The externs in professional mode

Monday, 30 April 2012

Taylor's Conviction: What Are The Implications?

Following the Special Court’s landmark conviction of Liberia’s ex-president Charles Taylor for aiding and abetting the civil war in Sierra Leone and his subsequent sentencing for 50 years, there is a huge debate going on about the implications of such a decision especially to Africa in general and Sierra Leone in particular.

Given the current climate of widespread violations of human rights by certain African leaders, most notably the Sudanese and Zimbabwean presidents, a lot has been said about the Taylor verdict being a strong and unambiguous message that there is an end to impunity for heads of State who commit human rights violations. The fact that the ex-president of Ivory Coast, Lauren Gbagbo who is accused of human rights violations, is about to be tried further adds credence to this point. In the past, we can painfully remember how some African leaders used terror and oppression to cling on to power, despite clear unpopularity among their people. It is my view that the heavy-handed sentencing of Taylor is likely to forestall or discourage future abuse of power.

Another important implication of the Special Court’s decision is  the new judicial precedents it has set in the area of International Criminal Law.  It is clear that future trials on gross human rights violations will make substantial references to this historic trial, particularly with regards the legal definitions of “command responsibility” and “aiding and abetting”  among others. The decision makes clear that even if an accused is not present at the scene of the crime this is no defense to a charge of “aiding and abetting” under International Criminal Law. As Judge Richard Lussick noted “While Mr. Taylor never set foot in Sierra Leone, his heavy footprint is there”. Therefore, there is now increased likelihood that sponsors of atrocities in other countries will now be convicted where they are found to have “aided and abetted” human rights violations.” Considering the thinness of case law in the area of International criminal law, Taylor’s trial is no doubt a welcome addition.

Speaking after the announcement of the decision, the chairman of the Amputees’ Association, Mr. Edward Conteh described the verdict as a “relief” and added that “It is a step forward as justice has been done…”. 

I suppose this is perhaps the true implication of the decision; that the victims of Charles Taylor can now move on and get on with their lives, after painstakingly waiting for justice for nearly 10 years, since Mr. Taylor was indicted on June 4 2003. At certain points during the long wait for this verdict, some of them became frustrated, others out rightly cynical and doubtful whether the Court would subdue to Taylor’s defense team and deny them justice one last time. As it turned out, the Court did not and fifty years for Taylor is considered a victory for justice and his victims. The words of David Anyeale, a Nigerian national whose limbs were hacked off by Taylor’s men in Kissy, Eastern Freetown have captured my attention. Welcoming the decision he wrote, “I received the news of the sentencing of Charles Taylor to 50 years jail term with gratitude. I thank the prosecuting team for a job well done… When Captain Goldteeth amputated my hands, poured fuel and set me on fire beside the cemetery at shell bus stop, Kissy bye pass, Freetown, he never knew that I will survive…”

It is stories like these that remind us of what happened in Sierra Leone because of Taylor and why we all must receive his sentencing with joy and spare a thought for every one of his victims.   Now we can do even more justice to his victims by not allowing his heinous crimes to hold us back and poison our minds with bitterness and hatred. Justice has been delivered and Sierra Leoneans must embark on the long journey of rebuilding a prosperous and loving nation from the ashes of war.

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