Our Various Accords Revisited
By Charles Kwanulo Sunwabe Jr.
September 23, 2002
In the continued Liberian obsessions with canards and colorable proclamations, it seems like the attention of Liberians is now diverted away from the real issues confronting their country (poverty, theft of national wealth, ethnic hatred, religious manipulation and political prostitution, among others) to the hosting of so-called national conferences that not only insulate warlords and Liberian political criminals, but also shields these nefarious gangsters and buffoons behind impregnable walls - obviously keeping them away from critics and victims of our traumatizing civil catastrophe. As the result, it is highly apparent that our collective search for long-term peace and stability in the now failed West African Republic of Liberia is already in limbo!
Increasingly, it's becoming quite clear that our self appointed politicians and their consorts are bent on advancing gimmicks as solutions to our nation's alarming political and social problems rather than seeking genuine resolution to our conundrum. Although the fallacies of the befuddled, despicable and narcissist policies of contemporary Liberian political gangsters are obvious, those who have the guts to render their honest opinion on these policies are unjustly attacked with the venoms of the "Black Cobra of Africa." Nowadays, it is the messenger that is under all sort of erroneous, unwarranted, and unscrupulous attack, but not the massage. The slogan is simply this: "He's young and angry." But, again, as far as I'm concerned, age is really irrelevant to the current debate on Liberia. Furthermore, one's age does not say a whole lot about his or her qualification or ability to critically analyze Taylor's pariah Liberia.
With this mindset, recent conclaves of dictators, and the writings of some Liberians now contend that the "Cotonou Accord" of 1993 did grant Liberian warlords blanket armistice from persecution for the many crimes that they have committed against African conscience and humanity. Even though I'm fully aware of the fact that every individual has and is entitled to an opinion (something that is the hallmark of a functioning democracy), but I would like to respectfully disagree with this position. Moreover, it is profoundly troubling that the COTONOU ACCORD that was negotiated by a CONSORTIUM OF WEST AFRICAN DICTATORS can be cited in this date and age as a justifiable reason why some of our criminal warlords should not face the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for pre-1997 crimes that were deliberately committed against innocent Liberians, many of them ordinary women and children.
But, my fellow Liberians, I sincerely think that it is of utmost importance that we revisit that accord in order to fully understand exactly what it says before going any further. Here's what SECTION G ARTICLE 19 of the "lamentable" Cotonou Accord says precisely:
The Parties hereby agree that upon the execution of this Agreement there shall be a general amnesty granted to all persons and parties involved in the Liberian civil conflict in the course of actual military engagements. Accordingly, acts committed by the parties or by their forces while in actual combat or on authority of any of the parties in the course of actual combat are hereby granted amnesty. Similarly, the Parties agree that business transactions legally carried out by any of the parties hereto with private business institutions in accordance with the laws of Liberia shall in like manner be covered by the amnesty herein granted. DONE AT COTONOU, REPUBLIC OF BENIN, THIS 25TH DAY OF JULY 1993
For the sake of clarity, I'd like to note that the much talked about armistice alludes to "crimes that were committed in the course of actual military engagements." Also, please observe that the "key" word here is "ACTUAL", meaning, "existing in fact or reality". Therefore, a few "honorable" Liberians and I would love to have the ICJ in The Hague, or the newly created International Criminal Court (ICC) to prosecute atrocious crimes that were committed by the country's so-called warlords against innocent and defenseless men, women, and children who were fleeing in terror for their lives during the heyday of our war of cupidity, but wound up being butchered by the pugnacious thugs who continue to call themselves president and opposition leaders.
In my opinion, the crimes alluded to by the COTONOU ACCORD, the killings of innocent Krahns and Mandingos at various NPFL check points, the mass raping of young girls by the NPFL, the killing of innocent Lofa, Cape Mount, and Bong County citizens by ULIMO-K, and similar crimes committed by ULIMO-J, LDF, INPFL, AFL, etc, are discrete. The victims of the above mentioned crimes weren't militants, or military personnel. They were rather innocent civilians running from the incessant violence, and invading armies that rolled through defenseless towns and villagers like juggernauts.
