Joseph Guadagno



West Africa’s Cry for Justice:

Why Liberian President Charles Taylor

Should Face the UN backed War Crimes Trials in Sierra Leone


             Throughout the last two centuries or more, the people living on the African continent have inured much suffering and many indignities. Much of this was done at the hands of their own ruthless leaders. These leaders have committed a multitude of atrocities including rape, mutilation, murder and genocide. Many of the leaders that carried out these atrocities have gone unpunished. Today, at the beginning of the 21st century, the world has an opportunity to change this trend. The people of West Africa are crying out for international justice.  The government of Sierra Leone has called for, and set up, an international War Crimes Tribunal in accordance with the UN. The purpose of this trial is to bring to justice the latest tyrant from the region. They intend to bring Liberia’s President Charles Taylor to justice for the atrocities he committed against the people of Sierra Leone.

         Taylor’s murderous exploits are detailed in Author Greg Campbell’s book, Blood Diamonds. Campbell speaks of Taylor’s gunrunning and diamond smuggling in violation of international law. In one chapter, Campbell reveals how Taylor used his presidential plane to help arm the RUF fighters in Sierra Leone. The RUF fighters then conducted an assault on Freetown, code named, "Operation No Living Thing." Campbell recounts the words and memories of Freetown resident Joe Kamara who had a run-in with the RUF fighters: "He tried to plead with them to spare his family, but the soldiers dragged out his wife, 6 year old son, two teen aged daughters, and his brother. Kamara pled with the soldiers, but they forced him to his knees. "We must cut off your hands," the commander told him matter-of-factly, "those are our orders.” Taylor exhibited a gross indifference to the suffering and atrocities that were committed to the people of Sierra Leone. He has shown the same indifference to his own people of Liberia. The people of West Africa demand a full accounting. He, along with his henchmen, should face a full accounting at the international tribunal. Never again should a leader of any nation go unpunished for crimes against humanity.    

             During the Cold War, both Superpowers propped up puppet leaders in Africa to do their bidding and to promote their divergent agendas. The leadership of the Superpowers often paid little attention as to how these puppets treated their own people.  So long as their agenda was carried out, they often turned a blind eye to the suffering of the African people. Some of these leaders were brutal dictators and actually participated in the commission of murders, rapes, and even genocide among their own people. Despite the severity of these atrocities, much of the world community stood idly by while international criminals like Idi Amin of Uganda and Tutsi commander Paul Kagami of Rwanda carried out their atrocities. Some of these ruthless leaders were given sanctuary by other countries and these crimes go unpunished to this day. Some of these former leaders live like kings in the lap of luxury without fear of reprisal.

           Even after the end of the Cold War, this type of activity continued under the direction of Ronald Reagan. A hearing was held on July 11, 2003, in Washington D.C., by the Congressional Human Rights Caucus.  Mr. Salih Booker, executive director of African Action in Washington D.C., was one of a number of panelists who gave testimony. Booker pointed out that the current crisis in Liberia really began with Reagan’s support of Liberia’s brutal dictator Doe. He claims the reason the Reagan administration chose to overlook the atrocities committed by General Doe and his military was to gain an ally against Libyan leader Col. Mummar Abu Minyar al-Qadhafi. Booker asserts that the Reagan administration was well aware of the atrocities that General Doe was committing against his own people. Booker also testified that 13 years ago the first Bush administration had an opportunity to intervene and stem the violence in Liberia. It chose instead to evacuate the Americans living in the Liberian city of Monrovia and to ignore the Liberians pleas for U.S. intervention. 

              Booker, like most of the panelist who testified before the committee, urged the committee to advise President Bush and other government leaders to support the indictment of Taylor by the International Tribunal in Sierra Leone. He also called upon the Bush administration to provide peacekeepers and increased humanitarian aid to help the millions of displaced people suffering in the region.  In addition to the other panelists, Booker’s assertions are supported by the written work of author Stephen Ellis. In Ellis’s book, The Mask of Anarchy, he identifies the main protagonists in the long period of Liberia’s civil wars. His writing concurs with Bookers assertions about the Reagan administration. He, however, is more explicit in his remarks about the rapes, murders, and even cannibalism committed by Doe’s soldiers.  Ellis also makes similar assertions about Taylor and a group he belongs to called The Top 20. They are reported to be cannibals and participate in ritualistic murders.

          Mrs. Janet Fleishman, the African director of Human Rights Watch, who has lived and worked in Liberia for over 20 years, also testified before the committee. She said that the visit to Africa by President Bush marks an important moment. She went on to stress that it is important for President Bush and the United States government to support the efforts of the international War Crimes Trial in Sierra Leone and to bring Taylor to justice. She added that this would be an important step towards ending the cycle of human rights violations inflicted upon the people of this region by the various fighting factions. The atrocities she alludes to include rapes, murders of women and children, and abductions and recruitment of child soldiers.  She urged Bush and other U.S. government officials to encourage the leaders of the African nations in the region not to offer amnesty or asylum to Taylor or other combatants who have committed war crimes. She also agreed with Booker’s comments and concluded that it was important for the international community to bring Taylor to justice. She said she was grateful to see that President Bush is considering sending greater humanitarian aid and Peacekeepers to Liberia. She however voiced her concern that it would be wrong for the international community to allow Taylor to go unpunished for his crimes. She encouraged the Bush administration to support the UN approved International War Crimes Tribunal in Sierra Leone.

        Mrs. Jeanette Carter also testified before the hearing. She has spent nearly 40 years living and working in Liberia. She began her work there as a Peace Corps volunteer and is currently is a board member of the Friends of Liberia and the director of Catholic Relief Services in Liberia.  Carter also echoed the positions of Mr. Booker and Mrs. Fleishman and hastened to pose this question. “Whose side should we be on?” To that she answered, “The side of the people.”

      Richard Goldstone is a veteran international War Crimes investigator. He has had experience in the former Yugoslavia as well as Rwanda. In his book, For Humanity, he stresses the need for war criminals to be brought to justice. Investigator Goldstone pointed out that he was optimistic when, during the Clinton administration, President Clinton nominated David Scheffer to be special ambassador on war crimes. Goldstone said, "this demonstrated further support for the United Nations tribunals and also for the international criminal court.”

       It is apparent to me that under the second Bush administration, the United States has once again abandoned its moral responsibility to support these international tribunals and the United Nations.  For too long the conservative politicians and the right wing media have snubbed their nose at the international community and the United Nations. This has been most recently apparent in the Bush administration’s defiant attitude towards the UN and the international community with regards to Iraq.  President Bush has an opportunity to change this benign attitude. His recent trip to the African continent has focused greater attention by the media about this crisis in the region. This increased attention has raised the concerns of the complacent American public. They are beginning to ask the question of what the United States government’s response should be. They are also becoming aware of the hypocrisy of the Bush administration related to the UN and the international rule of law.  It is my hope that as a result of this attention the American people will join the voices of those suffering in West Africa and cry out for international justice. If this is done, perhaps the Bush administration will become more aware of the importance of international cooperation in the quest for global justice. By supporting, the UN authorized War Crimes Tribunal against Taylor; the U.S. can demonstrate to the world that it once again embraces the democratic principles of international law and global justice.

     The 21st century began with many marvels of new communication technologies like the Internet and satellite communication. These technologies remind us in a new way that the world is but one community, a global community. If there is to be sustained peace throughout the world, then all people and nations must embrace the concept of international justice.  The successful execution of these international War Crimes trials against Taylor and his associates will send a clear message to tyrants around the world. The Global community will no longer allow crimes against humanity to go unpunished and the leaders of nations will never again be held above the law. This will result in a more peaceful and safer world for all humanity.