Will Taylor Join Sankoh Before the Tribunal?
By Tom Kamara
July 31, 2000
It now seems certain that at last, Sierra Leone's ruthless rebel leader Foday Sankoh and his accomplices will face justice for crimes and other atrocities against humanity. With this, hope is rekindled that the decision will minimize, if not halt, the likelihood of the level of impunity by men bent on cementing mayhem and genocide for their own ends.
What is becoming obvious as these criminals are booked is that the days of Charles Taylor as the unchallenged godfather of rebels and the high priest of terror are coming to an end, that is if words are backed by action. For several years now, Taylor's American backers and PR firms have salvaged him from exposure and concrete international action. In the world of double standards and duplicity when it comes to plight of Africans, he would have probably passed into history as a great "continental leaders", in the word of one his African-American admirers and sponsors, Rep. Cynthia McKinney. But the horrors of Sierra Leone, the horrific scenes of amputated children, the sheer terror waged for diamonds, have led to questions about American fairplay in dealing with terrors around the world. Now, Taylor's persistent backing of the RUF rebels has led to calls to declare him an international terrorist and a pariah, bringing him closer to trial along with Sankoh. Reports The Jane's Terrorism & Security Monitor Magazine:
"Questions are also being asked in Europe and Africa about the ambiguity of the US position on Liberia. Colonel Tom Carew, Chief of Defence Staff of the Sierra Leone Army, claims that President Taylor is a convicted felon, who managed to escape from a high security prison in the US. 'He made his way to Liberia where, with the help of Qadhafi, he was involved in a brutal war which eventually brought him to power. Now he underwrites the horrors that have been unleashed on our people," explains Colonel Carew. "Effectively, anywhere else in the world he would be classified as a terrorist. Yet with all this, Washington courts the man."
The magazine reports that, "There is also disquiet in Europe about US double standards over the issue. Following the arrival of a British Army, Navy and Marine taskforce in Sierra Leone, questions were raised by senior officers as to why Whitehall was not prepared to pressurize Washington to bring Liberia in line with the world community".
The magazine noted the chagrin of one senior British staff officer who, it reported, works in a liaison capacity at Cockerill Barracks. "Instead, there are regular visits to Monrovia by high-level delegations from the United States," the officer lamented. "It should also be noted that there was also a constant flow of individual members of the US Congress to Liberia", the security publication observed. Such overt shows of support and verbal assurances of men like the Rev. Jesse Jackson convinced Taylor that Washington approved his actions. Therefore, the idea of bringing him before a world tribunal seemed remote. After all, he was a "statesman", receiving scores of distinguished American politicians who defended his actions. "It would be different" if he were supporting the rebels said Rev. Jackson, "but he's not!"
" Taylor is respected and feted by them as a man of honour. Judging by his actions, he is no such thing". The British officer added: "It is one thing to label Saddam Hussein a terrorist and an aggressor, it is another matter altogether to ignore the actions of a leader who is involved in equally nefarious activities... Both British and Sierra Leonean politicians have queried whether the US rates Africa as a lower priority than the Middle East".
The closing in of the curtain helps to explain why President Taylor, a lover of pomp and pageantry, ever determined to be seen as African leader, could not attend the festivity packed Organization of African Unity conference in Togo even when his mentor Gaddafi was present.
The Jane Terrorism & Security Monitor continues, "Interestingly, President Taylor recently refused an invitation to appear at a meeting of African heads of state at the UN. He offered no explanation although there have been reports that he feared arrest if he set foot in the country. The warrant for his arrest following his jailbreak remains outstanding".
Observers believe that it is under such pressure from its allies that the Clinton Administration has begun rethinking the value of its Black supporters in the Black Congressional Caucus and the Civil Rights movement who have done more to sell Taylor as a statesman when the evidence points to him as a pariah. Now, Washington may be prepared to dump men like the Rev. Jesse Jackson in determining the needed course of action to handle the nests of terrorism being hatched in West Africa by Taylor.
The Washington Post reports: "Stepping up the pressure, the United States asked the U.N. Security Council on Thursday to approve a special court that would try Sankoh, who was captured by government troops in May, and other RUF commanders and supporters for crimes against humanity. U.S. officials said that if Taylor's aid continued, he, too, could be tried in that court."
Unfortunately, the Americans are suggesting that if Taylor cooperates by stopping the RUF, he could be let off the hook. If so, there is every reason to claim that justice will be betrayed, that double standards will again be at play in this African apocalypse. Trying Sankoh and letting Taylor go free is unjust, in view of the tremendous role he continues to play in Sierra Leone's misery.
