The Sierra Leone Special Court And Charles Taylor's Possible Indictment
By: Gabriel I.H. Williams
November 11, 2002
The Statue of the Sierra Leone Special Court, established recently to "prosecute persons who bear the greatest responsibility" for war crimes and crimes against humanity during that country's decade-long brutal civil war, provides hope that Liberian President Charles Taylor and others culpable would eventually be brought to book.
Article 6 of the Statue titled, "Individual Criminal Responsibility," includes the following counts:
1. "A person who planned, instigated, ordered, committed or otherwise aided and abetted in planning, preparation or execution of a crime... shall be individually responsible for the crime.
2. "The official position of any accused persons, whether as Head of State or Government or as a responsible government official, shall not relieve such person of criminal responsibility nor mitigate punishment.
3. "The fact that any of the acts... was committed by a subordinate does not relieve his or her superior of criminal responsibility if he or she knew or had reason to know that the subordinate was about to commit such acts or had done so and the superior had failed to take the necessary and responsible measures to prevent such acts or to punish the perpetrators thereof."
That the Sierra Leone Special Court was established in keeping with the need to end impunity by bringing to book those who bear the greatest responsibility for the atrocities committed during Sierra Leone's civil war, affords Liberians a major opportunity in our struggle to bring an end to Taylor's brutal and barbaric regime and subsequently destroy his terror infrastructure in West Africa.
In December 2000, a panel of international experts commissioned by the United Nations Security Council on Liberia's role in Sierra Leone's brutal civil war issued a damning report implicating Liberia in a "blood diamond" trade with Sierra Leone's notorious Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels. Charles Taylor was found to be one of the principal organizers and sponsors of the murderous RUF, known for amputating the limbs of thousands of children and women to instill fear in the population.
The UN report said Taylor was "actively involved in fueling the violence in Sierra Leone", and many businessmen close to his inner circle operated on an international scale, scouring their weaponry mainly in Eastern Europe. In return, Taylor and his business cohorts benefited from the sale of diamonds looted by the RUF, led by Foday Sankoh, who is in detention in Sierra Leone on charges of murder in connection with the civil war, in which an estimated 50,000 people were killed.
Accusing the Liberian leader of fermenting war in the West African sub-region, the UN Security Council unanimously approved a resolution imposing a series of sanctions on Liberia, including a travel ban on President Taylor, his immediate family and many senior officials of the Liberian government, as well as a ban on export of diamonds.
Since the sanctions came into effect, Sierra Leone's seemingly endless civil war has ended, and Taylor, who mysteriously escaped prison in the US and fled to West Africa, has become a pariah, seen by the international community as nothing more than a criminal masquerading as president of Liberia. He presides over a notorious gang calling itself government of Liberia, which enjoys little or no respectability within the international community.
The Security Council's actions against Taylor and his gang are a demonstration of the international community's desire to put an end to this Libyan puppet's destabilization of the West African sub-region. Well-meaning Liberians as well as international human rights and democracy advocacy groups also deserve credit for drawing attention to Taylor's criminal activities and forcing the UN to begin to institute some relevant measures in order to end the Liberian despot's destructive influence in the region.
The next stage of the process now should gear toward the indictment of Mr. Taylor for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and an international warrant issued for his arrest. It is important to indict Taylor as a sitting president, even if the act is merely symbolic for now since it is unrealistic to expect the arrest of the leader of a sovereign country. But this would send a strong signal all over Africa that, in the new world order, it is absolutely unacceptable to slaughter defenseless people in a blind quest for political power and to plunder resources. There is a very serious need to put an end to the culture of impunity, so well entrenched in Africa, that has enabled the likes of Taylor to thrive while the general population endues abject poverty, terror and exploitation.
Banned from traveling abroad and confined like a prisoner to Liberia's territorial limits, Taylor is like a cornered rat, desperately seeking for a way out to save his neck. He's now holding Liberia hostage and hanging on to the presidency through murder of opponents and brutal suppression of the people. But he's fooling himself. In the fullness of time, we will get him!
To ensure absolute control over Liberia through brute force, Taylor transformed his rebel National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), whose fighters split the stomach of pregnant women to determine the sex of fetuses during Liberia's civil war, into the national army and security forces. Untrained and paid little or nothing for their services, the ex-NPFL thugs continue their killing spree and to pillage across the country, to maintain control and to compensate themselves.
In his insightful interview recently with colleague Musue Haddad, noted human rights Lawyer Tiawan Gongloe indicated that since the 1997 elections that brought Taylor to power, local elections have been held in only three of the 15 counties. This affords Mr. Taylor the opportunity to appoint all local government officials, obviously based upon high degree of loyalty to the ruling party and the president.
