Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Liberia: Judgment in the Charles Taylor Trial - Final Chance to Determine Responsibility for the January 1999 Attack On Freetown

Mr. Taylor
When Special Court for Sierra Leone Judges (SCSL) in The Hague delivers their final judgment in the trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor sometime this year, it could be the final chance to determine responsibility for the January 1999 rebel attack on Sierra Leone's capital Freetown. Taylor is on trial for allegedly supporting Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in Sierra Leone, a rebel group which attacked the country in March 1991, a war that would last for eleven years.

The January 1999 attack on Freetown occupies huge significance in the history of the conflict in Sierra Leone. For many, this event truly brought the world's attention to an otherwise forgotten conflict. Pictures on televisions of babies whose arms were amputated by rebel forces while under the protection of their parents showed the world that something serious was happening in that tiny West African nation. The January 1999 invasion also convinced the government of Sierra Leone that a military solution to the conflict was almost impossible. There was a need to negotiate with the rebels, thus leading to the signing of the 1999 Peace Agreement in Lome, Togo. This eventually led to the release of RUF leader Foday Sankoh, who had been incarcerated since 1997.

The scars of this attack exist in Freetown until this day. Amputees still roam the streets of Freetown as beggars, burnt houses still remain, and women still need medical help as a result of being raped by rebel forces.

This year, on January 6, I participated in radio programs to commemorate the events of that fateful day in 1999. Many civilians, including victims of the events of that day called into the radio programs and made contributions. A woman recounted how rebel forces poured petrol and set fire on her son even when she begged them to spare his life. She cried as she recounted her experience. A man called and explained how she lost family members on that day. Another called and spoke about how rebel forces burnt down his house, leaving him homeless. In the streets of Freetown, an elderly amputee wept as he explained how the rebels asked him to lay down his hand before it was chopped off by a rebel young enough to be his grandson.

Sierra Leoneans agree on the nature of the crimes committed on that day, but they cannot seem to agree on who committed these heinous acts.

Eleven years after this attack, debate is still hot among Sierra Leoneans as to who was responsible for the carnage meted out on innocent civilians in Freetown. To some people, the invasion was the work of RUF rebels, to others, it was the work of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), a group of Sierra Leonean soldiers, who in 1997 overthrew the elected government of Sierra Leone and formed a junta government together with RUF rebels. When the AFRC junta was forced out of power by West African peacekeepers in 1998, they retreated to Sierra Leone's provincial towns. These renegade soldiers, some believe, were the ones who came back to Freetown on that fateful day.

There is still a school of thought with the belief that this invasion was a combined attack by the AFRC and RUF as part of a joint criminal enterprise to destabilize and take control of the territory of Sierra Leone. An influential voice among this group is the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

During the trials at the SCSL, Prosecutors have led evidence in support their position. Through several witnesses, first in the AFRC and RUF trials in Freetown, and reechoed in the Taylor trial in The Hague, Prosecutors have maintained that this operation was a combined AFRC-RUF affair, with support from that man now on trial in The Hague, Charles Taylor.

However, two sets of judges in the AFRC and RUF trials ruled in 2007 and 2008 respectively that the 1999 attack on Freetown was an AFRC affair and that the RUF had no involvement in it. The judges who presided over the AFRC trial now do the same in the Taylor trial. Despite these decisions, prosecutors have not given up. With renewed vigor, they have led witnesses who have testified in the Taylor trial that this was a combined AFRC-RUF attack as part of a joint criminal enterprise in which Taylor played a vital role. They allege that Taylor helped plan and finance this operation with supplies of arms and ammunition to RUF rebels. Proof that the RUF were involved in this attack could have a significant impact on the Taylor trial as an indirect way of linking Taylor to the atrocities of January 1999. Such is the importance put on this evidence that the Prosecution had as their final witness against Taylor, a 59 year old resident of Freetown, whose two arms were amputated in Freetown in January 1999.

Defense lawyers for Taylor on their part have made all efforts to put this attack at the door step of the AFRC. When former signal commander for the RUF, Mohamed B. Kabbah testified as a prosecution witness against Taylor in September 2008, defense counsel Courtenay Griffiths subjected him to such rigorous cross-examination that he was forced to say that the RUF were not involved in the attack on Freetown. Kabbah had, however, earlier said that Taylor called RUF commander Sam Bockarie to congratulate the RUF for invading Freetown. After Kabbah's cross-examination, Taylor gave. Griffiths an open handshake in court, a sign of saying "well done."