For example, the Sinje Massacre, the St. Peter Lutheran Church Massacre, the Harbel Massacre and the July 1990 Bakedu Massacre were NOT committed in "ACTUAL" military engagements. To the contrary, forces that were blindly loyal to the various Liberian warlords simply marched on innocent Liberians in these places, and bayoneted them allegedly upon direct orders from their bosses. As we all know now, Liberian warlords and their top military commanders carried out executions based purely on ethnicity, personal resentment, and previous employment history, especially when an individual was alleged to have worked for the late Samuel Kanyon Doe's dictatorship. In some instances, when a rival faction dislodged its opponent from a particular locality, the residents of that [region, area or location] were rounded up and summarily executed just because top brass of the invading faction erroneously reasoned that as residents they [the victims] were in support of the opposing faction. What a ridiculous assumption! But truthfully, this was the case in Ganta in 1990, Monrovia in 1990, Tubmanburg in 1993, Gbarnga 1994, etc. Since the Liberian civil war did not have any prisoners of war (POW), it would only serve the selfish interests of Liberian warlords and their collaborators, to argue that the "actual military engagement" referred to in the COTONOU ACCORD was basically limited to the execution of prisoners of war [POW] by the various factions, which by all accounts was in flagrant violation of the international rules governing conflicts. Additionally, I'd like to remind you that Liberia is a signatory to the Geneva Convention, as well as countless other international legal codes that regulate wars. If Liberian warlords and their associates adopted the position that SECTION G ARTICLE 19 of the COTONOU ACCORD refers to POW, then they would be making some sense. But to simply grant clemency to warlords for genocide is unthinkable and unheard off in the history of the CIVILIZED WORLD. So, Liberians, let us bring the warlords to justice and repatriate their ill-gotten billions to our country for the development of our nation and its people.
In my humbled opinion, the COTONOU ACCORD of 1993 cannot avail in the current debate regarding our request for a UN Tribunal for Liberian warlords. As we all know, the negotiating parties, or the parties that were actively involved in the Liberian civil war (ULIMO-K, NPFL, and AFL, etc.) never honored the much talked about accord that was signed by their various representatives in Cotonou, Benin in 1993. Moreover, the peacekeeping force of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which was mandated to oversee the implementation of the COTONOU ACCORD, failed to honor it, and instead, blatantly contravened the agreement that they (the regional leaders of West Africa) had carefully negotiated. For instance, when ECOMOG grew increasingly frustrated with Taylor and his ruthless NPFL, the West African Peacekeeping Force armed, assisted, provided logistics and coordinated the military campaign of Dr. George Boley's Liberian Peace Council (LPC), or may I justly say, the "Liberian Destructive Tribal Council".
The goal of employing this strategy was to bring military and political pressure to bear on Mr. Taylor and the NPFL, thereby, making the detestable rebel movement more amenable to peace. While ECOWAS' motive for this arcane alliance with the LPC was obvious (to bring Taylor to the peace table), one needs to add that it nevertheless contravened the very accord that is now heatedly debated. Mr. Taylor responded to ECOMOG's military and logistical supports to the LPC by creating a splinter fiction, Lofa Defense Force (LDF), which exacerbated tension and resulted in renewed fighting in Lofa County between ULIMO-K, and the new faction, LDF. Then, ECOMOG maintained that the two new factions [LPC and LDF] were not signatories to the COTONOU ACCORD, hence they could not be disarmed, or held directly responsible for contempt of the accord.
