The Dictatorial Treaty: A Sad Sign for Africa

By Alvin J. Teage

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

June 10, 2003

Our generation has been tasked to take its continent from the Dark Age to a world that has surpassed it in many respects. So it is a welcome symbol of progress, when the Body that has passively allowed Africa to virtually destroy itself for the past 42 years, takes redemptive steps to give justice to the African people.

The June 4, 2003, announcement that the United Nations-backed Court for Sierra Leone had indicted Mr. Charles G. Taylor for "bearing the greatest responsibility for war crimes, crimes against humanity and serious violations of international humanitarian law," came as no surprise to those who have studied the terrible acts Mr. Taylor has committed against the people of West Africa. His indictment sends a strong message to other African rulers, and it is a good step for international justice.

However, the Ghanaian authority’s refusal to arrest Mr. Taylor, or to at least prevent him from leaving until the U.N. could arrest him, has increased the burden my generation of Africans must carry. Ghana is a member of the U.N. and has benefited from its membership. So it should have honored the Special Court’s timely and properly served arrest warrant for Mr. Taylor. But why did the Ghanaian authority refused to honor the Court’s request?

We are admonished by the advocates of selective-justice that the West does not care about us, and that the Special Court’s decision to ask the Ghanaian authority to arrest an indicted war criminal was a move that could have involved Ghana into a regional conflict. We are admonished that Liberian refugees, living in Ghana and other parts of West Africa, would have suffered more hardships if Ghana had honored the arrest warrant. We are further admonished that bringing a dictator to justice will not bring peace to Liberia because a “democratically-elected” person can rule and commit gross human rights violations with impunity.

Saying “thank you” to the Ghanaian authority for ignoring the demand of the international community, and for not arresting Mr. Taylor on the supposition that it would have caused other implications is nothing new. But why fear what could happen, and reject what has happened? It is ironic that, a position so cleverly disguised as caring for life, is so uncaring to the more than 500,000 West Africans who have been killed, raped, maimed, tortured, and illegally conscripted by Mr. Taylor.

To allow one who commits such human rights violations to use the presidency as a shield from accountability is not only offensive to the victims’ families and justice; it could send a terrible message to the children of Africa that jungle-justice is paramount over the rule of law. The Special Court’s timing was sound, and Mr. Charles G. Taylor, an indicted war criminal, must be hailed before it to answer for his alleged criminal acts.

One could argue that Mr. David Crane, in deciding to deliver the arrest warrant to the Ghanaian authority, should have known that the practice of protecting another African dictator would have been maintained. One could also argue that it was proper for Mr. Crane to believe that--in this period of world affairs in which Ghana has received so much from the international community--the Ghanaian authority would have honored its international obligation and arrested Mr. Taylor.

It is, indeed, a sad sign for Africa when the Ghanaian authority, in the presence of African presidents like Thabo Mbeki and Olusegun Obasanjo, was ill-advised to ignore the Special Court’s arrest warrant and to help a recalcitrant, international criminal escape justice. Such terrible actions have led the world to conclude that, to accept the mere words of an African president as a desire for a democratic Africa, is like relying on a “broken-stick” for balance.

The dictatorial pact, like the one displayed in Ghana, will remain at odd with the democratic principles of freedom-loving people so long as Africa is ruled by a group of dishonest and self-serving politicians whose only interest is self-enrichment. The U.N., however, is aware of the implications of allowing an indicted war criminal to remain from justice. If justice for Sierra Leone and the rest of West Africa is important, the Security Council must enforce the Special Court’s arrest warrants.

In short, the below-paraphrased message from Mr. Crane, the Chief Prosecutor for the Special Court, is instructive: Justice--and not political compromises that are controlled by dictators or an indicted war criminal--will bring peace and democracy to the African continent.