War Crimes, Kaddafi and the Bishop
By Abdoulaye W. Dukule
September 16, 2002
In the past few months, there has been much talk about war crimes and war crimes tribunal to look into the atrocities meted against civilian populations during the deadly civil war. In a recent article, we argued that Liberians, by going to the polls in 1997 and accepting the results of the elections, had sort of decided to move on and leave the past behind them. However, the realities of the current situation have raised the issue of looking back and talk about the necessity of justice and reconciliation. A new debate has begun. Who should face such a tribunal and who should not has become the issue. In many instances, including the Liberia Leadership Conference of Bethesda, the focus has been on Charles Taylor. Others want to include everyone who took an active part in the civil war. There was the issue of amnesty couched in the peace accord. To clarify this issue, we went back to the text of the first document in the peace process that mentioned "amnesty". Here is what the Cotonou Accord says:
"The parties [ULIMO, NPFL, IGNU/AFL] agree that upon the execution of this agreement, there shall be a general amnesty granted to all persons and parties involved in the Liberian civil conflict in the course of actual military engagements. Accordingly, acts committed by the parties or by their forces while in actual combat or on authority of any of the parties in the course of actual combat are hereby granted amnesty. Similarly, the parties agree that business transactions legally carried out by any of the parties hereto with private business institutions in accordance with the laws of Liberia shall in like manner be covered by the amnesty herein granted." Cotonou Accord, July 25, 1993 - Signed by Dr. Amos C. Sawyer, President of the IGNU; Nicephore Soglo, President of Benin, Chairman of ECOWAS; James Jonas, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General; Canaan Banana, Special Envoy of the OAU Secretary General, Enoch Dogolea, Vice-President of the NPRAG/NPFL; Alhaji G.V. Kromah, Chairman, ULIMO.
In recent discussion of the possibility of war crimes tribunal for Liberia and who would face such a sitting, many writers do not hesitate to argue that many people would be called before such a court. The Cotonou Accord was implemented and only the Interim Government fulfilled its promises: Dr. Amos Sawyer stepped down from the presidency and allow the collective leadership formed with members of the warring faction to run the country. However, none of the warring factions complied with any element of the accord. The checkpoints were never dismantled; the LNTG never had access to any part of the national territory nor to the resources in areas under the control of the two warring factions; hostilities did not stop.
Right after the LNTG came to power in 1994, Dr. George Boley opened a new front in Southeastern Liberia with the Liberia Peace Council while ULIMO fractured into two militias who fought each other. The Lofa Defense Force came to existence under François Massaquoi. There was a renewal of fighting. Meanwhile, exploitation of natural resources, from timber to gold and diamond continued unabated in all the territories controlled by the factions. Hostilities continue until 1996, when all the contradictory forces came to clash in Monrovia and led to the April fracas.
During the same period, that spanned from 1994 - 1996, many accords were signed, amending the Cotonou document.
1. Are the warring factions protected by the Cotonou Accord Amnesty clause although they did not fulfill their part of the contract?
2. Are other players exonerated from crimes committed after the execution of the Cotonou Accord?
3. Does the fact that no other accord - from Accra 1994 to Abuja 1996 - amending the Cotonou Accord revisited the issue of Amnesty nullify this clause?
We raised the issue with some Liberian lawyers and we got two opposing views. The first opinion states that the fact that the warring factions did not fulfill their part of the contract after the signing of the accord does not nullify the amnesty clause in the Cotonou Accord. The lawyer goes on to say that the amnesty applies only to those crimes committed before Cotonou and that people should focus their attention on what happened since that time.
The second opinion was that the amnesty clause as the rest of the Cotonou document became null and void from the moment the warring factions refused to apply the other aspects of the Accord - disarmament, surrender of territories, etc.
This all means that whatever the case may be, any person who participated in the war, at least since the Cotonou Accord of July 25, 1993, is amendable to the War Crimes tribunal if ever one is instituted to look at war crimes in Liberia. This could be linked to human right abuses, which all factions indulged in or for economic crimes, which all factions leaders committed.
A few people make reference to the President of the Interim Government. The fact that he lived up to his obligation under the Cotonou Accord frees him from the possibility of facing a war crimes tribunal. The Black Berets he is accused of training were disbanded long before Cotonou and contrary to what many believe, the President of the Interim Government was never the Commander-In-Chief of ECOMOG and could never order the peacekeeping force to carry out any military activity.
The issue of war crime is now being raised because many Liberians see it as the only alternative to violence. They believe that short of violence, an indictment of Charles is the only way to push him away. This is all happening because the government was not able to live up to the lowest expectations from the people of Liberia.
