Charles Taylor Case Proves ‘International Law’ is Law of Victors

Reason Wafawarova

Africa, we are one and together we will overcome. It is homeland or death!

On March 7 2003, Charles Taylor was indicted by the Special Court of Sierra Leone and on December 4 the same year, Interpol issued a “Red Warrant” (of arrest) for the former Liberian leader.

Taylor launched an appeal against the indictment and it was swiftly dismissed by the Appeals Chamber on May 31 2004. Nigerian authorities, who have increasingly become notorious for treacherous politics in Africa, apprehended Taylor on March 29 2006.

Nigeria was instrumental in the arbitrary suspension of Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth immediately after the country had forcefully reclaimed its colonially stolen farmlands from white occupiers in 2000. It was again Nigeria, South Africa and Gabon that insidiously and obviously backed the murder of Muammar Gaddafi and the bombardment of his Libya through Resolution 1973 at the UN Security Council in 2011.

On April 3 2006, Taylor pleaded not guilty to all the 11 charges pressed against him before the Special Court and Western countries started campaigning for a trial away from Africa. As a result of this campaign, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1688 which cleared the way for Taylor to be tried at The Hague, arguing that the Liberian ex-leader’s presence in West Africa was “an impediment to stability and a threat to peace.”

Just four days after this resolution, Charles Taylor was swiftly transferred to The Hague, in a move quite similar in swiftness to how Libya was attacked by French warplanes, just a few hours after UN Security Council Resolution 1973 had been passed.

On January 7 2008, the prosecution witnesses began testifying against Charles Taylor, and this process only ended on January 30 2009.

All in all, 91 witnesses testified, and these included 29 insider witnesses, 58 crime base witnesses and four expert witnesses.

The defence unsuccessfully applied for the closure of the case on the basis that witnesses were not credible, and on April 26 this year a landmark conviction of Taylor was announced to the world, with some people hailing it as a success, while others are convinced it was travesty of justice.

Charles Taylor has personally charged that most of these witnesses were “paid, coerced and, in many cases, threatened with prosecution if they did not co-operate.” The Special Court is simply not interested in entertaining this possibility, as it currently seems.

Canadian writer Stephen Gowans recently quoted the US State Department hailing the conviction of Taylor as “sending a strong message to all perpetrators of atrocities, including those in the highest positions of power, that they will be held accountable.”

Of course, this does not include atrocities perpetrated by Western armies on the lesser peoples of this world, like the reckless indiscriminate killing of tens and tens of thousands of innocent Libyan civilians in 2011, or the continuing drone bombing of Afghan and Pakistan people by Obama’s murderous forces. These are democratisation ventures and not war crimes.

The charges against Taylor included terrorism, murder, rape, sexual slavery, outrages upon personal dignity, cruel treatment, inhuman acts, recruiting child soldiers, enslavement and pillage.

Being convicted on the basis of these egregious charges makes Taylor the personification of ultimate evil, up until one is told that, in fact, Charles Taylor did not commit any of the crimes for which he was charged and convicted, an indisputable truth coming straight from the Special Court’s own acknowledgment.

This is what the Special Court had to say about Charles Taylor’s conviction: “The prosecution had not alleged that Mr Taylor had committed these crimes in person.”

The statement went on to say that Taylor had only “aided and abetted the rebels by providing them with arms and ammunition, military personnel, operational support and moral support.”

According to the Special Court, it is the rebels who committed the crimes and Charles Taylor is “individually responsible” for the criminal acts just on behalf of the perpetrators. Taylor did not deny involvement in the Sierra Leone decade-long conflict — arguing that his logic for intervention was that “without peace in Sierra Leone there would be no peace in Liberia.”

This is not different from the logic of pre-emptive war, as executed by President George W. Bush on the people of Afghanistan in 2001. But, of course, we must always remember that there is something called American exceptionalism, and that the law that prosecutes little Taylor cannot be big enough to prosecute mighty George W. Bush.

As rightly pointed out by Stephen Gowans in his recent article titled “Charles Taylor Conviction: Don’t Cross Us,” Taylor was convicted for exactly what Barack Obama, Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron did in Libya in 2011: arming and supporting an atrocity-committing ragtag rebel army.

The countless war crimes and atrocities of the Libyan rebels are well documented, with Amnesty International detailing charges that the rebels “abducted, arbitrarily detained, tortured, and killed,” so many civilian Libyans to see their way through the Western-backed rebellion.

This is not to mention Nato’s relentless bombardment of the city of Sirte right to ground level rubble, literally leaving no stone unturned and, of course, the indiscriminate shelling of the same city and other pro-Gaddafi cities like Bali Wadi — all clear acts of war crimes.

The war criminals in Libya must not fear the fate of Charles Taylor because the law that convicted the Liberian ex-leader is not exactly the law for those who commit war crimes, but the law of those who rule — the law of the victors. In fact, international law has just become the law of the powerful –bluntly put, the law of Western powers.

