war crimes committed in Liberia, against Liberians.

For legally- and politically-compelling and persuasive reasons clearly stated herein, it is very important, indeed mandatory, that not only the former president, but also his associates of the NPFL hierarchy who, with him, organized, ferociously and violently launched and carried out the historic tragedy, be brought to justice. This includes those now “elected” senior & junior senators and representatives; appointed cabinet ministers; and executives of state agencies, now posing in the country as defenders of a democratic, peaceful, united, secured, just socio-economic and political order.

In the light of these considerations, I call upon and beseech the Liberian people and their new democratically-elected, inaugurated government to summon the political will in order to constitute a Liberian, Special War crimes Tribunal for the trial of all those individuals who committed these horrific crimes against Liberians in Liberia.

The Rejoinder

For a housewife, despite estrangement, deeply concerned about the fate of her husband charged with serious, criminal offences, penalty for which includes life in prison or death itself, any reasonable person will be moved to understand and sympathize with Mrs. Taylor’s position, in terms of family considerations.

However, in light of the profoundly persuasive, compelling argument and the requirements of applicable International and the Liberian Law (Constitution), and the pain/agony inflicted upon the families of innocent victims, one must, also reasonably, inevitably disagree with the position of the Former First Lady of Liberia. For, Mrs. Jewel Howard-Taylor is not only the Former First Lady of Liberia and wife of the Former President, but also now the elected Member of the Upper Chamber (the Senate) of the Liberian National Legislature, an important first branch (of three branches) of the Liberian government, with crucial responsibility for law- and policy-making, including the responsibility for critical matters of state-craft for peace, unity, justice, and security under the rule of law.

Mrs. Jewel Howard-Taylor’s Argument

Briefly, the following are the major points raised by Mrs. Taylor in support of her case against the extradition and trial of former President Charles Taylor; she argues that:

1. Mr. Charles Taylor did not create the position in which the Liberian Nation finds itself today. She contends that “Liberia was at a point where it could have been John Doe” or anyone else “to ignite a crisis”.

2. The series of socio-economic and political crises that afflicted Liberia over time leading to the nation’s prevailing “failed-state” status, include:

a) The 1980 coup de tat in which the late Former President Tolbert was killed and that no one cared how many family members were killed the night he was assassinated . . . about the 13 ministers and other officials (of government) that were shot at the pole”;

b) The late Honorable David Coleman ( Former Minister of Internal Affairs) “. . . was falsely accused of trying to kill (the late) President Tubman”, but no one cared to “. . . asked that family what agony they went through (Hon. David Coleman and son John were killed by military forces and put on public display at the Barclay Training Center)”

c) c) “So, for me (Mrs. Taylor says), it is not about the (recent) 15 years (of Taylor’s NPFL mindless nightmare of brutality, destruction of towns and villages, refugees, suffering and death) that you hear people shouting

about. We have been in crisis situation . . . I think we had gotten to that point where there was a lot of envy, a lot of hurt, and a lot disappointment . . . the cup was at the boiling over . . . and here comes a Charles Taylor”;

d) “I think our lives are destined by God . . . to go a certain path . . . and do certain things . . . the nation was just at that point where we just had to go through what we went through . . . (but) people keep trying to blame Charles Taylor. So, are we as Liberians ready to look at this story (of Liberia) in a holistic sense . . . those who lied on Hon. David Coleman; those who shot the 13 ministers and other officials on the pole . . . whoever it was that killed the best President . . . Dr. William R. Tolbert, Jr.?”;

e) On the Charles Taylor-led NPFL insurgency, the Bong County Senior Senator said that “. . . no one was forced or coerced into joining the war . . . everywhere they (the NPFL combatants) went, everybody joined”;

f) Mrs. Taylor holds that no Liberian is innocent of the civil war. She said, “I wonder if someone can tell me if there are any innocent Liberians . . . if you are an ex-combatant, you were part of the war . . . if you went to a meeting where killing of Liberians was discussed and you decided not to say anything, you were part of the war you acquiesced”. She holds that the “Liberian people were not asked if Charles Taylor should go into exile. A foreign president . . . decided Charles Taylor must leave Liberia . . . now”; and

g) Finally Mrs. Taylor contends that the “Liberian people need to state what their opinion is on this matter (of extradition/trial of the former president by national referendum) because we have a few people talking about it . . . some say go to Sierra Leone; the other say, leave him (Mr. Taylor) alone. What happens to Mr. Charles Taylor is something that will have to be discussed in collaboration with the International Community, especially the African Union and ECOWAS”.