Nothing much was expected from the Taylor government. Those who knew the realities of government did not expect him to bring in billions of dollars overnight to fix the problems of water, electricity, resettlement of IDPs and refugees and the many chronic and lingering issues of Liberia. Certainly nobody expected him to correct the social problems created by generations of polarization. The major issue for Liberians was an atmosphere of peace and tranquility where they could slowly put their lives back together. Rather than repatriation, there was the greatest mass exodus towards refugee camps ever seen since 1990. The whole country seems like a giant displaced camp and social problems have been rendered acute. Anyone who has dared criticized the regime in anyway possible is now in exile or underground when not languishing in jail.
It is in response to this total political bankruptcy that Liberians are now talking about war crimes tribunal. No citizen who loves his her country would ever wish to see their leader facing a tribunal. It is because they love their country so much that Liberians now want Taylor to face a war crimes tribunal. There is no contradiction.
Kaddafi, rice of shame
It was recently reported that the Libyan ambassador gave 36,000 bags of rice to the First Lady of Liberia for distribution. Nice gesture. But this is not what we want from the country of the man who is now "seeing" the light after causing the destruction of our country. Kaddafi needs to stand next to his thugs whenever they face the military tribunal in Freetown for his role of arming, training and financing certainly the deadliest group of killers in the history of West Africa and destroying two countries, killing hundred of thousands. Hungry Liberians will accept the rice of shame but Kaddafi has more to pay. Libya must be made to finance the reconstruction of our destroyed infrastructure and answer for the death, torture and maiming of hundreds of thousands of people in Liberia and in Sierra Leone.
Kaddafi, the people of Liberia do not need your rice of shame, they want their country back and they want it rebuild and they want compensation for their dead and tortured just as Libya has accepted to pay for the lives of the people killed by Libyan terrorists in Lockerbie. 36 000 bags of rice for 250,000 dead? What a shame. The equation is here and simple: 2 billion dollars for the 260 people of Lockerbie and rice for 250,000 dead Africans... Is this oil and cash power as political tool? We don't buy your new conversion to democracy nor your new sense of camaraderie with sub-Saharan Africa. Not until you repair the damages you have done in Liberia and in Sierra Leone.
Rambling in the opposition
The recent exchanges between certain politicians and the press are to be seen healthy exercises. It brings to the surface contradictions that sometimes many would like to ignore but that are a necessary step in the evolution of our politics. First Boimah Fahnbulleh launched an attack on Tom Kamara and then it was Alhaji Kromah assailingGeorge Nubo, the managing editor of The Perspective. Many of our politicians still have to learn that journalists and praise-singers are two different types of people. This has been the attitude of political leaders in Liberia. This is what Taylor does at home. Critics are locked up, tortured and sometimes killed. Out here, in the land of free expression, they are insulted, dragged into the mud and reminded that they "are nobodies." It is therefore easy to assume that if Boimah or Alhaji were president, and Tom and George Nubo were publishing their papers in Monrovia, they would be in jail, just like Hassan Bility. One just has to look at the expression of anger, the amount of personal insults contained in those articles published by Boimah and Alhaji to see to what extend they wanted to hurt these people. Our politicians must learn to accept criticisms, especially from the press. Alhaji, a professional journalist should know better. For both Alhaji and Boimah, this uncalled attack on the press was at best a combination of arrogance and naiveté. The press is but a medium and one does not slap the messenger. There is always a price, especially for politicians.
Finally Archbishop Francis, again...
The Guardian newspaper in Monrovia last week quoted Archbishop Michael Francis as saying: "Government will protect exiled Liberians..." He adds, "This time, we will prove our detractors wrong as well as those opting for failure on grounds that resolution from this conference will not implemented." The emphasis on the "we" is ours, because we are trying to figure out since when Bishop Michael Francis has become part of the decision making process or acquired the capacity to enforce anything in the Taylor government... or does he? Whatever the case may be, it is just a matter of time before the conference ends and we would all be pleased if the promises of the Bishop are kept. He put himself in a very delicate position by making promises on behalf of Taylor... Has he asked President Carter, Blaise Compaore, Sam Dokie, Amos Sawyer, Charles Brumskine and many others to whom Taylor had pledged his friendship and commitment to democracy and peace?
But again, Rome is about faith and hope. Let's pray that Bishop Francis is right. That Taylor would free all the prisoners of conscience, lift the state of emergency, disarm his army of thugs, open the economy to Liberians, start some process of accountability in the government and allow Liberians to think and speak freely without being on their knees or their back...