Reconciliation: A Call For Justice
By: Abraham M. Williams
Not since the Fall of 1995, when the world community commemorated the 50th anniversary of the start of the Nuremberg war crimes trial, have we seen an unprecedented interest in the age-old debate of war crimes and justice. In the past few months, we had heard a cacophony of views about bringing the malefactors of war to justice, so they can account for their actions against humanity.
From Bosnia to Rwanda, efforts have been made to redress the grievous and horrendous atrocities that the predators perpetrated against innocent victims. It would appear that the international community has regained its moral bearing and resolved that villains, such as Pol Pot of Cambodia, Radovan Karadzic of Bosnia, and several other predators to humanity, must be brought before a tribunal of credible conscience to account for their wrongdoings.
Quite recently, we learned that the Clinton administration and its NATO allies attempted to capture former Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic, the accused mastermind of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, and bring him before the international war crimes tribunal in the Hague. Likewise, the administration was negotiating with Thailand about the possibility of capturing Pot Pol, the former Khmer Rouge guerrilla leader, before he died recently.
On April 24, 1998, the Rwandan authorities executed 22 people convicted of involvement in the 1994 genocide in the tiny Central African nation of Rwanda.
According to sources, at least 330 people have been tried in Rwanda on genocide charges, and 116 have been convicted and sentenced to death. More than 125,000 await trial.
Obviously, Liberians everywhere welcome the renewed international interest in this important issue of justice and equity. We urge the world community to add Liberia to the list of countries in which the civilized community will demand justice.
In seven years of civil war, more than 200,000 people, most of them women and children, were killed in Liberia. Thousands more are permanently maimed and emotionally traumatized. And the perpetrators of these wanton acts remain free, roaming the landscapes of Monrovia and other towns and villages.
Meanwhile, the masterminds of this tragedy, the former guerrilla leaders, are now feeling beyond reproach. The principal warlord, Charles Taylor, whose forces and others wrecked havoc on the peasant population in the countryside, is now running the country. Other key guerrilla leaders, such as George Boley, Alhaji Kromah and Roosevelt Johnson - men who organized and supervised the commission of these crimes - are free to travel to the United States and other safe havens for various reasons, including seeking political asylum and U. S. protection.
One of Mr. Taylor's key lieutenants, who allegedly oversaw the raping of women and young girls at Carter Camp in Harbel in 1992 before ordering their killing, is now cabinet minister. A man who boasted of killing 10 heathens (African-Liberians) for every Americo-Liberian killed is advising Taylor on legal issues.
On July 15, 1997, the Coalition For International Justice, in a letter to President Clinton about the importance of trying war criminals in Bosnia said: "It is futile to repeatedly state that the countries of the former Yugoslavia should arrest their own war criminals; it is clear they have no such intentions. And so long as war criminals are at large and justice is not done, the wounds of war cannot heal, refugees cannot return to their homes, and reconciliation, lasting peace, and a civil society cannot be achieved..."
This sentiment is applicable to the Liberian tragedy, a conflict during which more than 200,000 people lost their lives, and the key criminals are living freely and with impunity. Liberians are deeply distressed and troubled that while these men and their death squads go unpunished, the United States has remained decidedly silent on the critical issue of justice in Liberia.
Instead, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, President Clinton's Special Envoy to Africa, recently held a two-day rally in Chicago to support the government of warlord/President Charles Taylor. The conference was designed to encourage American companies to do business in Liberia. Most Liberians and Liberian Americans will encourage and support U.S. companies establishing branches in Liberia, under the proper circumstances.
But what disturbed many Liberians about the Jackson's initiative was the attempt to deceive the Liberian community in this country by calling his rally a "conference on reconciliation." Many Liberians believe Mr. Jackson is not the right person to host a reconciliation conference on a country thousands of miles away, and a culture of which he knows very little. Besides, he is not a neutral, objective mediator; most African American leaders are not.
During the conference, Rev. Jackson referred to President Doe as a mere coup plotter whose rule was illegal. He then commended president Taylor as a man elected in a democratic election. Such comments are bordered on insult and insensitivity to many Liberians.
Any attempt to disparagingly dismiss Doe as just a mere "coup plotter" without recognizing the underlined political dynamics which thrust him to the Liberian political scene is absurd. And for any analyst to condemn him for killing less than 50 people to seize power, while at the same time embrace President Taylor who initiated the killing of more than 200,000 people is dastardly unconscionable.
This kind of biased rhetoric underscores the paradox Liberia has always posed for Black America. For more than 130 years, American Blacks and Black political leadership turned a blind eye on Liberia, while a minority of less than one percent of the population - mainly descendants of freed American slaves - oppressed and exploited the African majority.
Most Liberians generally abhor violence, including the coup that overthrew the Americo-Liberian political monopoly in 1980. But many African-Liberians view the military action as the only alternative, since the oligarchy was entrenched and unaccommodating.
While some of these Liberians were disappointed by the tyrannical excesses of the Doe regime, many still see Doe as a symbol of majority rule, a sort of redeemer - albeit a dictatorial one - of the abused and exploited African majority. Most African- Liberians identify with the underlined aspirations which prompted Doe and others to resort to violence.
In the ongoing debate about the situation in Liberia, most government supporters are quick to point out that Mr. Taylor became president as a result of democratic, free and fair elections. But the statement is not totally accurate.
The special Liberian elections of 1997 took place in an environment of intimidation, lack of level playing field and inadequate political education for the average voter. The political scale tilted in favor of Mr. Taylor, who had enormous advantage in resources, control and access.
But the issue of legitimacy is not in question here. What is at issue with Mr. Taylor and his government is performance and responsibility, which are critical elements for stability and reconciliation.
The words of Sen. Charles Brumskine, a confidant of President Taylor, is relevant here. He said, "...democracy is not an event. Democracy is a process. Unless our government stands to provide the wherewithal that facilitates the democratic process that ensures the continuation of that process, the process could break again."
With a leadership predisposed to nondemocratic tendencies, heightened by deepening social discontent occasioned by the ravaging effects of the civil war, Liberia certainly needs the wherewithal or necessary means to weed out war criminals. This is the only way we can ensure, persevere and nurture the fragile democratic process in Liberia.
It's time that the international community step to the plate and perform its duty by empaneling a war crimes tribunal to bring Liberian war criminals to justice. This will help Liberians disburden themselves of the agonies and pains they feel inside. In fact, such a demonstration for justice will be therapeutic for all concerned. It will contribute to a healing process that is desperately needed. The trials will be a deterrent for future war. More importantly, such action will be the basis for genuine peace and reconciliation.
The United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, U. S. President Bill Clinton and the European Union must exert the necessary leadership to make sure that justice is done in Liberia.
Unless the architects and perpetrators of crimes against humanity, some of whom now wield power in Liberia, are brought before a court of international jurists to account for their actions, the civilized world will have lost an opportunity to restore credence to its pledge of "never again", and to contribute to lasting peace in Liberia.