But the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Richard Holbrook, announcing progress on the tribunal that will sit in judgment of the accused, expressed certainty that other Security Council members will approve the resolution. Finally, after walloping in the belief that appeasement of evil meant peace, we can now begin breathing air of confidence that, at last, the world is rejecting the notion of African solutions to African problems to see bestiality for what it is no matter from what corner of the world. Sankoh, convicted for human right abuses, was released and pardoned, pacified with Sierra Leone's diamond mines after signing a peace agreement pledging to renounce violence by disarming his serial killers. To the contrary, the atrocities mounted as the rebels remained unrepentant, taking courage from the fact if like-minded sponsors in neighboring Liberia could gain political power and wealth through the same insanity, it was only a matter of time for them, too, to gain power and therefore wealth.
Precedents set by the UN tribunal will be illuminating for the growing number of villains in Africa who live in the misery of helpless populations, promising redemption only to foster damnation. In this, Sankoh is not expected to face justice alone, for he was created and maintained by many who tied their comfort to his genocidal activities waged in the name of politics. In this connection, let us recall that Hitler himself was not present at the Nuremberg trials, for he was already dead. But his lieutenants, a number of them bankers whose crimes encompassed receiving looted values and money belonging to the victims, were charged. These men may not have pulled the triggers or opened the gas chambers, but they participated in the genocide nevertheless by breeding it. So they faced justice. This was an honorable precedence in the quest for global justice. It cannot be altered now.
Another example of the extension of this principle is in Rwanda,
where collaborators, among them priests and journalists, were
charged for contributing to that country's genocide now investigated.
Therefore, if these precedents are applied to Sankoh and the RUF,
we may see the appearance of stars in this West African opera
of tragedy, stars such as Liberian President Charles Taylor, now
widely known as the godfather of the RUF rebels. If real justice
is the planned tribunal's objective, Burkina Faso's Blaise Compaore
could also make a dramatic appearance as a guest star, among others.
But let us look at some factors and links that may pose problems
for Liberia's Taylor and his associates in extricating themselves
from Sankoh's horrendous crimes, just as Hitler's accomplices
in the Nuremberg trials found it difficult to excuse themselves
from their master's excesses. Not even the soldiers, who evoked
"I was following orders" cliché were spared from
First, of particular interest in the planned Sankoh trial is the mention of the word "accomplices." This, of course, means that Sankoh, single-handedly, could not have committed the dreadful atrocities, just as Hitler could not have erected his gas chambers and executed six million Jews and millions more without the help of Goering, Himler, and thousands others. Therefore, dragging Sankoh before a world court for crimes against humanity is in essence dragging his many backers and disciples to answer for their roles in this ongoing madness. Thus, the pending trial is, or should be, a test of justice against the political platitudes that may likely leave criminals nowhere to hide. What should we expect, what are the linkages in this unfolding drama of bringing thieves and serial killers masquerading as politicians to justice?
To begin with, we must examine the ties and the creation of Sankoh along with his Revolutionary United Front (RUF) by taking a look at the rebels' manifesto, their Bible, entitled, "Footpaths to Democracy, Toward a New Sierra Leone." This document, written during the early days of the war, clearly states the origin of RUF and who their sponsors are. This is self-admission, a confession, you may say in court.
"We entered Sierra Leone through Liberia and enjoyed the sympathy of Sierra Leonean migrant workers some of whom joined us to cross the border to start our liberation campaign.
"We do not deny the fact that some of those who volunteered to join our cause were veterans of the Liberian civil war but majority were of Sierra Leonean parentage. [Were birth certificates scrutinized?] However, this minor "alien" involvement in our just and human[e] cause was curtailed as early as May 1992 when it became a nightmarish experience for our civil population. Ever since we have fought a self-reliant war depending mainly on what we capture from the troops of the rebel National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) of the regimes in Nigeria, Guinea and Ghana and of the United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO)".
We must remember that this rebel manifesto was written in earlier times, that is, before the election of Tejan Kabbah, the Lome Agreement and the coming of the UN peacekeeping force. But it remains as valid today as when it was written in Libya.
Since then, the RUF's line of support has been the Liberian corridor, and there have been widespread revelations and reports that the rebels' source of strength is Taylor's Liberia. Despite his denials, Taylor is seen as the de facto chair of the RUF, controlling, determining its political and military tactics, and defending the rebels on the international scene as a humane group, which Sierra Leoneans deserve. Taylor has repeatedly denied the allegations, as usual, describing it as "a diabolical lie." But The Washington Post says:
"U.S. sources said the evidence and intelligence on Taylor's involvement includes aerial photography of convoys of trucks carrying weapons and medical supplies to Sierra Leone and electronic intercepts that show Taylor and some of his senior military commanders regularly meeting with senior RUF commanders to coordinate activities. "The evidence," said one Pentagon official, "is overwhelming."
