Liberians Must Make Their Voices Heard for War Crimes Tribunal, Says Chief Prosecutor David Crane

By Ahmed K. Sirleaf, II


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

August 30, 2004

Former U.S. government official, professor of international law, and Chief Prosecutor to the Special hybrid International War Crimes Court for Sierra Leone, David Crane, called on Liberians Wednesday, to speak out for a special war crimes tribunal for their country.

Professor Crane made the call when he addressed a Liberian, West African community forum in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. Crane, who was appointed by the Secretary General of United Nations, in April 2002, speaking on the theme " Justice for West Africa" said he wants the people of West Africa to know that the rule of law is better than the rule of the guns. " Justice has returned to West Africa," he said. "Some of the worst people who committed atrocious human rights abuses are now sitting in jail."

The hawkish international prosecutor told his audience that the people of West Africa, particularly those he calls his "clients," the people of Sierra Leone, want peace.

The only way that peace can be achieved is to bring to justice "those who bear the greatest responsibility", for the commission and violations of international humanitarian law, in the decade plus conflicts in the region.

He said Charles Taylor would be brought to justice. "He feared no one. But now he 's suddenly realized that, there is something to fear; that thing is the rule of law. This immovable object that doesn't go away. That's the only thing that he (Taylor) now fears."

"Unless and until Charles Taylor is brought to justice, there will be no peace,"Crane warned "Charles Taylor is a big cloud hanging over Liberia," he added. " He is still ruling the country from his house arrest in Calabar. His agents remain influential in the country."

He said Liberians must make their voices heard to call for a Sierra Leone -style war crimes Tribunal for Liberia. "You will need one," he said. " But, the interim government will not make it happen for you, I believe it would have happen after the elections next year. The people must request it for themselves, it was the people of Sierra Leone who invited the international community to come in."

The Chief Prosecutor said he did not want Charles Taylor to sit at the peace table in Accra, knowing he was an indicted war criminal. " That's why we unsealed the indictment against him that day," he said. "He needed to be arrested, and he will be. History will judge the John Kufour government whether letting Charles Taylor go then was a good decision," he said. "That decision was a political one, not a legal one; we did everything legally right."

He said before the 17 counts indictment, against Charles Taylor, was unsealed, he informed the UN and its agencies, the U.S. government, the Canadian government, the British government, the Ghanaian government, and all governments, and regional stakeholders before unsealing the indictment against Mr. Taylor.

"We said to them that something big was happening that day; that would affect the security of West Africa," he said. "So, we followed all the legal course of actions necessary to effect the unsealing of the Taylor indictment."

Professor Crane said Mr. Taylor will and must face the Special Court in Sierra Leone. "Taylor must be brought to justice, it's just a matter of time, we will bring him before the Court."

As the Prosecutor for the Special Court in Sierra Leone, Mr. Crane is responsible for the investigation, indictment and prosecution of those who bear the greatest responsibility for violations of international humanitarian law during Sierra Leone's brutal conflict. The mandate of the Special Court is only limited to the Sierra Leone conflict.

Liberians attending the event, pressed the Chief Prosecutor on who might be prosecuted in the Liberian conflict, and when might similar court be set up in Liberia. Mr. Crane, however, refused to comment beyond his jurisdiction.

He would only say that Liberians must mobilize, make their voices heard, and not let those who committed heinous crimes in violations of international humanitarian law, go unpunished.

Crane said the conflict in West Africa involved multiple players: including, Moamar Ghadafi of Libya, Charles Taylor of Liberia, Bokina Fasso, and other core, and peripheral players. " This was a ten-year plan to destabilize the whole region. Thank God we stopped it in Sierra Leone,"he said. " The plan was to go to Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and eventually, the rest of the West African region."

The community forum, jointly organized by the Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights and the Organization of Liberians in Minnesota-OLM- brought together: Liberians, Sierra Leoneans, Americans alike, conflict intervention, and human rights workers in Minnesota to hear, for themselves, about the workings of the Special Court, from the Chief Prosecutor.

"We thought it was necessary for Mr. Crane to meet with the community," Said Michele Garnett McKenzie, Attorney at Law, and Director of the Refugee & Immigrant Program at the Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights.

She said the level of technicality, and sophistication of the audience impressed her. "It was just incredible, their grasp of the legal proceedings, and jurisdictional matters of the Court, was amazing."

She intimated that the Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights' interest in the Special Court for Sierra Leone derives from its works with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in Sierra Leone.