It started way back with the Nuremberg trials after the Second World War. Atrocities committed by members of the Allied Forces only became crime once they were traced to the responsibility of the Nazis.

Only those from the Nazi side of the war were charged of war crimes, even in clear cases where similar acts had been carried out by members of the Allied Forces.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was also all about charging Slobodan Milosevic and his people, even where the other side had carried out similar acts of crime.

In Libya today the rule of law is just the law for those who rule, the so-called National Transitional Council, otherwise it would be indisputable to charge, try and convict the Libyan rebels of “multiple counts of murder, acts of terrorism, outrages upon personal dignity, cruel treatment and inhumane acts,” — all charges easily preferred against poor Charles Taylor, and for Libya against pro-Gaddafi officials and soldiers.

No doubt Taylor was no saint. If this special court really wanted Taylor’s personal involvement in war crimes, they should have just investigated his ascendancy to power at the expense of Samuel Doe.

He and Prince Johnson did pretty horrible stuff quite fitting to all the charges Taylor was vicariously held responsible for by the Special Court for Sierra Leon, but that cannot be investigated because then Taylor and Johnson were both carrying out US-sponsored war crimes in the service of imperialistic interests.

According to the landmark logic of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, Obama, Sarkozy and Cameron must all be “individually responsible” for the atrocities that happened in Libya last year, regardless of the fact that none of them was on the battle field carrying out any such crimes. Nato leaders and their foot soldiers can be excused together with the murderous ragtag Libyan rebels.

What is indisputably clear is that the three “aided and abetted” the rebels, “furnished them with arms and ammunition, gave them military personnel, provided operational support (especially aerial fire power), and provided them moral support.” Guilty as charged if we follow the logic of the Taylor trial.

We can in our bitterness for true justice totally forget about the possibility of a Special Court for Libya, and surely there will be no indictments, at least none sponsored by Western nations.

It is just like it will not happen that George W. Bush will be dragged to some special court one day, and like it will not happen to those ruthlessly murdering Bahraini protestors and to those Libyan war criminals, certainly not to the heartless Israeli thugs that habitually kill Palestinians for fun.

This is precisely because in these cases the criminals control the courts, either directly or through alliance to criminally minded Western imperialistic powers.

As rightly outlined by Stephen Gowans, ” . . . the function of international courts controlled by Western nations is not to deter atrocities, for atrocities committed in

the service of Western imperialism are never prosecuted, but to deter military action against Western interests.”

When Zimbabwe intervened in the DRC conflict in 1998, the outrage from Western quarters and their Zimbabwean puppets was more against the side on which

Zimbabwe was fighting and far less about the economic impact of the war on Zimbabwe, inasmuch as the later logic was peddled widely for propaganda purposes.

If Zimbabwe had joined Uganda and Rwanda to fight alongside the Western-backed Congolese rebels, it is quite clear that President Mugabe was going to be hailed as a legendary fighter for democracy, and would even be immensely funded for his troubles, with awards and accolades following galore.

The human rights abuses alleged to have been carried out in Zimbabwe between 2000 and 2008 are more of pretexts to find prosecution grounds for hated enemies of imperialism than they are a pursuit for justice — regardless of whether there are elements of truth in the allegations or not.

Someone must one day be held “individually responsible” for the crimes of the unprosecuted, even when it is openly declared that the convicted person did not commit any of the crimes.

This is what some white South African judge is laying foundation for through a local court ruling declaring South Africa’s extra-territorial jurisdiction over Zimbabwean suspects accused of playing a part in the said abuses.

Charles Taylor bitterly complained at the Special Court that George W. Bush was not being dragged to any special court despite his bragging about authorising torture and Afghanistan Nato crimes.

Perhaps Charles Taylor needs to be reminded that in its 10 years of existence, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has indicted 28 people from seven countries. Every single one of these people is African, despite that the lawless Iraq war was after July 2002, with the atrocity-laced Afghanistan war stretching well after this date, the murderous South Lebanon bombardment by Israel coming in 2006, followed by the indiscriminate bombing of Palestinians in 2007, the deadly Libya bombardment by Nato in 2007, not to mention the Colombia war and other conflicts like Obama’s drone attacks in Pakistan.

There are documented atrocities for each of the above listed conflicts, yet there is no single indictment on a single person outside the African continent.

International law has become the law against the weak, the law of the rulers of this world. Taylor has not been convicted of war crimes at all. He has been convicted of backing the wrong side of atrocities.

If Taylor was backing Western interests in the Sierra Leonean conflict, he would today be wielding the Nobel Peace Prize in place of the conviction he is vainly trying to fight.

Africa, we are one and together we will overcome. It is homeland or death!

Reason Wafawarova is a political writer based in Sydney, Australia.

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