Charles Taylor Goes To The Hague --- London Awaits
By Theodore T. Hodge
Charles Taylor, the former Liberian President who has been indicted by a Special Court of the United Nations on charges of crimes against humanity, has been held in a prison in Freetown, Sierra Leone, while the world decides where to try him and where to imprison him should he be found guilty. The West African region has maintained that given Mr. Taylor’s reputation, it would be precarious to hold the trial in the region and dangerous to hold him afterwards as a prisoner. Given Mr. Taylor’s nefarious reputation, it would seem elementary to support these points of view; yet the world was haggling over where to try him and where to imprison him. Duh!
United Nations Secretary General Kofi Anan upon hearing the British pronouncement purportedly hailed it as “another step forward in our battle against impunity for the most heinous crimes.”
Well, like the Secretary General, I too am thrilled that the British government has decided to make available a suitable prison suite for our ex-dictator. The thing I simply can’t reconcile in my mind is why did such a simple and necessary decision take so long? And why should the British who consider themselves leaders of the civilized world be praised for taking this elementary decision in the name of “humanity”? I find these developments quite perplexing and a bit disturbing. Here’s why.
The United Nations’ Special Court for Sierra Leone indicted Charles Taylor on crimes against humanity. Any student of history should understand the significance of these words: Crimes against humanity. After being indicted, Charles Taylor was allowed to leave Liberia and become a guest of Nigerian President Obasanjo. He lived in a palace and enjoyed a privileged lifestyle including having henchmen, servants and concubines. His victims and concerned citizens looked on in disbelief, helplessly.
Eventually, when his host was faced with the reality of denouncing him or losing face in Washington, DC, he denounced him, although he had vigorously defended him and vowed never to ‘throw him to the wolves’. President Obasanjo made a u-turn; he said Taylor wasn’t his friend and had never been his friend. Upon hearing that Taylor officially made himself a fugitive. He left the residence provided for him and decided to run for the border. He was captured and became a prisoner of the United Nations, finally.
A prudent mind would think Mr. Taylor had reached the end of his rope. But the struggle of determining where he would be tried and who to host him after trial became the new points of contention.
I have wondered why the Netherlands boldly refused to consider holding the trial in The Hague unless some other country first agreed to keep him as prisoner should he be found guilty. One would think that in the name of world solidarity, the Netherlands or some other competent country would have jumped to the chance of boosting the image of the United Nations and working for justice. The issue of where Charles Taylor should serve his prison term, if convicted, should not have held up the trial at all, yet it did.
In my mind, this was another grievous example of playing Africa cheap. Charles Taylor was indicted for crimes against humanity. Although his victims were Africans, his crimes were against humanity – the entire human race. Can you imagine a European country putting the Nuremberg Trial on hold until it was decided which country would hold those found guilty? No. No such thought would have occurred to the civilized world after the atrocities committed against humanity by the Nazis. But when it comes to poor Africans, we are marginalized. The delay of justice for such unimportant considerations should not have occurred. Unfortunately, it did.
I join those who applaud the British for agreeing to provide a suitable prison space for Charles Taylor should he be convicted of the serious charges brought against him. I’m quite sure a great country like Great Britain will provide such a suitable accommodation. There are a number of countries that could equally do us the favor of hosting Mr. Taylor; just don’t send him to Boston, Massachusetts.
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