The Liberian Democratic Future Condemns
The Treason Trial Verdict
On April 2,1999, a jury in Monrovia, Liberia, convicted 13 men, mainly ethnic Krahn supporters of former warlord Roosevelt Johnson. They were among 32 individuals charged by the Taylor regime for complicity to overthrow the government. Five days later, the presiding judge, His Honor William B. Metzger, sentenced them to 10 years imprisonment. This is the same judge who presided over the Dokie murder trial when the Liberian government made mockery of justice.
On the surface and in normal democratic societies, this is how the judicial process should work. But Liberia is neither normal nor democratic. With other constitutional provisions to the contrary notwithstanding, Liberia has the unenviable peculiarity in which the president actually controls all branches of government. The entire justice system in Liberia is laden by incompetence and corruption, and is remotely directed by the ever- present, manipulative hand of the Executive Branch of government. So once again, the wheels of justice have been squashed.
The treason trial took place less than a year after Charles Taylor, ironically, the man who plotted the overthrow of the Doe regime that escalated into a killing frenzy in which a quarter of million people died, decided to eliminate his opponents. So on Sept. 18, 1998, he fabricated a coup plot and sent in his death squad to expel ethnic Krahns associated with his former antagonists, Samuel Kanyon Doe and D. Roosevelt Johnson. The violence that followed left hundreds of innocent, unarmed civilians dead, with the arrest of leading Krahn citizens who were charged with treason. Thousands of other Krahns fled the country for fear of being liquidated by the regime's special killing unit called SWAP.
From the onset, The Liberian Democratic Future (LDF) predicted that the whole trial process would be a charade designed to give legal stamp of approval to a trial whose outcome was pre- established. We expected then that Charles Taylor would use his kangaroo courts to convict the accused. And there were a number of glaring irregularities and developments during the process which squarely put this trial in the same category as previous treason trials in Liberia.
From the beginning, it was clear that the men would be condemned. First, lawyers representing the accused expressed fears that they would be victims of physical attacks from Taylor's marauding killer thugs for consenting to represent the accused. Second, the state, contending that the Grand jury did not use the appropriate penal code, asked for amending the charges against the accused since it was not certain in the first indictment, handed down by the Grand Jury, what exactly the charges against them were although they were languishing in jail. Not surprisingly, the judge agreed to their demands and they proceeded to drum up charges, discovering hungry witnesses against the accused. Besides being served two different indictments for the same offense, the writ to arrest defendant Bai Gbala, for example, was issued September 17, 1998, a day before the offense for which he was tried took place. Third, for several weeks government could not find people to serve on the jury because citizens felt that if they served on the jury and declared the accused not guilty based on the evidence, they would have been targeted by the Taylor government for elimination.
So justice in Liberia is always a big joke. To expect justice and common decency from men who engineered mass killings, individuals who led massacres such as the ones at Cowfield and Camp Carter, and other villages during their scramble for power, is to be in denial of the gravity of the terror perpetrated by Taylor and his accomplices. And as certified by the U.S. State Department and other leading human rights organizations, Liberia's judiciary is corrupt and inefficient. Judges operate using instructions from the president, while legislators are nothing more than cheering squad for Mr. Taylor.
Treason trials are not a new phenomenon in the political theater of Liberia. Liberian history is replete with such miscarriages of justice. Treason and sedition charges are a mechanism used by various Liberian dictators to silence or eliminate political opponents. The epitome of Liberian autocracy, William V. S. Tubman, used the strategy to neutralize his opponents during his 27-year dictatorship. Often manufactured by political operatives, treason charges were also used by William R. Tolbert and Samuel Kanyon Doe to disgrace popular politicians, and deter other aspiring individuals from challenging their absolute leadership. So Taylor is using an old diabolical trick popularized by his predecessors.
But this trial propounds some serious problems for Mr. Taylor personally, and for the efficacy of constitutional democracy and the administration of justice in Liberia. It is generally agreed, by irrefutable evidence in the public domain, that Charles Taylor did conspire and level war against the Republic of Liberia in an overt manner or otherwise; and that he did commit act or acts, overt or otherwise tending to overthrow the government of the Republic of Liberia by the use of force. And by such actions, Mr. Taylor had violated the laws of the land for which he must be indicted for treason.