Interestingly, ECOWAS' Executive Secretary and the region's leaders were again calling for yet another round of negotiation - one that was aimed at bringing all of the belligerents to the table for a peaceful settlement to the deadly Liberian conflict. Therefore, names like AKOSOMBO, ABUJA, etc., surfaced. It is a known fact in the history of international peacekeeping and conflict resolution, I may add, that when the parties to a conflict fail to adhere to an agreement that they [the parties] enter into, ultimately leading to renewed fighting that warrants yet a new set of agreement, then the old agreement is simply discarded. In some instances, though, the mediator to the conflict would insert, or incorporate provisions of the old agreement into the new one, when the parties to the conflict deem it necessary. Notwithstanding, in the event that a return to the violated accord is necessary, the parties and the arbiters would re-commit themselves to the full implementation of such an accord. In the particular case of Liberia, our curmudgeons leaders of doom eventually went to Ghana and later to Nigeria, not to return to the COTONOU ACCORD, but to settle their political differences through a whole new agreement. To date, I'm yet to see any evidence that would suggest that the new agreements [AKOSOMO and/or ABUJA] incorporated SECTION G ARTICLE 19 of the COTONOU ACCORD, or granted clemency to Liberian warlords for their heinous crimes against our people and nation. Again, I share the opinion that the armistice provision of the COTONOU AGREMENT just doesn't stand today - simple as that!
In 1995, the North America Treaty Organization (NATO) and the various warring factions [Bosnia Serbs, Bosnia Muslims, Croatia, etc.] that were vying for control of the Balkans, reached a negotiated settlement to end the Yugoslavian Civil War at Wright-Patterson Air Force base here in Dayton, Ohio, on November 21, 1995 and signed that agreement in Paris on December 14, 1995. To assist them in honoring their obligations under the Dayton Agreement, the Parties established a Commission on Human Rights (the "Commission"). The Commission consisted of two parts: the Office of the Ombudsman and the Human Rights Chamber, respectively. However, the US and its European allies made it crystal clear to the Yugoslavian factions that the blatant violation of human rights was not welcomed while the said accord was in force. Further, they also made it known that indictments could be brought against any individual or party that willingly violated the agreement. Of course, we now know that former Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic represented the Bosnia Serbs. We also know that when leaders of the Bosnia Serbs, Radovan Karadzic and General R. Maldic, resorted to their "old" habits of ethnic cleansing, the UN's international criminal tribunal went right ahead and indicted them for their crimes. President Slobodan Milosevic, the former peace partner of Europe and the US in the Balkans, is today on trial before the UN Tribunal for his alleged crimes in Kosovo and Albania. Lieutenant Colonel Dragan Jokic of the Serbian Army, who once commanded Serbian forces in Srebrenica, is today before the same UN Tribunal for the systemic torture and mass killings of Muslim women, men and children by forces under his immediate command.
Amazingly, there isn't a single intelligent or unintelligent European for that matter who thinks that previous agreements seemingly letting these warlords off the hook still stands today; therefore, they should not be persecuted for their crimes. It is only in pathetic Liberia that a very few Liberians whom we expect to know better are saying that our warlords should get away with not only genocide, but also looted public funds. No wonder the country today is nothing but a vast swamp of poverty, human suffering and degradation. But the worst is yet to come if the warlords-inspired rubbish is not promptly stopped! Again, the lesson from the above cited Yugoslavian example is plain and simple - internationally negotiated agreements not adhered to by the parties to that agreement couldn't avail in all circumstances!
For the sake of argument, let's say that the Balkans is too far removed from West Africa. I'd then focus my attention on the West African sub-region for more pertinent examples of how warlords could be tried when they fail to adhere to their signatures. Sierra Leone and the infamous LOME ACCORD are my primary occupation here! As far as crimes that were committed against humanity are concerned, ARTICLE XI of the LOME ACCORD stipulated the following clearly:
(1) In order to bring lasting peace to Sierra Leone, the Government of Sierra Leone shall take appropriate legal steps to grant Corporal Foday Sankoh absolute and free pardon.
