31 May 2012

Uganda: International Justice Better Than Impunity


The former president of Liberia, Charles Taylor, was on Wednesday sentenced to 50 years in prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the Special Court for Sierra Leone sitting in The Hague. That means Taylor, who ruled Liberia from 1997 to 2003, will never be a free man again as long as he lives. Taylor shot his way to power after a bloody guerrilla war and later legitimised his authority through elections.

As president of Liberia, he is reported to have sponsored a vicious civil war in neighbouring Sierra Leone, which claimed thousands of lives. Those who were lucky escaped with their lives but not their limbs. As a result, Sierra Leone is home to one of the largest populations of amputees in the world.

Taylor may not have been present in Sierra Leone as his defence attempted to argue, but overwhelming evidence was adduced to show that he funded the brutal and psychopathic Revolutionary United Front (RUF) of Foday Sankoh in return for diamond riches and regional influence.

His accomplice, Sankoh, unfortunately cheated justice by dying in 2003. Some analysts have said that the punishment is very harsh and indeed it is. But Taylor's actions cost thousands their lives and limbs, and he must pay the price so that a clear message goes to warlords like him in Africa and elsewhere.

Others have pointed to the fact that international justice tends to target African leaders and they might have a point, but it's also true that Africa is home to some of the weakest judicial systems that are unlikely to bring criminals such as Taylor to justice.

That leaves the International Criminal Court (ICC) and special courts such as the ones on Sierra Leone and on Rwanda as feasible alternatives. International justice may not be ideal, especially for pan-Africanists, but it is better than impunity.

The most important lesson from Taylor's trial and subsequent sentence is that the days when rebel leaders and dictators in Africa were law unto themselves are long gone.

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