"Earlier this year a delegation from our organization traveled to Sierra Leone to monitor the transitional justice process in that country," She said in a telephone interview Friday. Garnett McKenzie said, in addition to monitoring the justice process, their team also examined the two primary transitional justice mechanisms, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL).

Beth Bailey-Allen, Executive Director of the North Hennepin Mediation Program, in Brooklyn Center, said it was fascinating listening to Mr. Crane talk about the workings of the Court. "I believe, where the Court's mandates stop, is where transformative mediation, and restorative justice practices come in to heal the wounds of the conflict at local and village levels," she observed.

Mr. Wayne Douglas Doe, Executive Director for the Center for Youth of African Descents (CYAD), a prominent Liberian businessman, and community leader, said he sees Mr. Crane's style as one of "engaging" the people, and fostering a feeling of closure. I think he's helping the people not only prosecute the core accomplices, but also to move forward. " We, Liberians have to be able to agree for people to be brought to justice. We just can't sweep it under the rug, those responsible must be brought to justice," he said. " The Tribunal must be put forward, not later."

Meanwhile, chief prosecutor Crane has lamented that some governments, and world leaders are not doing enough to facilitate Charles Taylor's transfer to the Special Court in Sierra Leone. He said political interests, and the lack thereof in some cases, are responsible for the slow pace. Ultimately, he said it ought to be Africans who should turn over indicted Africans to the Special Court.

Responding to questions about why other suspects, like Libyan President Moamar Ghadafi, and others, haven't been indicted, or held in custody yet, the chief prosecutor said he was not ready to breach confidences. He didn't rule out any possibility, either.

In addition, he disclosed that investigations are continuing. "We do not rule anything out. Anything is possible, we consider all things."

In august 2000, in response to a request from Sierra Leone President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1315 mandating the creation of the Special Court for Sierra Leone to prosecute "those persons who bear greatest responsibility for the commission of violations of international humanitarian law" perpetrated between November 30, 1996 and 1999; according to court documents.

On January 16, 2002, after over a year negotiations, the UN and the government of Sierra Leone signed an agreement that created the legal framework for the SCSL, an independent court using both international and Sierra Leonean laws, judges, and prosecutors, hence, a new (hybrid) concept for international Tribunals.

Along with the Special Court, in 1999, the government of Sierra Leone and the RUF signed a peace agreement in Lome, Togo. The Lome agreement included an amnesty for all parties to the war and an agreement to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

The TRC is mandated to develop an impartial historical record of the conflict, address impunity, respond to the needs of the victims, promote healing and reconciliation, and prevent the reoccurrence of violence. The TRC finished its work in the spring of this year, and was expected to release its reports and recommendations at the end of June 2004.

Currently, eleven individuals stand indicted; including former Liberian President Charles Taylor; notorious Civil Defense Forces (CDF) leader, and former Sierra Leone government official, chief Hinga Norman.

Nine persons are detained in the SCSL detention facility. The two additional indictments (that of infamous RUF leader Foday Sankoh, and Sam Bokare- alias mosquito) have been withdrawn due the deaths of the accused individuals. Trial began on 3 June 2004 and is expected to continue through 2005. The Court is currently adjourned.

Mr. Charles Ghankay Taylor-Case No. SCSL-2003-01 - was indicted on 17 counts of crimes against humanity, violations of Article 3 common to the Geneva Conventions, and of Additional Protocol II, and other serious violations of international humanitarian law. Mr. Taylor has yet to be placed in custody, as he remains holed up in Cross River State, Calabar, Nigeria.

So far, the Nigerian government has refused to turn over Mr. Taylor to the Court in Sierra Leone.

President Olusegun Obasanjo has argued that Mr. Taylor's exile in Nigeria is part of a peace deal secured by the African Union, last August, to allow him (Taylor) leave the country; as "an African solution to an African problem."

At times, it seems the Nigerian government is flip-flopping between, saying it would only turn over Taylor to the interim government in Monrovia, or perhaps, to the UN. Meantime, though, the Gyude Bryant transitional government remains noncommittal to any Taylor transfer.

About the author: Ahmed Kaabineh Sirleaf, II, is a Liberian freelance writer, and is a student of Legal Studies, and Disputes Settlement at Hamline University, in ST Paul, MN. Mr. Sirleaf's interests in law are in International Public Law, Human Rights, and The Settlement of Disputes. He has an undergraduate background in Conflict Studies, Mediation, Restorative Justice Practices, and Communication Studies. He can be reached at (651) 208-0463, or