(2) After the signing of the present (Lome) Agreement, the Government of Sierra Leone shall also grant absolute and free pardon and reprieve to all combatants and collaborators in respect of anything done by them in pursuit of their objectives, up to the time of the signing of the present Agreement.
(3) To consolidate the peace and promote the cause of national reconciliation, the Government of Sierra Leone shall ensure that no official or judicial action is taken against any member of the RUF/SL, ex-AFRC, ex-SLA or CDF in respect of anything done by them in pursuit of their objectives as members of those organizations, since March 1991, up to the time of the signing of the present Agreement.
In addition, legislative and other measures necessary to guarantee immunity to former combatants, exiles and other persons, currently outside the country for reasons related to the armed conflict shall be adopted ensuring the full exercise of their civil and political rights, with a view to their reintegration within a framework of full legality.
Now, although ECOWAS and the Government of Sierra Leone granted that country's warlords armistice from persecution for crimes that they had committed during the Sierra Leonean Civil War, when Corporal Foday Sankoh failed to abide by the LOME ACCORD (signed on July 7, 1999), a special UN Tribunal subsequently indicted him for pre and post Lome crimes committed against humanity. Other warlords who abided by the LOME ACCORD were precluded from the special UN Tribunal. Note that there were no differences between Sankoh and LOME on the one hand and Taylor, Kromah, Boley, etc., on the other hand. I mean, they stubbornly failed to adhere to the COTONOU ACCORD and, therefore, they are no longer covered by that agreement. And that's the truth of the matter! They should be tried individually for their various brutal crimes and all levelheaded Liberians should immediately demand an indictment against these heartless killers. But to some within our midst, these guys are heroes! But frankly, if we fail to act on behalf of our fallen compatriots, then we would be doing nothing but setting a bad precedent - plain as that.
The salient point that I'm trying to underscore here is that neither the warlords nor the peacekeeping force obeyed the agreement that they had signed to apparently end our misery, hence the war continued raging from 1993-1997 unabated. To further explicate this point, Stephen Ellis states that: "Second, the Cotonou agreement indirectly spawned new armed fictions as the signatories to the accord, publicly committed to peace but privately still intent on war, supported the creation of surrogate groups, non-signatories who could continue hostilities. The most significant new faction, the Sapo-dominated LPC, began to spread out towards the South-East from its base in Buchanan (Grand Bassa County) to torture and rob-civilians, depopulating the area in a swathe around the port-city and depriving the NPFL of its civilian support base there". If our warlords did not honor their signatory in 1993, then why is it that they [the warlords] now want certain provisions of an agreement that they once hated, and refused to obey be invoked in this late date and age? And, who are we (Liberians) to now insist that a discarded agreement that was never adhered to by the mediators, and the parties to the Liberian conflict still stand today? It seems that there is a sinister reason behind this whole COTONOU excitement! The issue confronting us today is plain and simple: the CONTONOU ACCORD was never adhered to; it failed to end the Liberian Civil War; and is totally immaterial to the present call for a UN Tribunal for Liberian Warlords. Really!
As we all know, due to the failure of the COTONOU ACCORD, and the resultant accusations leveled against ECOMOG by the NPFL, and some West African Heads of States, a subsequent agreement was negotiated in Akosombo, Ghana, in 1996. Interestingly, the "AKOSOMBO ACCORD" was mute on the sensitive issue of clemency for LIBERIAN WARLORDS for crimes committed by their factions. As far as the issues of immunity from persecution for crimes committed by Liberian factions are concerned, there are no so called "carry over" from the COTONOU ACCORD to the AKOSOMBO ACCORD, which replaced the then abandoned COTONOU AGREEMENT.
Again, in my humbled opinion, the AKOSOMBO ACCORD replaced and invalidated certain provisions of the COTONOU ACCORD. Given the evidence to date, it is logical to assert that by ushering in the AKOSOMBO ACCORD, West African leaders, Liberian warlords and Liberian Civil Community leaders were really saying that the COTONOU ACCORD was by then irrelevant and incompatible with the military and political situation in Liberia at the time.