Having solemnly sworn to "uphold, protect, and defend the Constitution and the laws of the Republic of Liberia", the question now is: will Charles Taylor now avail himself to the system of due process? Is he prepared to stand down so that justice can prevail? Mr. Taylor's options are limited. He cannot, on the one hand, prosecute others for breaking the laws while he himself is guilty of violating statues he has sworn to uphold. All Liberians, including Taylor, must abide by all the laws of the land without exception. By the same token, the laws of the land should apply to all citizens.
The trial underscores another problem - one with greater international implications - for the former warlord, and that is the issue of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Determined to defy the international community, Taylor has decided to export terror to neighboring Sierra Leone by his expansionist policy.
Mr. Taylor's crusade to destabilize the West African sub-region should embolden our resolve to urge the United Nations to establish a war crimes tribunal for Liberia. We must not allow infernal war criminals skip the consequences of their actions.
The trial also raises a number of obvious legal problems for the justice system in Liberia. Article 97 SECTION (a) of the Liberian Constitution states: "No executive, legislative, judicial or administrative action, actions taken by the People's Redemption Council or by any persons, whether military or civilian, in the name of that Council pursuant to any of its decrees shall be questioned in any proceedings whatsoever; and accordingly, it shall not be lawful for any court or other tribunal to make any order or grant any remedy or relief in respect of any such act."
But contrary to this clear and unambiguous prohibition, state prosecutors consistently violated the law by repeatedly quizzing some defendants about their roles in the 1980 coup, and subsequent execution of 13 former government officials. This kind of prejudicial questioning should not have been allowed. All such references to the events of 12th of April, 1980, should have been stricken from the record, and the jury instructed to disregard same. This was not done.
The Liberian Democratic Future (LDF) believes the charges against the 32 mostly ethnic Krahns were a mere political vendetta, an effort by the regime to punish those who share common ethnicity with former President Samuel Kanyon Doe. Beyond that, the trial has a larger and most sinister, frightening message for all Liberian politicians: That any attempt to question the ignoble deeds of this regime will be crushed, both by force and imprisonment; that any group or groups which attempt to engage in political activities that will advance real pluralism, genuine reconciliation, pro-active solutions to vexing problems, and thereby expose our regime's corrupt practices, must and shall be excised. This is a grave and dangerous warning for democracy implicit in the outcome of this trial.
But as awesome and terrifying the consequences of democratic engagement in Liberia might be, we at The Liberian Democratic Future (LDF) shall not yield and relent to dictatorship and all its negative effects.
Therefore, we hereby condemn and reject the verdict, and sentences imposed upon the 13 defendants. We urge the Liberian Supreme Court to overturn the verdict and release all individuals involved.
The Liberian Democratic Future (LDF) also appeals to the international community, particularly the United States and the European Union to:
1. Reject the verdict and demand the immediate release of the accused.
2. Continue the denial of financial and other assistance to this Government bent on fostering dictatorship, intimidation, elimination of political opponents and the destabilization of the West African sub-region. Any financial or economic help, even in minimal terms, will be used to entrench and export terrorism.
3. Consider steps to bring to trial all those involved in human rights violation during the war. As a prelude to this, the international community, particularly the United States and the European Union, should consider placing travel and other restrictions on Liberian government officials.
In addition, there is a need for prominent individuals like former President Jimmy Carter who told Liberians after the elections that "human rights abuses were inconceivable," and the Reverend Jesse Jackson who sees Taylor as one of the great Hopes for Africa, to urge their friend, Charles Taylor, to stop this vendetta against the Krahn people and the continual human rights abuses in Liberia.
We believe Liberia is at a dangerous and serious crossroads. Failure on the part of the international community and Liberians to address the circle of political vendetta and brutalities against the population will only lead to more bloodletting, which will engulf the entire sub-region with more dire implications. As we have seen in Yugoslavia, appeasement has its dangerous fallout. Now is the time to stop Taylor's madness and brutality, or once again, it may be too late.
In the supreme interest of the Liberian people, we remain;
Siahyonkron J. K. Nyanseor
George H. Nubo
Abraham M. Williams
Secretary - General, LDF
Issue this 16th day of April, 1999, in the State of Georgia, USA
CC: President Bill Clinton
UN General Assembly
U. S. State Department
U. S. Congress
Economic Community of West African States
The Organization of African Unity
Liberian Permanent Mission to the U. N.
The Liberian Embassy, Washington, DC
The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.
President Jimmy Carter
Atlanta Journal and Constitution
New York Times
Africa News Service
British Broadcasting Corporation
The Liberian Democratic Future, publisher of The Perspective, is a think-tank, democratic, and research organization devoted to Liberia's democratic future.
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