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Following The Issue

Giving Sierra Leoneans Justice and Forgetting About Liberians

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Glaring Double Standards in the Dispensation of Justice

The Issues Desk wishes to look at the prosecution of former President Charles Taylor by the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone and the guilty verdict handed down vis-à-vis the deaf ear paid to and the we-don’t-care-about-justice-for-Liberian attitude shown toward the consistent and genuine calls for the international community to initiate a similar trial for those bearing greater responsibilities in the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the Liberian Civil War.

Let no one misinterpret or misrepresent my point. I am not against the trial of former President Charles Taylor. I am not against the guilty verdict announced. I am not against the victims of the Sierra Leonean Civil War receiving justice. Since 1995, I have both written and debated in person about the need to prosecute those engaging or suspected of engaging gross human rights violations. In fact, Chapter Five (titled “On the Issue of War Crimes Trial”) of my second book, Pinpointing the Points, published in 2009, focuses on the importance of establishing a war crimes tribunal for war criminals, especially those connected with the Liberian Civil War.

That said, it confounds many of us that the international community is interested (or seems to be interested) in making sure that Sierra Leoneans that are victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity receive justice, while showing no serious interest in doing the same for Liberians. We see double standards in it all. There is no wheeling and dealing about this – that the international community is biased in its desire to dispense justice. In short, the international community institutes selective justice.

When one hears or reads the grounds on which Taylor was found guilty, it is hard not to be irritated that men of Taylor’s likes are sitting in Liberia, wielding much political and economic power than they did before committing the crimes that have brought them to prominence.

Judge Richard Lussick, the UN judge reading the verdict, said: “The trial chamber finds, therefore, beyond reasonable doubt that the accused knew that his support would provide practical assistance, encouragement and moral support to them in the commission of crimes during the course of their military operations in Sierra Leone. The trial chamber finds beyond reasonable doubt that the accused is criminally responsible for aiding and abetting the commission of crimes.”

So Taylor was found guilty not for directly committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone or for having any direct control over the criminal acts committed, but for “aiding and abetting” the rebels who committed the crimes?

This is interesting, isn’t it? But if this is the point on which Mr. Taylor is found guilty, why has President Blaise Campoare of Burkina Faso not been indicted and prosecuted? There are reports that some of those who brought war to Liberia got direct support – moral and logistical – from the government of Burkina Faso. It is well-known that some of the rebels trained in that country. In fact, there were trained Burkinabes fighting for Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). Why has Campaore not been criminally held responsible for the crimes NPFL rebels committed against the people of Liberian and foreigners?

Also, if it is about “aiding and abetting” those who committed the crimes, why was Muammar Gaddafi not indicted and prosecuted on the same point? Many of the leaders and leading fighters of the NPFL were trained in Libya. They got weapons from Gaddafi. They got other resources from Gaddafi and his government.

When the effort to indict Taylor and prosecute him was being galvanized, nothing was said about Gaddafi and Campaore. When the effort to commence Taylor’s trial in The Hague was being exerted, world leaders, including Tony Blair, occupied themselves with reconnecting with Gaddafi, organizing elaborate please-visit-usinvitations and programs for him and promoting him here and there, including inviting him to address the United Nations’ General Assembly.

Did the world not know that Gaddafi had aided and abetted the rebels that committed atrocities in Liberia? Or, still, did the international community not know that Gaddafi’s actions or role helped the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity?

Why is only Taylor held criminally accountable for supporting the Sierra Leonean rebels, while others falling in a similar category are allowed to go scot-free? It confuses us. It resembles double standards. It is the institution of selective justice, which is inimical to the effort to have such a process serve as a deterrent to would-be criminals.

Why is the world interested in justice for the victims of the Sierra Leonean war, but not the victims of the Liberian war? Why is the international community remembering Sierra Leoneans and forgetting about Liberians? Why is the justice-loving international community that we believe in so much dispensing justice selectively?