Even as the UN was announcing its trial plans, Taylor was determining the shape and form of the new rebel leadership. The AFP, quoting Freetown's dailies, said "the RUF's logistics officer, General Ibrahim Bah, now in Burkina Faso, had announced a meeting to elect a new leadership" dumping the detained Sankoh and Sam Bockarie who now lives in Taylor's household.
"Bah said the movement has been urged by Liberia's President Charles Taylor to present a new leader to the Sierra Leone government and the international community who can negotiate on behalf of the RUF", the AFP reported. The meeting will allegedly take place in the "jungles" of Kailahun, near the Liberia border. The rebels further announced that their delegation would pass through an unnamed neighbouring country, obviously Liberia, to determine the new form of the RUF.
Aware of the international resolve to end the horrors and checkmate
him, Taylor wants to control the agenda, set the pace of what
to come. We should watch for certain developments.
1) There may be unconditional announcement of disarmament by the new RUF leadership based on Taylor's instructions;
2) In return, the new leadership (meaning Taylor in the shadows) will demand an end of Sankoh's trial. Sierra Leoneans and the international community are expected to jump with joy for the rebels' concessions. The UN will be happy for achieving its objectives. But most of the weapons will be hidden across the border;
3) After some lapse, a new RUF will emerge to reignite the war. New negotiations will be pursued. Meanwhile, the rebels will insist on keeping the diamond mines, obeying Taylor's dictates; and
4) At some point, the UN packs its bags, holds a makeshift election; the rebels get what they want. The horrors continue.
But the trial, the evidence that may come out of it, and revelations in this West African Mafia entity, could be the determining factor, and this is what Taylor is fighting to avoid. He will make all the concessions, but his objectives remain the same. Being charged along with Sankoh will be his Achilles heels because he knows that the public exposure of details, transactions, etc., during the trial as an accomplice in Sierra Leone's genocide will place a serious dent in his destabilization strategy
Linking him to the crimes and charging him along with his comrade is understandable because more than any other individual, Taylor remains the most ardent defender of Sankoh's cause. This has to be since the two men trained together in Libya, with Sankoh offering his services to Taylor's NPFL as a tactician in return to using Liberia as a staging post for his own operations aimed at seizing power in Sierra Leone. This part of the agreement between the two rebel leaders was adhered to, as we note in the RUF manifesto. And when Taylor became president in Liberia, Sankoh, emboldened by Taylor's success in Liberia, was confident that time and terror were his best allies. He, too, would soon be Dr., His Excellency the President. Without Liberia as a gateway for weapons, training and mercenaries, it is difficult to imagine how Sankoh and his RUF would have survived, just as it is difficult to imagine how Taylor would have built his military machine without the Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Libya.
As Sankoh entrenched himself by forcibly conscripting children into his rebel army in emulation of Taylor's Small Boys Unit in which thousands of children served and died, Liberia's backing became intense and vital. In April 1999, the RUF, directed by Taylor-recruited mercenaries, made its dash to seize power, leaving over 6000 people dead in Freetown. Taylor has since leaped to Sankoh's defense, warning that without Sierra Leone's elected government sharing power with his marauding rebels, there would be no peace. He said Sankoh, like him, had picked up the gun to seize power and that without achieving this objective, peace would be illusive. While the world issued tons of paper denouncing his alliance with the RUF, Taylor kept his word. He continued arming the rebels, recruiting South African neo-Nazi trainers for them in return for his coveted diamonds. When the rebels and their military allies were dislodged from the city, they retreated to Liberia to prepare for more war and correct their mistakes. Many of their leaders lived in the comfort of Taylor's surroundings while they directed their mayhem in Sierra Leone. Liberian civil groups, fearing reprisals from ECOMOG, protested and demanded the expulsion of rebel leaders from the country and the halt in their use of Monrovia as their military headquarters. Taylor fought back, insisting that rebel chiefs were his guests, and that no one would expel them from the city or country.
Liberians, now knowing the gruesome effects of war, had reasons to be frightened. There were indeed indications that ECOMOG, suffering a series of defeats and humiliation because of the superior arms and tactics employed by Apartheid South Africa's military brains, would strike at Monrovia, the heart of RUF support. ECOMOG Force Commander threatened to strike the rebels at their hideouts. "I therefore want to make it categorically clear that we will no longer watch this mischief by supposed leaders [Taylor and Blaise Compaore] in view of the danger it poses to us and the whole sub region," the Nigerian Force Commander warned. Nigeria Foreign Minister, Ignatius Olisemeka, vowed that a policy was in the "pipeline" to "contain" Taylor. "We are fashioning a policy to contain [Taylor]. We are fashioning a policy to contain the countries from where they get arms to kill innocent peacekeeping troops in Sierra Leone." A formal Nigerian warning for the "nefarious role being played by Liberia and some countries in and outside the sub region in Sierra Leone" was delivered. Lagos further threatened to claim war reparations from Liberia for men and property lost in Sierra Leone because of Taylor's RUF backing. A furious President Rawlings of Ghana threatened to expel thousands of Liberian refugees still in his country since, he told the late vice president Dogolea - who is said to have died of poison - Ghana could take care of Liberian citizens if Liberia was capable of sponsoring wars. But the containment policy was never applied. To the contrary, Taylor contained ECOWAS and won friends in Nigeria, key among them the new President Obasanjo who frequently visits Monrovia for consultations.
