Bringing War Criminals To Justice

After a series of articles in which we called world attention to the need for a war crimes tribunal in Liberia, The Perspective took a brief hiatus on the issue. We did so hoping that Mr. Taylor would have seen the light by instituting a commission that would have examined the conduct of the civil war. The Perspective had hoped this would underpin reconstruction initiatives, and promote realistic reconciliation in Liberia. We were wrong.

We must, therefore, return to the question of crimes and justice. And we do so with considerable anguish and dismay because the world community seems decidedly detached and uncommitted about bringing Liberia's infernal war criminals to justice. We are particularly disheartened by the placid attitude of most Liberians, who have failed to engage the world community about the double standard it uses in Liberia's case.

The dawn of the twentieth century has given rise to a strong sense of ethics and morality. Both deal with the question of right and wrong. Ethics and morality are defined as the science of civilized conduct, and are viewed within the context of universal law dedicated in promoting man's rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These principles deal not only with how men ought to act but also the price they must pay for crimes they commit against humanity. Included in these violations are: infringements of the rules of conduct of hostilities, mistreatment of civilians, prisoners of war, and belligerent occupation of enemy territory.

In 1992, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to establish a war crimes commission, the first of such since World War II, to investigate reports of "ethnic cleansing" and other atrocities in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In 1993 the Council, in an unprecedented step, approved the creation of an international war-crimes court to try crimes committed against humanity in the former Yugoslavia. The first case began with the arraignment, in The Hague in 1995, of an accused Bosnia Serb arrested in Germany. Later that year a UN tribunal set up in Tanzania indicted eight Rwandans on charges of genocide during Rwanda's 1994 civil war. Even up to this day, national tribunals have continued to try individuals charged with committing war crimes during World War II.

The issue of bringing war criminals to justice has begun to generate international interest. For example, prior to Pol Pot's death in April 1998, there was an international outcry to have him face trial for crimes he committed against the Cambodian people. Recently too, two high-ranking officials of his regime, Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, are being pursued for the part they played in the deaths of more than a million Cambodians.

Strangely, however, the international community has remained silent on the issue when it comes to atrocities committed in the Liberian civil war. More than 200,000 people were killed in seven years of factional fighting rooted in ethnic polarization and sheer disdain for human life.

Today, Charles Taylor, the man who is largely responsible for this horrendous carnage, sits at the head of a government with a cadre of culpable accomplices as supporting cast administering the affairs of state. In Liberia, men who cut babies from pregnant women's wombs, raped terrified women and slaughtered others because of their ethnicity, walk the streets of Monrovia and other towns with impunity. Other such culprits make up the high echelon of the Taylor regime.

With tribalism evident, state-induced terrorism surging, and ethnic cleansing going on in Liberia, Taylor's government is not about providing for the best interest of the Liberian people. The government's lack of credible programs has given Police Director Joe B. Tate and others to apply "quick draw solution" in solving complicated problems. As far as the issue of Crimes against humanity in Liberia is concerned, the international community has become spectator, merely observing while Liberians have no where to seek relief. In view of these tragic developments, the United Nations and the international community have not taken a decisive stand. This lack of concern on their part compels us to ask, why the UN and the international community are not taking similar position as they did in the case of Nazi Germany, Rwanda and Bosnia-Herzegovina?

We believe that the reason the likes of Taylor continue to behave like a warlord is because the international community has done nothing to halt this madness. With the exception of voicing outrage for human rights violations by few countries, the international community has not taken a tougher stand against Taylor. We believe that the mayhem has continued because countries within the international community are only concerned about the plight of Europeans and not Africans.

Taylor and his partners in crimes have the mind-set of Hitler. They feel that they have to commit evil so that "greater good" may come about. They justify the evil they have committed on the grounds that evil is essential in order to attain the ultimate good for the people. Yet, when they attained power, the very people on whose behalf power was obtained are abused, raped, maimed, killed and made homeless while their so-called liberators accumulate material wealth and political power all to themselves.

In a given country, after any civil war, the leaders of that country usually work overtime for peace, and undertake serious programs to rehabilitate and resettle its people. But to the contrary, the Taylor government has failed to initiate any comprehensive program aimed at improving the civil infrastructure of the country. Instead, the regime is using state apparatus to repress its citizens and abuse their human rights.

According to Martin Luther, "Government is instituted, not in order to seek its own profit at the expense of the subjects and to exercise its self-will on them but in order to provide for the best interest of its subjects." The Taylor government is not about providing for the best interest of the Liberian people.

Fed up with the chores of mopping up after the Taylor government, Her Excellency Ambassador Rachel Gbenyon-Diggs expressed her frustration regarding the government's behavior: "Every day that we lack security training, and every day we have people coming out of a war and taking decisions without observing human rights, and unqualified people in our judicial system, is a day lost." The Ambassador's statement confirms what we've been saying all along. Her statement is an indictment of a government that does not give a damn about the Liberian people's plight.

And while the world is in search of solutions to the problems that will be caused by the millennium bug, Africa is struck with the old ways of settling scores. Ways like the recent "Operation Burn House" (arson attacks), "Operation Pay Yourself" (a program of looting), and "Operation No Living Thing" (kill everything in sight) which were recently carried out in Sierra Leone. If the present is a mirror of the future, then the civil war in Sierra Leone, in which the Liberian government is implicated by the international community, is an ominous sign of continued hardship for the Liberian people.

A dangerous historical precedence would be set if those who committed such horrendous crimes against the Liberian people go unpunished. Liberians should therefore not cease in exerting pressure on the international community to bring the war criminals to justice. Taylor and his partners in crimes should be brought to book, and held responsible for the crimes they have committed against the Liberian people.

We urge Liberians to join us in petitioning the United Nations to establish a "Special Tribunal" that will bring Taylor and his accomplices to justice once and for all.

To subscribe to The Perspective, write to The Perspective P. O. Box 2824, Smyrna, GA 30081, or e-mail: