No evil deeds can go unpunished. Any evil done by man to man will be redressed. If not now, then certainly later; if not by man, then by God for the victory of evil over good can only be temporary – Dele Giwa
Nigeria’s unending tragedies of the recent past have made public commentators to be quiet on lessons to be drawn from the convictions of two former African leaders. Sixty-four-year-old former Liberian President, Charles Taylor, was on May 30 handed 50 years jail term for committing war crimes in Sierra Leone by the International Criminal Court sitting in The Hague, Netherland. Also, an Egyptian court sentenced 84-year-old former Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, to life imprisonment on June 2. According to media reports, Taylor was convicted for supplying and encouraging rebels in neighbouring Sierra Leone in a campaign of terror, involving murder, rape, sexual slavery and the conscription of children younger than 15. He was also found guilty of using Sierra Leone’s diamond deposits to help fuel her civil war with arms and guns while enriching himself with what have commonly come to be known as “blood diamonds.” He is the first former head of state to be convicted of war crimes since World War II.
In the words of Judge Richard Lussick, “The accused has been found responsible for aiding and abetting some of the most heinous crimes in human history. The crimes – which took place over five years – included cutting off the limbs of their victims and cutting open pregnant women to settle bets over the sex of their unborn children. In return for a constant flow of diamonds, Taylor provided arms and both logistical and moral support to the Revolutionary United Front rebels – prolonging the conflict and the suffering of the people of Sierra Leone. While Mr. Taylor never set foot in Sierra Leone, his heavy footprint is there.” Taylor was not the lone convict; others include one of RUF leaders, Issa Sesay, who received a 52-year jail term and a rebel from the Armed Forces Ruling Council group, Alex Tamba Brima, who was sentenced to 50 years imprisonment. Taylor had accused the prosecution of paying and threatening witnesses during his trial.
While reacting to Taylor’s conviction, Korto Williams, Director of ActionAid Liberia, said, “Not only is this verdict an opportunity for Sierra Leone and Liberia to move forward, it also signals the international community’s clear intent that any leader who misuses his power and carries out state-sanctioned violence will be held responsible for the crimes and will be punished.” I couldn’t agree with him more.
Mubarak, on his part, was one of the three African leaders ousted by the popular uprising termed “Arab Spring” which swept through the continent in 2011. The first of the trio was Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia and the last was Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. Mubarak bowed to people’s power as expressed at the Tahrir Square after 18 days of civil unrest. During the rebellion, an estimated 850 people were reportedly killed by Egyptian security agencies. It was for his complicity in the killing that an Egyptian court sentenced the octogenarian. Habib el-Adly, Mubarak’s minister of the interior, was also jailed for life but Mubarak’s sons, Gamal and Alaa, were cleared of corruption. In sentencing them, Judge Ahmed Rifaat called Mubarak’s tenure “30 years of intense darkness”. He said further that officials had “committed the gravest sins, tyranny and corruption without accountability or oversight as their consciences died, their feelings became numb and their hearts in their chests turned blind.”
According to The Guardian of UK, “Mr. Mubarak’s conviction and court appearance — on a hospital gurney in the metal cage that holds criminal defendants in Egypt — offered the kind of vivid example of the humiliation of their once-invincible ruler that thrilled Egyptians with a feeling of liberation.” In his reaction, Joe Stork, Human Rights Watch’s deputy Middle East director said “These convictions set an important precedent, since just over a year ago seeing Hosni Mubarak as a defendant in a criminal court would have been unthinkable. But the acquittal of senior ministry of interior officials for the deaths and injuries of peaceful protesters leaves police impunity intact and the victims still waiting for justice.”
Do Nigerian leaders and indeed African Heads of State and Government have anything to learn from the misfortune of Mubarak and Taylor? For me, the main lesson is that abuse of power will no longer be condoned by the international community. The conviction of Mubarak as an “accessory to murder” because he failed to stop the killings of his people who were demanding for justice, fairness and equity shows that indeed Nigerian leadership could be held to account for the numerous deaths and injuries of unarmed protesters during the June 12, 1993 political crisis, several labour organised protests over fuel price hike and indeed, the week long January 2012 anti-subsidy removal revolt.
Also, considering that Taylor was convicted for aiding and abetting crime in another country, African leaders need to be careful henceforth in masterminding conflicts in other countries. The Economic Community of West African States, the African Union and other regional and sub-regional groupings need to impress it on their members to respect supremacy of their countries laws, equality of all citizens before the law as well as fundamental human rights as enshrined in their statutes and international covenants. It is most unfortunate that Africa has been the bastion of crises with coups and counter coups, wars, repressions, famine, droughts, endemic corruption, pandemic diseases and misgovernance. African leaders owe it a duty to their citizens to run open society where civil liberties are guaranteed and rule of law obeyed in truth and indeed.
Taylor (64) was convicted last month of all 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for aiding and abetting Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) during the country’s brutal 1991-2001 civil war.
In return, the court said, he was paid in diamonds mined by slave labour in areas under control of the rebels, who murdered, raped and kept sex slaves, hacked off limbs and forced children under 15 to fight.
“The accused has been found responsible for aiding and abetting some of the most heinous crimes in human history,” said Special Court for Sierra Leone judge Richard Lussick on Wednesday.
“The trial chamber unanimously sentences you to a single term of imprisonment for 50 years on all counts,” the judge said as he announced the ruling of the court based at Leidschendam, just outside The Hague.
“The trial chamber noticed that the effects of these crimes on the families and society as a whole in Sierra Leone was devastating,” Lussick said in handing down the ruling, the first sentence against a former head of state in an international court since the Nazi trials at Nuremberg in 1946.
Taylor, wearing gold-rimmed glasses and dressed in a dark suit and gold tie, listened with his eyes closed as the judge handed down the sentence, which Taylor’s team, and prosecutors, have two weeks to appeal.
Early this month, chief prosecutor Brenda Hollis argued for 80 years behind bars for Taylor, once one of west Africa’s most powerful men and a driving force behind Sierra Leone’s decade-long war which claimed 120 000 lives.
His defence argued such a sentence would be “excessive”.
Throughout the trial, Taylor himself maintained his innocence and insisted he was instrumental in eventually ending Sierra Leone’s civil war.
He will remain in the UN’s detention unit in the Hague until his appeal procedure is finalised.
Taylor’s sentence will be served in a British prison. London’s offer in 2007 to host Taylor in custody if he was found guilty was part of the deal to put him on trial in the Netherlands-based court.
The trial, which lasted nearly four years, wrapped up in March 2011.
It saw several high-profile witnesses testify, including supermodel Naomi Campbell, who told of a gift of “dirty diamonds” she received in 1997 at a charity ball hosted by South Africa’s then president Nelson Mandela.
Handing down the verdict last month, Lussick stressed that although Taylor had substantial influence over the RUF, including its feared leader Foday Sankoh, this “fell short of command and control” of rebel forces.
Sankoh died in 2003 before he could face trial.
Authorities in Nigeria arrested Taylor in March 2006 as he tried to flee from exile after being forced to quit Liberia three years earlier, under international pressure to end that country’s own civil war.
He was transferred to the Hague in mid-2006 amid security fears should he go on trial in Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown.
Taylor’s sentencing came 66 years after the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg sentenced admiral Karl Donitz to 10 years in jail for his part in Nazi crimes during World War II. Adolf Hitler had appointed Donitz his successor shortly before committing suicide in Berlin in 1945. – AFP