While the United States advocates for international criminal justice, it may be ignoring human rights abuses closer to home.
By Richard Falk
From all that we know, Charles Taylor deserves to be held criminally accountable for his role in the atrocities committed in Sierra Leone during the period 1998-2002. Taylor was then President of Liberia, and did his best to encourage violent uprisings against the governments in neighbouring countries so as to finance his own bloody schemes and extend his regional influence.
It is fine that Charles Taylor was convicted of 11 counts of aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity of the rebel militias that committed atrocities of an unspeakable nature, and that he will be sentenced in early May. And it may further impress liberal commentators that fair legal procedures and diligent judicial oversight led to Taylor’s acquittal with respect to the more serious charges of ‘command responsibility’or ‘joint criminal enterprise.’ Surely, the circumstantial evidence sufficiently implicated Taylor in knowingly micromanaging of the crimes that it would have seemed reasonable to hold him criminally responsible for the acts performed, and not just for aiding and abetting in their commission. I share the view that it is desirable to lean over backwards to establish a reputation of fairness in dealing with accusations under international criminal law. It is better not to convict defendants involving crimes of state when strong evidence is absent to uphold specific charges beyond any reasonable doubt. In this respect, the Taylor conviction seems restrained, professional, and not vindictive or politically motivated.
Should we be hypocrites and punish those whose crimes offend the geopolitical gatekeepers? Or should we insist that law, to be law, it must be applied consistently?
What is dramatically ironic about the whole picture is that the United States is the number one advocate of international criminal justice for others. President Obama has even taken the unprecedented step on 23 April 2012 of establishing an Atrocity Prevention Board under the authority of the National Security Council, and headed by Samantha Power a prominent human rights activist who has been serving in his administration.
Heeding the sound of one hand clapping it might be well to remember that the United States more than any country in the world holds itself self-righteously aloof from accountability on the main ground that any international judicial process might be tainted by politicised motivations! If international criminal adjudication is so benevolent when prominent Africans are convicted, why does the same not hold for Americans? Given the structure of influence in the world there exists more reason for Africans to be suspicious of such procedures than Americans who fund such efforts, and are so influential behind the scenes.
Where does this line of reasoning end? Should we be hypocrites and punish those whose crimes offend the geopolitical gatekeepers? Or should we insist that law, to be law, must be applied consistently? At least these questions should be asked, inviting a spirit of humility to emerge, especially among liberals in the West.