Another area in which the international community’s dispensation of selective justice is seen is in the list of crimes for which Mr. Taylor is found guilty. The eleven-count charges against Taylor included rape, murder, sexual slavery, recruitment and use of child soldiers, and so forth.

But all of these crimes were also committed in Liberia and committed by Liberian rebel groups, many of whose leaders are still around. If they are serious crimes that warrant the indictment, prosecution and conviction of Mr. Taylor, why aren’t the former warlords of Liberia treated in like manner? Glaring example of selective justice? Double standards in international justice?

Also, according to reports, Brenda Hollis, chief prosecutor in the Taylor trial, said: “Today is for the people of Sierra Leone who suffered horribly at the hands of Charles Taylor and his proxy forces. This judgment brings some measure of justice to the many thousands of victims who paid a terrible price for Mr. Taylor’s crimes.”

So, is the international community telling us Liberians that it is only the people of Sierra Leone who suffered horribly at the hands of Charles Taylor?

Did we also not suffer horribly under Taylor and his rebels? Why be concerned only about bringing some measure of justice to the many victims of the Sierra Leonean war, and not also to the many victims of the Liberian war?

Also, if Mr. Taylor is punished for indirectly helping the rebels, why is the international community not anxious about prosecuting former Liberian warlords who directly oversaw the activities of Liberian rebels that committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in our country?

The NPFL of Charles Taylor was a rebel faction. The atrocities committed by the NPFL are well documented. The leaders of the NPFL are still around. The INPFL of Prince Johnson was a rebel group. INPFL rebels committed heinous crimes. The leaders of that group are still around. The ULIMO-K of Alhaji Kromah was a rebel group. The fighters committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. The leaders of ULIMO-K are still around.

The LPC of George Boley was another warring group. Its fighters committed atrocities that are well document by both Liberians and leading human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch. The leaders of LPC are still around. MODEL, LURD and other rebel factions involved in the wars in Liberia committed atrocious acts. The leaders of those groups are still around, or at least some of them.

This million-dollar question is this. If Mr. Taylor is tried for aiding and abetting rebels that committed war crimes and crimes against humanity against the people of Sierra Leone, why haven’t those who directly commanded Liberian belligerent forces that violated the rules of law or humanitarian law been indicted and prosecuted?
Liberia’s war was on for about fourteen years. Atrocious acts were committed. Why is the international community treating Liberia and its people like this?

Why is the world behaving to Liberians as if they (the Liberian people) were not justice-loving and justice-deserving people? Why is the West behaving as if no war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed in Liberia? Why is the international community behaving as if our Sierra Leonean brothers and sisters were better than us, in terms of the right to receive justice? Why are those having the power to bring about the prosecution of Liberian war criminals and human rights violators behaving as if we gloried in the culture of impunity? We will continue to shake our heads in disbelief and bemusement.

The world is confusing us. War crimes and crimes against humanity were committed in Rwanda. The perpetrators were prosecuted, even against the will of the Rwandan government. Atrocities were committed in the DRC. The culprits – or at least some of them – have been prosecuted. Heinous crimes were committed in Sierra Leone. The perpetrators, including Taylor, have been prosecuted. War crimes and crimes against humanity were committed in Libya.

The late Gaddafi and others were indicted. War crimes and crimes against humanity were committed in the Ivory Coast. President Laurent Gbagbo was indicted, arrested and sent to The Hague for prosecution. There are reports that others will follow. Elections violence that saw the commission of crimes against humanity occurred in Kenya. Those bearing greater responsibility, including Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, were indicted and their prosecution announced.

Even in South Africa, a country that did not experience a war as we did, had a TRC that recommended the prosecution of certain perpetrators of crimes against humanity.
So we do not understand why the international is not interested in prosecuting known war criminals of the Liberian scenario. Does justice hate us, or is the international community determined to deny us that opportunity for reasons best known to them? We are beginning to doubt the international community’s ability to impartially and non-selectively institute justice where it is due. Are we right, or wrong?

Anyway, as our people would say in Liberia, “We leave our own with God.”
Believe me, my people. We will never stop following the issues.

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