My Response

Firstly, it is very important to note that the interview provides a significant glimpse and insight into the socio-cultural, political and legal mindset, and thoughts of the Bong County Senior Senator, in terms of her response to the wide range of critical issues raised by the decision to extradite the former president for trial or not to extradite and “leave him alone”. Those issues include formidable challenges in the re-building of a new and cohesive Liberia.

For example, rather than confine her response and discussion to the issue of the demands being made for the extradition of the former president to face trial as charged, and address the critical issues arising therefrom, the former First Lady of Liberia not only conveniently disregarded this main issue, but she also introduced and agonized at length over Liberia’s past, unfortunate historical experiences concerned with tragic episodes clearly irrelevant to the issue at hand and the issues arising – respect for and obedience to applicable International Law and the Liberian Constitution as they relate to Crime & Punishment, Liberian National Reconciliation & Healing for national peace, unity, security and justice at this critical period in our history.

Moreover, Mrs. Jewel Howard-Taylor’s apparent, convenient disregard of the crucial, central issues is disappointing, because she is not only the wife of a man “against the ropes”, so to speak, but also a budding, national political leader who is now the Senior Senator From Bong County, a member of Liberia’s national Legislature. The only higher, political leadership position than the Senate is the Presidency of the nation.

From this, it appears that Mrs. Taylor “conveniently ignored” the facts or is simply ignorant of the issues, particularly, the fact that open and fair trial of leaders and other individuals charged with serious war crimes during civil conflicts such as our 1989-1997 tragedy in which the former president was the leader (hence the extradition), is and will be not only an act of national, legal house-cleaning, but also national reconciliation and healing; in that, the trial and sentencing will send out clear, loud and important message that no one is above the law, no matter one’s position in society, as well as provide a sense of relief and remedy, justice, fair-play and personal satisfaction to the families whose loved ones were victimized by the conflict.

Secondly, Mrs. Taylor’s arguments are not only irrelevant to the issues at hand, but also a blatant design to miss-inform and miss-lead, because:

A. Although some of her recitations [2(a-g)] are unfortunate facts of Liberian political history but clearly irrelevant to the issues of extradition and trial, because there has never been, throughout the nation’s existence as an independent state, the range, depth, breadth, scope and level of historic degradation, destruction, disruption of populations and refugees, inhumane brutality, human suffering, cruelty and death such as that which the Charles Taylor-led NPFL inflicted upon the Liberian nation and its innocent, unarmed and helpless citizens, a tragedy that spared no village, town and city throughout the country.

B. Arguments [2(a-c)] appear to be clear “justifications” for, but not relevant to the horrendous brutalities inflicted by the NPFL; in that, there is no proof that political power prevented individuals responsible for the acts cited, from being brought to justice.

C. Also argument [2(e)], that “…no one was forced or coerced into joining the war…”, is absolutely false; for, there were hundreds of thousands of 9-10-year-old “boy- and girl-soldiers” who were forced into the NPFL fighting forces, forced into the drug-abuse culture and killed their seniors indiscriminately with AK-47s too heavy for these young Liberians and they did. There were other resistance groups, notably the ULIMO fighting forces, that took up arms to prevent the NPFL from taking political power by the gun (see records of UNAMIL, ECOMOG and ECOWAS).

D As for [2(f)], that “…there are no Liberians innocent of the war”, the falsity of this Assertion is so obvious that it needs no proof.

E. And finally, that Mrs. Taylor’s suggestion of a national referendum (to decide on extradition and trial of an accused) underscores the fact that the Bong County, Senior Senator apparently lack an understanding or disregard the provision of International and Liberian Law on this issue of a trial of anyone charged with commission of a crime, and our national, legal obligation with responsibility to uphold and enforce the law. In this case, a referendum is not lawfully necessary; besides, it is a costly, unnecessary alternative.

In view of the foregoing, I suggest very strongly that President Johnson-Sirleaf request the extradition of the former President so that he may “have his day in court”.