But let's assume that I'm dead wrong! And that both the AKOSOMBO AND ABUJA ACCORDS also granted Liberian warlords armistice form persecution for genocide and other forms of torture committed by them during our war of avarice. This should raise another interesting issue - the question of jurisdiction. One question comes to mind here: Does ECOWAS and other regional organizations have jurisdiction in cases involving genocide committed against innocent civilians during the course of military engagement? Again, the Sierra Leone peace process needs to be examined here. Shortly before the LOME ACCORD was signed by the Government of Sierra Leone and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels there, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's Special envoy to the Lome peace talk, Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji took exception to the agreement, arguing that giving the gravity of human right abuses and other forms of crimes that were committed against Sierra Leoneans by the various factions, his organization [the UN] which is the rightful authority in matters relating to genocide and war crimes reserved the rights to try Sierra Leonean warlords irrespective of regional armistices. This tells me that the UN was and continues to be the rightful body that can grant pardon in matters relating to genocide. And since the crimes in question were committed against humanity, it is the obligation of the UN to bring the perpetrators to justice. This is purely a UN affair! It cannot be decided by a region that until 1995 was dominated by brutal and impassive dictators, who for the most part, have been preoccupied with gross human rights violation and the subversion of democracy since most of Africa gained independence in the1960s.
The real motive for the rush to armistices in both Liberia and Sierra Leone is as simple as this: our intransigent, refractory and schizophrenic dictators of West Africa were themselves guilty of the same crimes. Beyond this, one needs to understand that in the early 1990s, the Cold War ended leaving many African dictators without the cardinal supports of either of the two major super powers, or a friendly and powerful European nation that they [African dictators] desperately need to maintain their selfish grip on power. This means that African dictators became vulnerable to attacks, and the rising demands of previously oppressed groups and human rights advocates who were agitating for political inclusion, fair dispensation of justice coupled with the relentless call for law suits to be filed against some West African leaders for political crimes committed against Africans.
Against this backdrop, West African leaders rushed head-on to grant clemency to their criminal counterparts in Liberia and Sierra Leone not because they (West African dictators) wanted to end human misery in the two countries, but purely to protect themselves from potential lawsuits and/or future indictment for human rights violation. The fact that the likes of Sani Abacha, Jerry Rawlings, Gnassingbe Eyadema, etc., were deeply involved with this process underscores the point that I'm trying to make. While President Nicephore Dieudonne Soglo, Special UN envoy to the Liberian-Benin peace talk, Dr. James O.C. Jonah and then OAU eminent person for Liberia, Rev. Canaan Banana, were democratic Africans involved with the COTONOU ACCORD, the actual men who adopted this abominable agreement were un-repented autocrats. Thus, it is no surprise that a warlord narcissistic accord was negotiated and imposed on our decaying country by men who were equally guilty of hewing the limbs of their own people as our warlords did. To call for a UN Tribunal back in 1990 would have been an unthinkable thing given that the entire region was riddled with dictators and genocidal autocrats. Those who advocate the position that Liberian warlords are immune from persecution need only to take a deep look at the gravity of the crimes committed by them before they decide to defend these unforgiving thugs.
Again, I'm tempted to go on and on talking about our warlords and their crimes, but I will rest my pen for now! However, I'd like to say just one more thing here - that this debate is not about me, or anyone else. Rather, it's about the desiccated bones of Liberia and those who are dead and cannot seek justice on their own behalf. Today, we might find it feasible to defend some of our warlords, and we might find it convenient not to defend the rights of the dead. But remember that what goes around always comes around. If we do not stop these warlords and put them away, they will resort to their killing habits in the not so distant future, and our country would definitely be plunged forever into one round after the other of mass massacres. That is why I have said and will continue to say that we need to bring our warlords to JUSTICE and repatriate their stolen money back to Liberia for the natural benefit of the country and its downtrodden people.