30 May 2012
Worldwide reaction to the sentencing today of former Liberian warlord – Charles Taylor, by the Special Court sitting at The Hague, has been swift.
Mr. Ian Hughes, the British High Commissioner in Sierra Leone had this to say:
This morning Mr Justice Lussick, the Presiding Judge in a courtroom in The Hague, sentenced Charles Taylor to 50 years in prison for “some of the most heinous crimes in human history”.
Taylor has thus become the first former Head of State to be convicted of war crimes since the Nuremburg trials seventy or more years ago.
And this sentence, if upheld, means that he will in all probability spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Is that justice? That depends on what you mean by “justice”. Some Sierra Leoneans tell me that this outcome was not justice in their eyes.
The suffering that he caused, they say, was such that he deserved no less than the death penalty. Others believe that the trial itself was an expensive waste of time.
The money spent on it, they insist, would have been better spent helping the victims of the war that he helped unleash.
Still others want more of the leaders of the rebel war to be held to account for their actions.
So was it worth it?
Convicting Charles Taylor took six years’ unremitting effort and cost millions of dollars.
And the case is not complete yet: appeals will keep the court busy for another six months or more.
The sentence handed down this morning may not have been what everyone wanted. But it follows a public and meticulous examination of the facts.
It stems from a thorough consideration of the role Taylor has been proven to have played. And it adheres strictly to the tenets of international law.
Does that matter?
Yes it does. Due process is the best defence we have for the weak, the greatest hope for the vulnerable.
Peace is not the absence of war but the presence of Justice.
Winston Churchill once said that the whole history of the world is summed up in the fact that when nations are strong they are not always just, and when they wish to be just they are no longer strong.
And there, to my mind, is the clearest explanation possible of the case for an international system that can deliver justice where the nations involved are not strong enough to do that themselves.
Access to international justice, for all its imperfections, means a great deal to this country, where the scars of war are still so fresh.
It means even more to other countries where the fires of war still rage.
The massacre in Houla at the weekend demonstrates vividly that atrocities continue: innocent civilians are still being terrorised, innocent lives are still being snuffed out by aggressive, pitiless acts of war.
In Syria and in South Sudan, in Somalia and in Sri Lanka leaders are aware that their actions are being observed, weighed and recorded.
And that one day they, too, could find themselves called to face a panel of judges in a courtroom in The Hague and taken to task for those actions.
And that is why the trial, conviction and sentencing of Charles Taylor matters.
Get involved and tell the High Commissioner what you think at: http://ukinsierraleone.fco.gov.uk/en/
“Justice denied anywhere diminishes justice everywhere” – Martin Luther King
To some of us,the conviction and sentencing of Charles Taylor represents many fronts:
1.It sends very powerful and unmistakable message to Ernest Bai Koroma who in a desperate attempt to remain in office has embarked on arming his own special forces to be used as instrument of terror, should the citizens decide in November not to renew his mandate.
2.It further sends very powerful message to other dictators,that indeed the times have now changed,and that the citizens themselves are going to hold them accountable in the court of law for violations of their rights – no matter how long it takes or how expensive.
3.The mere fact that Taylor is exchanging the executive mansion for the jail House, is indicative of the fact that he is a very small man, and that the citizens are by far bigger than him and when time comes for them to stand up to his criminal excesses,they will do so, no matter how much violence he unleashes on them and that is exactly what has happened.
Ben Ali,Hosni Mubarak,and Moamar Gaddafi – all fell in fundamentally troubling circumstances – all due to the people power, which is mightier than all the deadly weapons combined.
Taylor’s fall and conviction indeed represents moral victory for all decent and peace loving citizens anywhere in the world.