On March 14, human rights activists and especially victims in the Democratic Republic of Congo, celebrated the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) pronouncement of a guilty verdict on Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, a former Congolese warlord, for “the war crimes of conscripting and enlisting children under the age of 15 and using them to participate actively in hostilities from 1 September 2002 to 13 August 2003.”
This was the first guilty verdict issued by the ICC and it has been hailed as a historic victory for international justice and a warning notice to warlords everywhere that they will be held accountable by the international community for violations of war crimes committed by their rebel armies.
And, now, the world awaits April 26 for the final verdict announcement by the Special Court for Sierra Leone in the trial of Charles Taylor, former president of the Republic of Liberia, who has been charged with “11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of human rights” for his alleged support for the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), the Sierra Leonean rebel group that waged an 11-year brutal civil war in that country.
As I conjectured in an earlier article (Immovable Judgment Day: The Die Has Been Cast for Charles Taylor), all the signs seem to portend that Taylor too will be found guilty. And, once again, human rights activists will celebrate how that verdict will go down as a watershed moment in the annals of international justice.
But, there are many Taylor sympathizers who contend that Taylor’s trial has been nothing more than an attempt by world powers to silence an African leader who would not submit himself to their puppetry and dared to stand up to them in the interest of his people. They argue that the whole process has been a farce of justice because if the intention was really to uphold justice for innocent victims, then Taylor should instead have been tried for atrocities committed by the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) of which he was the undisputed leader, rather than stretching circumstantial evidence to show that he had some hand in the Sierra Leonean Civil War as a surrogate RUF leader of sorts.
While there are not too many people who would completely expunge Taylor of any association to the conflict in Sierra Leone, the contention raised by his sympathizers does beg a question:
Will persons bearing the most responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed against the Liberian people during our civil war ever be brought to justice?
The 2009 release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Report (TRC)—which remains shrouded in controversy mainly for its recommendation that 52 prominent Liberians, notable of whom was the sitting president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, be barred from public office for 30 years—calls for the establishment of an “Extraordinary Criminal Court for Liberia” to prosecute those bearing the most responsibility for “gross violations of human rights, serious humanitarian law violations, and egregious economic crimes.”
The Report names the leaders of warring factions, among others, as those bearing the most responsibility for war crimes and human rights violations against the Liberian people and who should therefore be brought to justice. Those cited are: Charles Taylor, NPFL; Prince Y. Johnson, INPFL; Roosevelt Johnson (deceased), ULIMO-J; Alhaji G.V. Kromah, ULIMO; George Boley, LPC; Thomas Yaya Nimley, MODEL; Sekou Damante Konneh, LURD; and Francois Massaquoi (deceased), LDF.
“True peace is not merely the absence of war, it is the presence of justice.”Martin Luther King Jr.
But many have dismissed the Report as politically-motivated and with it, all its recommendations. That notwithstanding, the three and half year inquiry by the TRC into the Liberian Civil War and its causes remains the most far-reaching investigation into the Liberian civil conflict and with over 20,000 testimonies from victims who suffered and/or witnessed the most grievous atrocities, it must be said that whether or not you agree with all the recommendations, the call for retributive justice for victims has to be considered inviolable.
President Sirleaf recently announced her intention to implement the “Palava Hut” recommendation of the TRC, where perpetrators will be able to confess their crimes/wrongs and seek pardon from the Liberian people. The purpose of the Palava Hut, according to the TRC Report is “to foster national healing and reconciliation at the community and grassroots levels creating the opportunity for dialogue and peace building.” But that process alone, considered as a kind of restorative justice falls short of true comprehensive justice, which would also encompasses retributive justice.
Martin Luther King, Jr. has been quoted as saying: “True peace is not merely the absence of war, it is the presence of justice.” And, as our nation forges ahead to consolidate its peace and democracy, it seems that we as a people after suffering untold indignities as a result of years of war, are only now catching our breath from war fatigue and the silence of the guns seems to suffice as the peace we have been yearning for, while justice has been tossed by the wayside.
But, in most post-conflict nations, not unlike Liberia, peace and justice seems to go hand in hand. Take our neighbor Sierra Leone for example. Not only was our former president stripped of his constitutional powers, but he was shackled with hand and ankle cuffs like a common criminal and shipped off to The Hague in the name of justice for the Sierra Leonean people, where he now awaits his verdict. What is more, the Special Court for Sierra Leone has also convicted at least 8 persons deemed to bear the most responsibility for the most grievous atrocities during that country’s civil war.
However, in Liberia, not a single person has been brought to justice for their culpability in the widespread commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity that occurred during the Liberian Civil War. Maybe, Liberia will prove to be the post-war exception, where we can achieve true peace without the execution of justice for victims.
Or, just maybe, as our people would say—“one fine day”—the long arm of the law will reach out like a thief in the night and drag those Liberian war criminals before the altar of justice.
And, what a fine day that will be!