No one should be fooled that given the brutal clampdown on dissent and violations of other fundamental human rights in Liberia, there would be a level playing field for a free and fair presidential and general elections, scheduled to be held in the country next October.
If people cannot hold a peaceful rally or march without being beaten up, thrown in jail and tortured by Taylor's thugs calling themselves security forces, how would the president's opponents campaign against him?
In the latest of a long line of attacks on human rights activists, Aloysius Toe, Secretary General of the Liberia Coalition of Human Rights Defenders, was arrested November 4 and charged with treason. Several other human rights activists and Toe's wife were arrested October 29 but later released. The arrests of Toe and the others followed a campaign launched October 25 by the Liberia Coalition of Human Rights Defenders, which brings together 19 human rights organizations, to secure the release of journalist Hassan Bility and human rights activist Sheikh K.M. Sackor, and others detained with them. The rights activists had planned a march in Monrovia to demand the release of these prisoners of conscience, who are being held on what are publicly regarded to be false allegations.
When individuals cannot express themselves about the terrible state of Liberia without being thrown in jail and tortured, as was the recent case with human rights lawyer Tiawan Gongloe, how would the Liberian people be able to engage in healthy debates about their commonwealth? Gongloe, who is currently seeking medical treatment in the US, was almost tortured to death overnight in a Monrovia police cell after he delivered a speech, which was deemed in official circles to be anti-government. He was hospitalized for nearly a week in critical condition, and reportedly urinated with black blood continuously for a week and he suffered inflamed kidneys, among others.
And when you have journalists, such as Hassan Bility and others, incarcerated and news organs arbitrarily shut down simply for performing their reportorial duties, what type of free exchange of ideas would there be during the election campaign? Colleague Bility has been held incommunicado and without charge or trial since his arrest June 24. The fact of the matter is that his newspaper, The Analyst, was critical of the government and was a medium for the expression of dissenting views. No wonder why the once vibrant Liberian independent media is almost completely paralyzed, and whatever remains has been forced into self-censorship.
When these abuses are taking place in the capital, which is in the national and international spotlight, the situation is obviously worse in rural parts, where local officials are absolute laws unto themselves and armed men extort, loot, torture, rape and murder with impunity. Besides Monrovia and a few parts, courts in most areas of the country have not re-open since the war officially ended with Taylor becoming president in 1997. I'm talking about a state of lawlessness and rule of the jungle big-time.
An armed insurgency launched by the murderous gang called the Liberian United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), has been raging for the past few years from the northern part of Liberia and recently spread close to within fifteen miles from Monrovia. The insurgency has caused more destruction of lives and property and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people, who had already endued seven years of brutal civil war that cost an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 lives, and left the country almost completely ruined.
With such huge population displacement, there is a need to conduct a census to determine the state of the population and the number of eligible voters.
There can also be no question that the national election commission is stacked with Taylor's stooges. Added to this are a dysfunctional judiciary and a rubber-stamped national legislature full of the Liberian ruler's acolytes, whose job is to do their master's bidding. With a post-war unemployment rate of 80 percent, most of the few who have jobs in Liberia are simply doing whatever they can to survive.
To restore peace and stability and for free and fair elections to obtain in Liberia, Liberians and the international community must continue to insist that the Taylor regime meet the following conditions:
As the stampede for the presidency gains momentum, I wish to remind those presidential aspirants and wannabes that it would be another very serious mistake for anyone to think about participating in an election with all the cards stacked in Taylor's favor. You cannot participate in Taylor's sham elections, play by his rules, and later claim foul play or fraud after the voting process when the Liberian leader shall have won a landslide, assuring him another six years in office - thanks to your participation.
Let history not be repeated, as was the case in 1997, when greed, selfishness, opportunism and infighting amongst Liberia's political opposition largely contributed to Taylor becoming president. These ugly tendencies, which caused the splintering of political parties and organizations, are manifesting today. We can only hope that despite their divisions, Liberian opposition leaders would be united by one purpose, which is that they would not participate in any election until the various conditions spelled out and for which they are in agreement are met by Taylor's regime.
Taylor's reign of terror in Liberia can be ended without continued violence that is costing more destruction of life and property. All that is needed now is concerted effort in getting the international community, led by the US and Britain, to further tighten the screws on the Monrovia regime to force it to reform or be replaced in keeping with the democratic will of the Liberian people. Liberians can neither continue to live at the mercy of Taylor the emasculator nor condone the destructive activities of the LURD terrorists. The fact remains that the LURD leaders and Taylor are one and the same: known murders culpable of war crimes and crimes against humanity.