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Taylor verdict threatens Africa - senator

Publish date: 08 May 2012
Issue Number: 477
Diary: Legalbrief Africa Old
Category: African Focus

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor's conviction for aiding war crimes in Sierra Leone is a trap for all African leaders, a spokesperson for the Taylor family has claimed.

'We believe that the trial and subsequent conviction of Mr Taylor is a trap that has been set up for African leaders by Western leaders,' Sando Johnson, a Liberian senator, is quoted as saying in a report on the News24 site. It notes Taylor was found guilty by a special court in the Netherlands on 26 April of war crimes and crimes against humanity for supporting Sierra Leonean rebels in exchange for diamonds during their 10-year war. Johnson argued that African leaders needed to close ranks and warned that those of them tempted to reach out to Western powers would regret it, according to the report which says Johnson also predicted that the sentence would not be heavy. However, the chief prosecutor at a UN-backed tribunal said Taylor should be punished with a sentence of 80 years, according to a report in The Guardian. Sentencing for the 11 counts of which he was found guilty - including murder, rape, sexual slavery, enforced amputations and pillage carried out - is scheduled to take place on 30 May. The report says prosecutor Brenda Hollis argued that: 'Taylor was not a simple weapons procurer or financier who sat on the sidelines of a civil war raging in a neighbouring country ...His positions both as President of Liberia and within the west African regional bodies distinguish him from any other individual that has appeared before this court. Taylor's abuse of his authority and influence is especially egregious given that West African leaders repeatedly entrusted him with a role to facilitate peace. The findings reveal the reality of Taylor's role in the peace process, noting that 'while the accused publicly played a substantial role in the Sierra Leone peace process secretly he was fuelling hostilities between the AFRC/RUF and the democratically elected authorities in Sierra Leone, by urging the former not to disarm and actively providing them with arms and ammunition ... acting as a two-headed Janus'.' Full report on the News24 site Full report in The Guardian

The Taylor verdict coincided with the case relating to DRC diplomat Rachidi Ezokola. The DRC's representative at the UN in New York fled to Canada in 2008 with his wife and their eight children, and claimed refugee status. The family lives in Montreal. Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board ruled that Ezokola, as a person believed to have been complicit in crimes against humanity, was not eligible for refugee status. In an editorial, the Montreal Gazette notes that if the Supreme Court uses this case to set out new guidelines by which to assess complicity, it will become part of a legal trend driven by international courts. 'The Taylor verdict represents a substantial step forward for international justice: even if a state is too destabilised or weak to put one-time rulers on trial, there exist international mechanisms to do it. No country in today's world is immune from the pressure of dealing with alleged war criminals or lesser figures in corrupt regimes. In the past few months, Canada has had to handle not only Ezokola, but also Belhassen Trabelsi, brother-in-law of deposed Tunisian president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali. Rules of engagement are needed and should be welcomed.' Full Montreal Gazette editorial

Staying with the DRC, nearly 5 000 people, mostly women, children and the elderly, have been displaced because of fighting in Congo's North Kivu province, the UN refugee agency said. A report on the IoL site notes that clashes between Congo's army and former rebels who joined the army but then left have continued for days in the Masisi region of North Kivu. According to the report, the mutinous soldiers are loyal to notorious ex-warlord Bosco Ntaganda has been serving in the country's army despite an international indictment on war crimes charges. Congo's President in early April called for Ntaganda's arrest, and said he should face a military tribunal in Congo, according to the report which states he said the military doesn't need to hand Ntaganda over to the International Criminal Court (ICC). A report on the News24 site notes that Ntaganda, who is wanted for alleged war crimes including recruiting child soldiers, last week told AFP he was on a farm near Mushaki with the full knowledge of the army and President Joseph Kabila. The Economist reports that in March the ICC convicted another former Congolese rebel leader, Thomas Lubanga, who ravaged another eastern area, for using child soldiers. Full report on the IoL site Full report on the News24 site Full report in The Economist

And, in another case of alleged genocide and other war crimes, Malawi President Joyce Banda has asked the African Union to prevent Sudan's wanted leader Omar Hassan al-Bashir from attending a summit in her country, saying his visit would have 'implications' for the economy. According to a report on the allAfrica.com site, the ICC has issued arrest warrants for Bashir to face charges of masterminding genocide and other war crimes during his nation's Darfur conflict. Malawi angered international donors when it played host to Bashir last year - ICC members countries like Malawi are supposed to arrest people wanted by the global court. Banda, who became President last month with promises to restore relations with donors, said she had asked the AU not to invite Bashir to the African heads of state summit in her country in July. 'Let the AU decide on his position. He (Bashir) should forgive us this time as we are struggling to fix the economy.' Full report on the allAfrica.com site

In other developments, Libya has formally asked the ICC to abandon its legal action against Saif al-Islam Gaddafi and the country's former intelligence chief so that both men can be tried in Tripoli, where they could face the death penalty. The Guardian reports that the 58-page submission, drawn up with the help of British lawyers, argues that the country is restoring its judicial system rapidly and that the men should be tried for their alleged crimes in a national court. Saif al-Islam, who studied at the London School of Economics, was expected to succeed his father, Muammar Gaddafi, the report notes. It says after the regime fell, he was captured last November near the town of Obar while apparently fleeing to Niger. According to the report, the Libyan request, released by the ICC, has been drafted by Philippe Sands, QC, a professor at University College, London, Payam Akhavan, a Canadian international law professor, and Michelle Butler, a barrister in London. Full report in The Guardian

Meanwhile, the trial of the four Kenyans facing charges for crimes against humanity has edged closer with the election of Justice Kuniko Ozaki by the ICC Trial Chamber to preside over the cases. According to a report on the allAfrica.com site, Ozaki will lead Christine Van den Wyngaert and Chile Eboe-Osuji during the trial, which is expected to start soon. The report notes that the announcement comes barely two days after Uhuru Kenyatta and Francis Muthaura asked the court to suspend their trials until handing down a ruling on a case challenging the jurisdiction. Despite widespread debate and a spirited bid by the government to have the cases brought back to Kenya, the report says, the ICC seems determined to proceed. Other attempts have been made by African countries who want ICC cases handled by a regional court. The report notes that the East African Legislative Assembly last week unanimously endorsed and adopted a motion urging East African Community Presidents to call for the transfer of the Kenya post-election violence cases to the East African Court of Justice from The Hague. Full report on the allAfrica.com site