Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Liberia: Taylor Trial a Triumph for International Justice, but Case Stirs Up Cordoned-Off Past


BY THIJS BOUWKNEGT

Charles Ghankay Taylor, Right
Charles Ghankay Taylor awaits the dubious honour of becoming the first former head of state to be judged before an international criminal tribunal.
The former Liberian president's apprehension is the jewel in the crown of international justice, but his criminal case on eleven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity is hardly clear-cut.
Critics claim Taylor's prosecution was straitjacketed by the trial's limited time frame, thus neglecting to address many issues. Whether or not he is found guilty of a campaign of terror in neighbouring Sierra Leone, Thursday's verdict will leave a trail of questions about atrocities and his relations with Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels during Sierra Leone's civil war in the 1990s.

The plea
"Most definitely, Your Honour, I did not and could not have committed these acts against the sister Republic of Sierra Leone, [...] so most definitely I am not guilty," Taylor told the judges during his first appearance on 3 April 2006 in Freetown. Three years earlier, he had taken refuge in a luxurious villa at the invitation of former Nigerian president Olegun Obasanjo.
But following his arrest and transfer to the custody of the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL), he has remained the most senior figure in the dock of an international tribunal.
Taylor fired his first lawyer Karim Kahn, but did not try to frustrate proceedings further. The court even allowed him to take the stand himself, for an unprecedented seven-month period, to meticulously detail West African history.
Refuse collection
"Throw it in the bin. That is what we submit the court should do with this body of evidence: get rid of it," said Taylor's lead lawyer Courtenay Griffiths during closing arguments in March 2011. He argued that the conflict in Sierra Leone was not a Taylor-made catastrophe. On the contrary, he says, Taylor's "role in Sierra Leone was entirely peaceful."
Taylor is accused of "acts of terrorism". This American-flavoured concept burdened the prosecution with a challenge: proving that Taylor forged an illicit conspiracy with RUF leader Foday Sankoh in Libya in the late 1980s to conquer West Africa. Their alleged motive? To become rich off rough diamonds from Sierra Leone. Their alleged modus operandi? A campaign of terror.
Taylor does not deny an orgy of atrocities took place. He simply refutes the charge that he was at the centre of them. But American prosecutor Brenda Hollis has consistently maintained that "the RUF was a terrorist army created and supported and directed by Charles Taylor ... All this suffering, all these atrocities to feed the greed and lust for power of Charles Taylor," she said.
Former aides and enemies
In an effort to tie Taylor to the Sierra Leonean crimes, the prosecution flew 94 witnesses to the Netherlands. The only direct evidence connecting the massacres in Sierra Leone to Taylor comes from his own former aides and enemies. Some had strong reasons to testify against their political rival.
Others were criminals, like Joseph Marzah, known as 'Zigzag'. During a chaotic three-day testimony in March 2008, the former secret service agent confessed to displaying "heads on sticks and car bumpers", killing babies, cutting open pregnant women and eating "Nigerians and white people".
Counterpoint
Producing almost 50,000 pages of transcript and over a thousand exhibits, the Taylor trial offers a unique insight into Liberian and Sierra Leonean history. It also uncovers two diametrically opposed narratives about Taylor's role in West Africa. In Taylor's version, he is a peacemaker carrying the can for the international community. In the prosecution's version, he represents the dark corner of that world.
But the prosecution may only succeed in proving that Taylor - because of his position - "should have known" about the crimes and that he "did nothing to prevent them". They claim he did everything to destroy evidence of links with RUF rebels, accusing Taylor of killing his "favourite" general, Sam Bockarie, and AFRC junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma after they were also charged by the SCSL.
Not the whole truth
For many observers, the SCSL's main shortcoming is that it cannot deal with Taylor's full role in West Africa's history. His participation in Liberia's back-to-back civil wars has been well documented.
Although the SCSL has delved deep into Taylor's history, it can only make findings on established crimes in Sierra Leone committed after November 1996. The era of alleged atrocities in Liberia before then will thus have to be left untouched.

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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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