Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Sierra Leone In Taylor case and International Justice

By LJ Darboe, culled from GambiaPost
As a post-colonial people, we are confronted with a stark dilemma on the questions of international criminal justice, in particular, and of the international legal regime, in general, as vehicles for Africa's redemption from internal brutality.

Indeed, Charles Taylor is not appearing before the International Criminal Court (ICC). He is in The Hague as a charge of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, set up pursuant to a supposed treaty between that country, and the United Nations, to prosecute those bearing "greatest responsibility" for the atrocities committed during Sierra Leone's ten year civil war. As part of the post-war accountability mechanism, there was also a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), and one of the Commissioners was the eminent Gambian historian, Mrs Satang Jow.

In light of the circumstances out of which the civil war arose, and because of the selectivity attendant to the prosecution process, notwithstanding the established principles of command responsibility for atrocities in the field, I am of the view that all Sierra Leone needed was a TRC. Under international law, there was no reason for shielding war-era President, Tejan Kabbah, from prosecution before the Special Court, but he was shielded, and those like Hinga Norman executing his commands, were prosecuted and punished. This is a large contention, but a brilliant dissent in the Norman judgement magnificently captures the perversity inherent in the selective application of international criminal justice. As stated earlier, the dilemma for a post-colonial African is how one supports a Taylor, or Gaddafi, potentially. The dilemma is made more acute by perpetrators in other conflicts of identical brutality, but who then escapes international criminal accountability. We must remember of course that the criminal responsibility aspect of things is only a tiny fraction of of the overall international legal regime. At the heart of the so-called global system is the United Nations Security Council, with only the five permanent members empowered to exercise the veto and effectively kill any proposed international transaction. For our purposes, no African country sits on the Security Council in a permanent capacity.

Nevertheless, when a post-colonial nation is conflicted in such a way that segments of it look to what may be regarded as neo-colonialism as the only route for a life of dignity and peace in their own country, that may be seen as a sombre commentary on the seven decades of the African freedom project. No truly enlightened African can regard the international legal regime as anything but a poor vehicle for restraining the organising and execution of the brutal violence against defenceless civilians that has become the hallmark of post-colonial public life in large swaths of African territory. But because Gaddafi empties Libyan public space ofthe oxygen of dissent, the dispossessed Libyan sees international militarism as the only way to rid itself of Gaddafi. Up and down the continent, Africans are praying for neo-colonial militarism as a way of getting rid of their dictators.

Viewed from any perspective, this represents a tragedy of the highest order in so far as it stringently links the African identity with inferiority and incompetence. In the absence of internal democracy in the overwhelming number of member countries, , the AU is nothing if not a gathering of utmost failure, and it will fail in any attempts to truly influence even international events touching on its legitimate theatre of operations. As for western power, its culture of domestic freedom resonates with people the world over.

However, it has a responsibility to manage that victory even-handedly, and with restraint. Its militarism in Libya risks garnering sympathy for a brutal dictator. In the Libyan saga, there are serious lessons for those concerned with the philosophical underpinnings of African governance, and western militarism. For Africa to become a respected global voice, their is no alternative to internal democracy within African countries

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