After 420 days of trial (over nearly four years), 115 witnesses, over 50,000 pages of testimony, and 1,520 exhibits, Charles Taylor, warlord-turned-president of Liberia, was found guilty on 11 counts by the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone.
Taylor was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Sierra Leone from Nov. 30, 1996, to Jan. 18, 2002. Over 50,000 people died in that conflict. Taylor “aided and abetted” the notorious warlords Foday Sankoh, Sam “the Mosquito” Bockarie and Issa Sesay of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in Sierra Leone. Taylor participated in the planning, instigation and commission of these crimes and provided weapons and military support in exchange for “blood diamonds” mined by slave laborers in Sierra Leone. Taylor will be sentenced next month.
There were some problems in the prosecution’s evidence. There were few documents to show the depth and scope of Taylor’s involvement with the rebels. There was no evidence that Taylor was at the scene of the rebel crimes. There was little evidence showing the Liberian troops Taylor sent to Sierra Leone were directly involved in the war crimes and crimes against humanity. However, prosecutors were able to use radio and telephone intercepts and the testimonies of Taylor’s close associates and security detail and show that Taylor had shipped weapons to the rebels in exchange for (blood) diamonds.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued arrest warrants for other current and former African heads of state, including Cote d’Ivoire’s former President Laurent Gbagbo and Sudan’s President Omar Bashir (and the late Muammar Qaddafi). In November 2011, Gbagbo was quietly whisked away to the Hague from house arrest in Cote d’Ivoire to face justice before the ICC on charges of crimes against humanity (murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, persecution and other inhuman acts) that were allegedly committed during the post-election period. Gbagbo will soon be warming Taylor’s chair.
Bashir sneered at the ICC indictment in 2009: “Tell them all, the ICC prosecutor, the members of the court and everyone who supports this court that they are under my shoe.” (In time, he may come under the ICC’s shoes.) The UN estimated well over 300,000 people have perished under Bashir’s regime. Along with Bashir, the ICC has also issued warrants against other Sudanese nationals including Ahmed Haroun, a lawyer and minister of humanitarian affairs, Ali Kushayb, a former senior Janjaweed (local militiamen allied with the Sudanese regime against Darfur rebels), Bahr Idriss Abu Garda, a rebel leader and two others.
The ICC has also indicted criminals against humanity in Kenya. Uhuru Kenyatta, finance minister and son of Kenya’s famed independence leader Jomo Kenyatta, resigned following an ICC ruling that he will face trial for crimes against humanity in connection with the communal post-election violence between supporters of presidential candidates Raila Odinga and Mwai Kibaki in 2008. The UN estimates some 1,200 people died in weeks of unrest between December 2007 and February 2008, and 600,000 people were forcibly displaced. Cabinet secretary Francis Muthaura, a close ally of president Mwai Kibaki, former Education Minister William Ruto and radio announcer Joshua arap Sang face similar charges.
In Uganda, the ICC has indicted senior leaders of the “Lord’s Resistance Army” including the notorious Joseph Kony, his deputy Vincent Otti and three other top commanders. In the D.R .Congo various rebel and militia leaders and Congolese military officers and politicians including Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, Bosco Ntaganda, Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui and two others have been indicted. The ICC has issued arrest warrants for Muammar Qaddafi’s son Saif Al-Islam and Libyan intelligence chief Abdullah Al-Senussi who was arrested in Mauritania in March of this year. Libya is contesting ICC jurisdiction so that it may be able to try the two suspects in Libyan courts.
While seeking out war criminals and criminals against humanity in the Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, the DR of Congo, Libya and other places, the ICC and UN Security Council have avoided “Crimes Against Humanity Central-Ethiopia”. The evidence of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Ethiopia is fully documented, substantial and overwhelming.
An official Inquiry Commission appointed by Meles Zenawi in its 2006 report documented the extrajudicial killing of at least 193 unarmed protesters, wounding of 763 others and arbitrary imprisonment of nearly 30,000 persons in the post-2005 election period in Ethiopia. The commission was limited to investigating the “violence that occurred on June 8, 2005 in Addis Ababa and violence that occurred from Nov. 1 to 10, 2005 and from Nov. 14 to 16, 2005” in other parts of the country.
The commission’s evidence further showed that nearly all of the 193 unarmed protesters died from gunshot wounds to their heads or upper torso. The Commission found substantial evidence that professional sharpshooters were used in the indiscriminate and wanton attack on the unarmed protesters. These and many other shocking facts were meticulously documented by the Inquiry Commission which examined 16,990 documents, received testimony from 1,300 witnesses and undertook months of investigation in the field. There is also documentary evidence to show that there are at least 237 named police and security officials directly implicated in these crimes and subsequently dismissed from their positions. No person has even been criminally investigated, arrested, charged, prosecuted or in any way held accountable for any of these crimes.
It is historic and commendable that the ICC UN Special Tribunal for Sierra Leone has convicted Charles Taylor for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The verdict is undoubtedly a giant step forward in ending the culture of official impunity and criminality in Africa. African dictators and tyrants may no longer assume automatic impunity for their criminal actions. David Crane, the former prosecutor who indicted Taylor in 2003 correctly pointed out, “This is a bell that has been rung and clearly rings throughout the world. If you are a head of state and you are killing your own people, you could be next.” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described the Taylor verdict as “a significant milestone for international criminal justice” that “sends a strong signal to all leaders that they are and will be held accountable for their actions.”
But the ICC and the UN Security Council must not succumb to the shameful practice of selective justice. It is hypocritical to indict criminals against humanity in the Sudan, Kenya, Uganda and the D.R. Congo and pretend to “hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil” on the war criminals and criminals against humanity in Ethiopia. There cannot be a double, triple or quadruple standard of justice tailored for different grade of war criminals and criminals against humanity. There is no such thing as a good war criminal or criminal against humanity. There can be no beauty contest among warthogs.
What is good enough for the Sudan, Kenya, Uganda and the DR Congo must be good enough for Ethiopia because what is good for the goose is good for the gander. Based on the compelling and substantial readily available evidence, the ICC has a legal duty and a moral obligation to at least open an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Ethiopia since 2002 when the court was created.
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