Defense lawyers also brought in convicted former interim leader of the RUF, Issa Hassan Sesay, now serving a 52 year jail term for his role in the Sierra Leone conflict, to testify on behalf of Taylor. In his testimony, Sesay said that the RUF was not involved in the January 1999 invasion of Freetown. His comment in this regard prompted huge condemnation from Sierra Leoneans.

As things stand, even with the judgments in the AFRC and RUF, in which it was determined that the 1999 attack on Freetown was an AFRC, not an RUF affair, the debate still remains among many Sierra Leoneans. If the Judges in the Taylor trial become swayed by new evidence about those events some 11 years ago, they will be at liberty to change their previous decision and apportion responsibility to the RUF, and by extension Taylor, if it is proved that he was involved in a joint criminal enterprise with the rebels. If Prosecutors have shown no new evidence that adds to those presented in the AFRC and RUF cases, then the Judges might just stick to their original judgment - that it was an AFRC affair.

This all means that as far as responsibility for the 1999 attack on Freetown is concerned, the jury is still out, and the Taylor trial might well be our very last chance to determine responsibility for those events, events that residents of Freetown will not forget in a hurry.

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Inside Liberia with Bernard Gbayee Goah

Everyone is a genius

Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. – A Einstein

Drawing the line in Liberia

Crimes sponsored, committed, or masterminded by handful of individuals cannot be blamed upon an entire nationality. In this case, Liberians! The need for post-war justice is a step toward lasting peace, stability and prosperity for Liberia. Liberia needs a war crimes tribunal or some credible legal forum that is capable of dealing with atrocities perpetrated against defenseless men, women and children during the country's brutal war. Without justice, peace shall remain elusive and investment in Liberia will not produce the intended results. - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Men with unhealthy characters should not champion any noble cause

They pretend to advocate the cause of the people when their deeds in the dark mirror nothing else but EVIL!!
When evil and corrupt men try to champion a cause that is so noble … such cause, how noble it may be, becomes meaningless in the eyes of the people - Bernard Gbayee Goah.

If Liberia must move forward ...

If Liberia must move forward in order to claim its place as a civilized nation amongst world community of nations, come 2017 elections, Liberians must critically review the events of the past with honesty and objectivity. They must make a new commitment to seek lasting solutions. The track records of those who are presenting themselves as candidates for the position of "President of the Republic of Liberia" must be well examined. Liberians must be fair to themselves because results from the 2011 elections will determine the future of Liberia’s unborn generations to come - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia's greatest problem!

While it is true that an individual may be held responsible for corruption and mismanagement of funds in government, the lack of proper system to work with may as well impede the process of ethical, managerial, and financial accountability - Bernard Gbayee Goah

What do I think should be done?

The situation in Liberia is Compound Complex and cannot be fixed unless the entire system of government is reinvented.
Liberia needs a workable but uncompromising system that will make the country an asylum free from abuse, and other forms of corruption.
Any attempt to institute the system mentioned above in the absence of rule of law is meaningless, and more detrimental to Liberia as a whole - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia's Natural Resources
Besides land water and few other resources, most of Liberia’s dependable natural resources are not infinite, they are finite and therefore can be depleted.
Liberia’s gold, diamond, and other natural resources will not always be an available source of revenue generation for its people and its government. The need to invent a system in government that focuses on an alternative income generation method cannot be over emphasized at this point - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia needs a proper system
If Liberians refuse to erect a proper system in place that promotes the minimization of corruption and mismanagement of public funds by government institutions, and individuals, there will come a time when the value of the entire country will be seen as a large valueless land suited on the west coast of Africa with some polluted bodies of waters and nothing else. To have no system in place in any country is to have no respect for rule of law. To have no respect for rule of law is to believe in lawlessness. And where there is lawlessness, there is always corruption - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Solving problems in the absence of war talks

As political instability continues to increase in Africa, it has become abundantly clear that military intervention as a primary remedy to peace is not a durable solution. Such intervention only increases insecurity and massive economic hardship. An existing example which could be a valuable lesson for Liberia is Great Britain, and the US war on terror for the purpose of global security. The use of arms whether in peace keeping, occupation, or invasion as a primary means of solving problem has yield only little results. Military intervention by any country as the only solution to problem solving will result into massive military spending, economic hardship, more fear, and animosity as well as increase insecurity. The alternative is learning how to solve problems in the absence of war talks. The objective of such alternative must be to provide real sustainable human security which cannot be achieved through military arm intervention, or aggression. In order to achieve results that will make the peaceful coexistence of all mankind possible, there must be a common ground for the stories of all sides to be heard. I believe there are always three sides to every story: Their side of the story, Our side of the story, and The truthBernard Gbayee Goah


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