Thursday, 31 May 2012

The End of Impunity?

Former Liberian despot Charles Taylor was sentenced to fifty years in prison yesterday by the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL).  The erstwhile warlord was found guilty of eleven charges, ranging from murder and enslavement to rape and pillage.

The cost of his imprisonment will, contentiously, be borne by Her Majesty's Estate.  Taylor's lawyers have objected to these arrangements, made possible by a bizarre piece of legislation passed for the purpose in 2007.  There is a fear that their client might meet with the same fate as Radislav Krstić.

(C
onvicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, our government volunteered to take on Krstić in 2004.  The Serb then became the victim of a "revenge" stabbing in Wakefield Prison by a trio of Muslim prisoners  all murderers; their Albanian ringleader one of the men sentenced during the notorious Mary Ann Leneghan trial.)

The verdict on Taylor was not without some controversy.  Although technically unanimous, alternate judge Justice Malick Sow — the  court's only West African member  offered a Dissenting Opinion after the oral judgment had been delivered:

I disagree with the findings and conclusions of the other judges, because for me under any mode of liability, under any accepted standard of proof, the guilt of the accused from the evidence provided in this trial is not proved beyond reasonable doubt by the prosecution.  And my only worry is that the whole system is not consistent with all the principles we know and love, and the system is not consistent with all the values of international criminal justice ... I’m afraid the whole system is under grave danger of just losing all credibility, and I’m afraid this whole thing is headed for failure.  Thank you for your attention.

Justice Sow's closing words may have been tongue in cheek  as soon as he began making his statement his three colleagues stalked from the chamber; technicians cut off his microphone in mid-speech and the blinds of the public gallery were drawn.  Later, his words were struck from the record and he was suspended.

Never
theless, with Taylor the first African president tried for war crimes and the first head of state succesfully convicted, the media has hailed this process as an "end to impunity".

Well, perhaps, perhaps not.  To many, Taylor's conviction seems to owe more to the Rule of Power than the Rule of Law — and selectively deployed power, at that.

But what of the people Charles Taylor has left behind?  Almost a decade on, has the expensive United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) really turned the country into an African success story?   Does the noisy activity of its "Office for Gender Adviser" make up the abuse of underage girls by UN personnel in the brothels of West Point?   

Shane Smith, of the incomparable (if rough around the edges) VICE Media, presented a far grimmer picture when he investigated:



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