Silence and Apathy are not Options in the Prosecution of Charles Taylor

By: Emmanuel Dolo, Ph. D. & Winsley S. Nanka, CPA


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
March 17, 2006


There is an ongoing debate about whether or not the deposed and exiled Liberian ruler Charles Taylor should be brought to justice. Essentially, three major positions have been expressed. One school of thought is that Taylor should be tried in Liberian courts. Another view is that he should face justice at the war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone. The third view is that he should be sent to the International Court in The Hague. There is a fourth view, but generally unpopular with a large number of Liberians, although endorsed by those for whom Taylor’s prosecution may foretell their own futures. The latter position is that Taylor should not be prosecuted, and we should let bygone be bygone.

Although the venue of Taylor’s prosecution is important, what is critical is that he be made to face justice and answer for all the unspeakable crimes that he committed. Bringing Charles Taylor to justice is in our view a lynchpin to long-term stability and security in the West African sub-region, and particularly in Liberia. We believe that all peace-loving Liberians should support Taylor’s prosecution for his enormous role in the destabilization of the West African sub-region. Taylor was indicted by the international community for “for bearing the greatest responsibility for war crimes (murder, taking hostages, crimes against humanity (extermination, rape, sexual slavery, and other serious violations of international humanitarian law (use of child soldiers in Sierra Leone), Human Rights Watch, 2003.

We need not remind our readers that Taylor initiated the 1989 civil war in Liberia, which ultimately deposed Liberia’s military ruler dictator Samuel Kanyon Doe in 1990. In so doing, he presided over a militia of child soldiers, hoodlums, and thugs that killed tens of thousands of Liberians and foreigners within Liberia’s territorial borders. Taylor and his gang of thugs also looted the resources of Liberia and Sierra Leone, and left these nations and their citizens economically indigent and haunted by widespread trauma. If there is no other reason to bring Taylor to justice, the young children he recruited and drugged to fight his war, who are scarred forever, need to witness in their life time, that when people commit crimes, there are reciprocal consequences. They cannot live believing that people can do what Taylor did and walk away free of any accountability. This lesson will deter others from ever engaging in such lawless acts.

There are other important reasons why we should support the immediate prosecution of Charles Taylor and those whom such a prosecution would make culpable.

· Taylor’s trial has the strong potential to bring closure to the emotional wounds that many suffered as a result of the circle of violence that Liberia and the West African sub-region suffered for the past quarter of a century. Taylor’s victims span Liberia, Sierra Leone and many other nations around the world. When the key perpetrator of their suffering is prosecuted, it is likely to spur a sense of vindication and healing, feeling that these atrocities will not be repeated.
· Taylor’s prosecution would serve as a deterrent to closet and future dictators that “they can no longer be allowed to disregard the rule of law, and abuse human rights with impunity”, Nigeria has pushed responsibility for prosecuting Taylor on the Liberian people, and the Liberian people should not sidestep this important patriotic duty. Although some African leaders may fear that they would fall victim to Taylor’s fate, if they become agents of instability in their countries and/or commit crimes against humanity, Liberians need to be the pacesetters. We will be sending a strong message to African leaders that a legal and political precedent is established. You will not harm/kill your citizens and/or foreigners and get away with it.
· If Liberia fails to pressure Nigeria to turn Taylor over for prosecution, it would undermine socio-economic development in Liberia, because sooner or later Western European democracies, certain elements within official Washington, and human rights group would tie the prosecution of Taylor to economic assistance to Liberia. The future of Liberia is more important than Taylor and those who support the argument that he should not be prosecuted. The nation needs all the economic support that it can, especially when it is linked to the fate of a despot.

It is an outstanding stance for peace and justice that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has vowed not bowed to pressure from Taylor’s apologists in Liberia or elsewhere (Sirleaf’s speech to the Joint Session of the US Legislature 3/15/06). Hopefully, she will not submit the issue of Taylor’s prosecution to the Liberian legislature for consideration simply because it is dominated by Taylor’s foot- soldiers. Recall that some of these legislators were allegedly bankrolled by Taylor during the recent elections in Liberia. Taylor bankrolled some of the people in the Liberian legislature to serve as his watch-dogs, and to stifle and any attempt to have him prosecuted. His estranged wife, Bong County Senator Jewell Taylor and Nimba County Senator Aldophus Dolo, a former General in Taylor’s militia are leading the charge to avert Taylor’s prosecution. They should be reminded that the prosecution of Taylor in Sierra Leone is driven by an international mandate and the Liberian government has no authority to prevent it. To stand in the way, would be to the nation’s peril politically and economically. Elected officials who stand in the way of this nationalistic effort would be abdicating their duty as representatives of the Liberian people because they will be exposing the nation to international ridicule and possible sanctions (informal or otherwise). Taylor was indicted by the international community for crimes against humanity.

According to local media reports, former National Patriotic Party (NPP) executives alleged on a local radio talk show in Monrovia that Liberian President Sirleaf suggested to the Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo that Taylor could be tried in The Hague, at the international war crimes court, and Liberia and Nigeria could shoulder his legal responsibility. We have not ascertained the validity of the attribution. However, the confusion surrounding this issue leaves us with no alternative, but to err on the side that alleges that the statements were made.

In view of this, we believe that it is a bad idea to prosecute Taylor in The Hague because most of his victims in Sierra Leone and Liberia will not have the opportunity to witness the trial because of economic constraints, and other factors beyond their control. It is also bad idea for Liberians to pay for Mr. Taylor’s legal bills because he and his cronies, looted substantial sum of money from Liberia and Sierra Leone. They can therefore afford to pay for his defense. Taylor is also reported to receive millions of dollars yearly from Lone Star Company, a cell phone company in Liberia which he is a major share holder, according to the May 2005 Committee for International Justice (CIJ) reports. Why should Liberian tax payers subsidize his legal expenses in the face of his ill-gotten wealth?

Mr. Taylor must be turned over for prosecution because he does not deserve a second chance. He did not afford second chance to the ten of thousands of Liberians and Sierra Leoneans, who lost their lives or their limbs as the result of the mayhem he caused in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Liberians that believe in justice, freedom, and the rule of law must support efforts to have Taylor prosecuted at the earliest possible time. Not only will we bury the painful past that Taylor’s freedom arouses, but we will be burying an ethic of despotism that has been with us for 159 years of existence as a nation state.

The personal stories of Liberians, Sierra Leoneans, and others or their relatives who experienced these atrocities provide us a compelling reason why we should not remain silent in the face of injustice. We have let dictatorial rule and associated human rights violations go unpunished for too long, and we have paid the price in lives lost and resources squandered. For example, Taylor grew into a more vicious brute because other monsters before him were allowed to commit their crimes with impunity. Taylor and his cronies have not been held accountable for this reckless disregard for the well being of their victims. Indeed, Taylor’s prosecution will be a hopeful moment and a significant milestone in Liberia’s quest for social justice. Following Taylor’s prosecution, what needs to change is not just the chronic nature the citizens’ apathy, but the systems of governance that are erected to prevent reoccurrence of such travesty of justice.

About the authors: Winsley Nanka and Emmanuel Dolo are Liberian professionals based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Coon Rapids/Cottage Grove, Minnesota. They write frequently about political, social and economic issues facing Liberia and Africa in many well-known media outlets.