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Following The Issue

Feeling Sorry for Charles Taylor

The Issues Desk wishes to look at the prosecution of former President Charles Taylor in The Hague vis-à-vis the scot-freeness of other individuals of his like and pinpoint the unfairness in his trial, a situation that sometimes makes us feel sorry for him and the state he finds himself in.

I believe it is quite a well-known fact that, since 1995, I have written a series of very critical analyses and commentaries on Mr. Taylor’s method of politicking and other behavior exhibited during the epoch of unrest; however, sometimes when one considers the double standard and the so-called dispensation of justice characterizing his prosecution, one is compelled to pause and ask, “Why only Taylor?”

Now, I hope no one will erroneously and unfoundedly conclude that I am against the prosecution of Mr. Taylor, as I have been one of those constantly and consistently calling for the prosecution of all those bearing greater responsibility in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity during the Liberian Civil Conflict. In fact, in an article I wrote and published in the New Democrat newspaper in September of 1995, an article titled “My Questions, Mr. Taylor,” I bluntly stated that if he (Taylor) didn’t stop his method of politicking, he would be prosecuted one day. Also, in Chapter Six of Pinpointing the Points, my second book, published in 2009, I not only forcefully continue the arguments in favor of establishing a war crimes court for the prosecution  of those largely responsible for the crimes committed, especially by former warlords, to re-enforce the fact that crime doesn’t pay and that Liberians will not support a culture of impunity, but I also debunk ten of the main arguments proffered by those advocating blanket amnesty and opposing the prosecution of former warlords. In deed, I strongly support the trial of Mr. Charles Taylor, other former warlords, and all other individuals who committed war crimes and crimes against humanity or believed to have done so.

That said, the selective dispensation of justice in the case of Mr. Taylor is something that flabbergasts many of us, especially considering the determination of the international community to prosecute him for the Sierra Leone war. It sometimes seems to confirm what some have said – that some group of powerful individuals or nations just want to get at Taylor for something he might have done or refused to do.

We say this because, if it is about the international community being interested in prosecuting war criminals, why aren’t Liberian war criminals prosecuted, too? Weren’t atrocious acts committed here – in Liberia? We will be repetitious here. Why punish Mr. Taylor for war crimes committed in Sierra Leone, and not in Liberia? This is mind-boggling. Is it an indication that war crimes carried out in Sierra Leone are serious, but those unleashed on the people of Liberia are nothing? Or, are those behind the prosecution of Mr. Taylor for war crimes committed in Sierra Leone indicating that Taylor did not commit war crimes in Liberia? The double standard is glaring. It sometimes forces us to feel sorry for Mr. Taylor.

Mr. Taylor and other ex-warlords controlled various warring factions that unleashed terror on the population. Humanitarian law was violated in various ways and forms. Too many people were killed for no good reasons. Our mothers and sisters and wives were raped. Pregnant women were disemboweled as the resolution of a can-you-tell-what’s-the-sex-of-the-baby-in-that-woman’s-stomach dispute among a group of fighters. Villages and towns were set on fire at will. Churches and mosques were set ablaze by marauding “freedom fighters” or “liberators.” Sacred traditional places were desecrated. Hundreds of villagers were forced in attics and suffocated with burning pepper from below. Some had their family members killed right before their eyes and told to look, but not cry. Different groups of Liberians and non-Liberians were massacred in various places and ways.

In spite of all this, it is only Taylor who is being prosecuted, with the argument that he is being prosecuted for war crimes committed in Sierra Leone. The rest of the individuals like him are honored and rewarded in Liberia. Their carefree attitude is easily observed. Mr. Taylor must be feeling hurt and be asking, “Why only me?”

It is easy for some to say, “But Taylor carried/sponsored war in Sierra Leone. He should have just done his thing only in Liberia, then he would not have been indicted and sent to court.” But it is perfectly reasonable to believe that the trial of Mr. Taylor goes beyond the sponsoring of war in a neighboring country. And the dirtiness and trickiness of international politics may make it almost impossible for us to know exactly why Taylor is being prosecuted. It is said that for almost every action taken or thing done, there are ostensible and underlying reasons. Using the war in Sierra Leone may be the ostensible reason, while the underlying reason – the real reason – may be something completely different.

Even if it is about prosecuting those carrying or supporting war that led to the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity in another country, then we still feel sorry for Taylor in that other African leaders did the same. The Liberian Civil War experienced some of the most atrocious acts imaginable. In short, war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed here. Isn’t it a known fact that the war here was sponsored by the leaders of Libya, Burkina Faso, and the Ivory Coast? If Mr. Taylor is being prosecuted because he sponsored the rebel war in Sierra Leone, why didn’t it happen to Muammar Gaddafi and Felix Houphouet Boigny and why hasn’t it happened to Mr. Blaise Compoare of Burkina Faso?

Still, if it is not just about sponsoring war in another country, but about sponsoring a war that causes the commission of crimes against humanity, are those determinedly prosecuting Mr. Taylor suggesting that the Liberian Civil War supported by Libya, Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast did not witness the commission of war crimes? Why prosecute only Taylor, and not others, when they, too, engaged in the same or a similar venture? Would it be unfortunate, if we said that we feel sorry for Mr. Taylor in this direction?

An even more pathetic aspect of the whole episode, an aspect that further depicts the hypocrisy and the double-standard characterizing the trial, is the fact that almost everyone knows and says that Taylor is not being tried for war crimes committed in Liberia, but in Sierra Leone. However, when Cllr. Winston Tubman of the CDC (Congress for Democratic Change) remarked during the 2011 elections that if Mr. Taylor is not found guilty by the Court in The Hague, he (Taylor) was welcome back to Liberia, many individuals, including journalists and US Congressmen like Jesse Jackson, lambasted Cllr. Tubman for the remark, as if Mr. Taylor were being tried for crimes committed in Liberia. Why is it forbidden for Mr. Taylor to return to Liberia if acquittal, when other former warlords are living freely right here in Liberia? Considering this, shouldn’t we say that we sometimes feel sorry for Mr. Taylor?

Are we gleeful that Mr. Taylor is being prosecuted? Yes, we are. Are we glad that the victims of the Sierra Leone war will receive justice? Yes, we are. Are we happy that among the various Liberian warlords he is the only one being prosecuted? No, we are not. Are we excited that among the leaders who transported war to other countries, he is the only one being prosecuted? No, we are not.  And that’s where we sometimes feel sorry for him. Why should the atrocious acts committed by individuals of his caliber be treated like a child’s vomit, while those of Mr. Taylor are considered abomination in the world of international justice, when the crimes committed were similar or the same?

In view of the double standard and hypocrisy we see in the desire to dispense justice only when it comes to Mr. Taylor, when there are others who fall in his category of activities, it sometimes forces us to feel sorry for the man.

Believe me, my people. We will never stop following the issues.

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