– Elvis – Wura Towolawi.
With the UN – backed Special Court for Sierra-Leone at the Hague upholding the 50-year conviction of Charles Taylor for war crimes and crimes against humanity, it appears human rights regimes have grown teeth to resist the free rein of impunity that once weakened its structure and efficacy. And it counts more that the high and mighty cannot always evade and escape the search-light of human rights violation – non-state actors can be held responsible for its infringement of international humanitarian norms when the case arise. The arrest, trial and conviction of Charles Taylor, the Liberian Warlord is a study in impunity and how the monster’s mouth can be bridled. Since Nuremberg, no other head of state has been held accountable for crimes of international dimension. The confirmation of Charles Taylor’s conviction is like light to thousands of victims whose limbs, lives and humanity were chopped, taken and marred by his terror – spitting groups. Now they can savour the sweetness of justice seeing the Creator of their anguish behind bars for 50 years! But what were Charles Taylor’s crimes and his profile in impunity? What does his conviction portend for other non-state actors smeared in human rights violations?
Let’s start from the beginning. Charles Taylor is a man that rose from Prison to the Palace after a vicious civil war that sent Samuel Doe the ‘President’ of Liberia to his grave, tortured and humiliated. It’s pretty funny and fishy how Mr. Taylor escaped a U.S penitentiary to surface in Libya where he was trained in guerilla combat as a Gaddaffi protégé; only to resurface in Liberia as Leader of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) to fight and deposed Samuel Doe. Although he was beaten to it by another rebel group, Taylor won the 1997 Presidential Election as an alternative to continued war and violence. But instead of using his office to benefit a war-torn country and people, Taylor transformed himself into a “Sponsor/Grand Patron” of rebel groups in neighbouring Sierra-Leone to unleash imprintable acts of violence in exchange for ‘blood diamonds’. The conflict in Sierra-Leone came with piles of mutilated arms, hands and legs; raped girls and women and child-soldiers. Surely the World will not turn blind eye to such despicable and dope-like violations of international humanitarian norms and human rights. Surely, the World will be haunted by chopped arms, sexually violated women and girls; and abducted children coerced into soldiering reminiscent of King Leopold’s Belgian Congo. The World acted – indicted Charles Taylor for war crimes and crimes against humanity!
Essentially, 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other grave violations of international humanitarian law committed in Sierra Leone from (November 30 1996 – January 18 2002) were brought against Charles Taylor. The Prosecutor at the Special Count for Sierra Leone alleged specifically thus:
5 Counts of War Crimes (a) Terrorizing civilians; (b) murder; (c) outrages on personal dignity; (d) cruel treatment; (e) looting;
5 Counts of Crimes against humanity:(a) Murder; (b) rape; (c) sexual slavery; (d) mutilating and beating; (e) enslavement; and,
1 Count of breach of international humanitarian law:a) Recruiting and using child-soldiers1.
It is pertinent to note here that Taylor allegedly perpetrated these dastardly acts during his Presidency by “aiding and abetting” the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) through weapons sales and supply in return for ‘conflict diamonds; and in some instances personally directed RUF operations in Sierra Leone2. In determining the appeal at the Hague, presiding Judge George King held that Taylor had indeed aided and abetted crimes committed by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and Armed Forces Revolutionary Council rebels, advising and assisting them knowing full well the kinds of crimes they were committing. The aim of the acts to the Judge was,
“…to spread terror. Brutal violence was purposefully unleashed against civilians with the purpose of making them afraid, afraid that there would be more violence if they continued to resist 3”.
Hence, the gavel was slammed at the Hague and his 50-year imprisonment verdict upheld with the U K offering a maximum protection prison for him to serve his term; with Rwanda or Sweden as another choice of gaol. While his defense lawyer and faceless supporters raised primitive sentiments of international bias, victims of his atrocious deeds jubilated on the streets of Sierra Leone feeling a calm that their severed arms and legs were not lost in vain. Now, justice is seen to be done to Taylor, Sierra Leone and the victims, dead and alive.
The effect of Taylor’s conviction on international human rights jurisprudence is not light and lost to us. It is a great boost to the efficiency of international law derogatorily referred to as ‘positive morality’ binding only in honour and tilted favourably towards the state and man with the yam and knife. Explicitly, this case shows that even non-state actors can also be held liable for infringing and violating international norms – of jus cogen category; and would help curb the headiness and insensitivity of some non-state actors such as government officials and multinational companies usually at the root of massive violations of human rights! This is a strong warning signal to formentors of the yeast of impunity and sowers of baseless violence that there’s law hovering over the whole humanity to uphold and protect her dignity and person. Men in power who treat their citizens as punch bag and serfs should be wary for tomorrow when they are out of the hubris of power books may be opened for an account of power-intoxicated acts. The culture of impunity is no longer a safe way of governance in this age of ours. Today it’s Charles Taylor, tomorrow if maybe you or you. Yes. Treat your people right. Respect their rights and boundaries because human rights can bite!