The Liberian warlord vehemently rejected any move to try Sankoh, describing the threats as "stupid." With the help and intervention of his African-American friends in the American political establishment and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sankoh was released from detention, and more than that, given the country's diamond mines as his little toys to encourage him to disarm. Only fools could not see that with this concession and appeasement, the stage was set for more siphoning of diamonds while more guns came across the border from Liberia and more Apartheid trainers poured in to prepare the rebels for more war and the continued conquest of the diamond mines.
The results were astronomical in terms of the personal fortune of a man who was waging a war purportedly because Sierra Leone had been deprived its wealth through theft of politicians. In less than a year or so, Sankoh is believed to have amassed $10 million, according to The New York Times. But half of the diamonds went to Taylor, according to records discovered in Sankoh's house. However, the warlord knew that his strength was his ability to commit atrocities, at one point telling journalists that US President Clinton was only talking to him only because "I am leader of the RUF." Without his RUF machine, Sankoh knew he was irrelevant, just as Taylor knew that his base was the Small Boys Units. So Sankoh clung on to his terror machine, applying the same tactics Taylor successfully applied in Liberia by kidnapping and butchering peacekeepers, subjecting the population to unmitigated terror while singing the song of peace. Helpless and convinced that the end to their horrors lied in Taylor's hands, various Sierra Leone civil groups, including religious and students leaders, flocked to Monrovia to plead with the man now the undisputed godfather of the RUF. On all occasions, Taylor told his guests to give the RUF power. "Power sharing" became his slogan and remains so. "Use the Liberian formula", meaning surrender to the terror, became another.
In all this, Taylor was getting fatter over the RUF-controlled diamond fields, with Liberia earning per annum between US$350 million to $450 million from diamond export. While the Sierra Leone Government was exporting 8500 carats per annum, Taylor's Liberia was selling 31 million carats, according to the Canadian group Partnership Africa-Canada. Documents found in Sankoh's house reveal the intricate ties between the two men, and for this, Liberia has become a safe haven enticing international criminals of all shades. African-American civil rights leaders and South African neo-Nazis are at peace in Liberia. Jews and radical Arabs coexist.
At ECOWAS meeting following Sankoh's capture, Taylor went on
the offensive against his comrade's arrest or trial, lecturing
ECOWAS' leaders on the virtues of rebel wars. He demanded Sankoh's
immediate release because, he lectured, a rebel leader must operate
in a "natural environment" to gain the trust of his
men. This macho lecture of the virtues of rebellion enraged President
Obasanjo who told Taylor that he, too, knows how to deal with
rebels because he had once fought them during the Nigerian civil
war as General of the Army. So we can see that without Taylor,
Sankoh's relevance would have long ceased.
But apart from rejecting any detention of Sankoh and his trial as means of controlling the diamonds fields by keeping the RUF powerful and relevant, Taylor knew that any trial would extend to him. He therefore accused human rights groups calling for justice by trying the perpetrator of imposing "alien" values on Africans. By defending Sankoh and rejecting his trial, he was defending himself and aborting his own trial, for the two are inseparably linked. Increasingly, his fate has been tied to that of the detained rebel leader. The tremendous focus, international attention that would be placed on him in such a trial is obvious. Already, there are reports that Sankoh has signed a written confession, and the man's testimony during the trial is anyone's guess. Moreover, the British and the Americans tell us they have enough evidence tying the Liberian President to atrocities by extension. The Americans have declared that they are "satisfied" with the evidence they have.
These linkages point to the difficulties in trying Sankoh without his collaborators, paramount amongst them Taylor. Some of his comrades are likely to dissociate themselves from the fallen man to save their necks, as evident in Taylor convening a meeting of RUF commanders recently in Monrovia to mop out a new strategy. During the Liberian genocide called war, Taylor warned the Nigerians that time was his best ally. They were not prepared to remain in Liberia forever. He was, he said. The same goes for the UN.
The pending trial, and the outpour of information, could change all that, determining the shape of events in this world poorest country held hostage because of its diamonds.
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