International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Tag Archives: Liberia

The Aftermath of Liberia’s Civil War … and General Butt Naked

During class, there was quite a bit of discussion around Charles Taylor and his trial at The Hague. However, there wasn’t much talk about the current state of Liberia and perpetrators besides Taylor. In this Vice documentary, we see a terribly bleak picture of what it’s like on the ground. The ex-warlords walk around as free men, sometimes still leaders in their communities.

Especially evident in West Point, utter lack of basic needs is rampant. Women are being forced to work as sex workers to pay for basic necessities like food, electronic shops serve as fronts for the large heroin and crack businesses, children are getting high or working as thieves instead of going to school. Throughout the documentary, it seemed as if most people had resigned themselves to this as the status quo.

The latter half of the documentary spotlights Joshua Blahyi, aka General Butt Naked. One of the most notorious warlords during the Liberian Civil War, Blahyi cut open innocent children and fed their blood and hearts to his child soldiers to give them mythical powers. Blahyi himself believed that doing so made him invulnerable to bullets, and throughout the Civil War, he was responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of people. While I found his blatant display of remorse fascinating, I was even more surprised by the fact that he has thus far not been punished for his crimes. Rather, he was pardoned after publicly converting to Christianity and serving as a priest.

Even after watching through the documentary twice, I still find myself conflicted over how sincere Blahyi is. I am pretty certain however, that political motivations underlie Blahyi’s pardon, and given the vast economic and social problems facing the country, in addition to Blahyi’s potential value in rehabilitating ex-child soldiers, I can’t say the pardon was a terrible decision. While Blahyi definitely had his moments of irrationality (i.e.: his “born-again Christian” moment), he appears to be a much more sane, much more reasonable man than I expected given his reputation.

Forced Extraditions of Ivorians in Liberia

The BBC recently reported that the UN refugee agency had expressed concerns over the “forced extradition” of 14 Ivorian refugees who were suspected of being mercenaries and perpetrators of post-election violence in 2011. Over 52,000 Ivorians fled to Liberia after violence engulfed the country. The Liberian government claimed no knowledge of the forced extradition and promised to begin an immediate investigation.

This particular incident highlights some of the difficulties with holding potential perpetrators accountable for their actions, especially when these perpetrators are living in refugee communities. The extradition of these refugees to the Ivory Coast is in clear violation of the principle of non-refoulement. This principle is meant to guarantee the protection of asylum seekers and refugees, preventing forced return to the area from which they fled.

However, former combatants often become part of refugee communities out of a legitimate fear that they might be harmed if they returned. In the case of the Ivorian refugees, their forced extradition could have put them in harms way, placing them in the custody of those that may wish them harm.

Considering large Rwandan refugee population in the DRC, many of whom fled after the RPF forces took control after the genocide, this is not a unique scenario. Here we may see cases where local and national courts do not have the capacity to prosecute perpetrators. It would be interesting to see what kind of considerations the international community has in place for such situations.

 

Was Charles Taylor’s verdict correct?

One of the judges from Charles Taylor’s trial in the Special Court of Sierra Leone this week publicly renounced the judgment against Charles Taylor, stating that there was not enough evidence to prove he was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

As an alternate judge, Judge Sow was not allowed to speak for the court and thus not allowed to offer his dissenting opinion, even though he had witnessed every phase of the trial alongside the other judges. Some observers noted that he attempted to speak after the judgment was read, but his microphone was cut off. Afterwards, Judge Sow’s behavior was renounced by the court and he was barred from sitting in on future proceedings. At the time of the trial, a researcher noticed the absence of Judge Sow’s name on most of the SCSL’s documentation of the trial. 

A reporter tweeted a photo of Judge Sow’s notes for his statement. In his notes, Judge Sow wrote that he was afraid that “the whole system is under grave danger of just losing all credibility, and I’m afraid this whole thing is headed for failure.” 

In an article that will be published in New African magazine in December, Judge Sow said that the SCSL’s judges barely discussed their verdict and had contradictory evidence that he viewed as inconclusive.

International courts are a new project, and their rules and procedures are not always clear to all those involved. Judge Sow believed he was entitled to express his opinion, and many people probably agree with him. While the courts are still in the early stages of developing themselves, I think it’s important that they err on the side of impartiality – making sure all sides have had a chance to be heard, so the final decision can be trusted by the public as not predetermined, but honestly based on the testimony heard. The court’s firm stance on Judge Sow’s comments makes the court seem unwilling to hear dissenting points of view, which is detrimental to justice and the court’s reputation.

Coalition for Justice in Liberia

In order to prosecute the perpetrators of various war crimes in Liberia, five human rights organizations have announced the development of a coalition, the Coalition for Justice in Liberia, “to advocate for justice, create awareness, and campaign for the establishment of an international tribunal to prosecute perpetrators of war,” thus utilizing a major part of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia. The coalition described in some detail what they plan to do to uphold justice for the victims of the Liberia wars and unsurprisingly, many of their propositions are reminiscent of those commonly employed for transitional justice, like in the ICTY and ICTR. For example, they plan to strengthen the rule of law in Liberia, advocate reparations, memorials, and establish a war crimes court for Liberia. However considering some of the questions of the effectiveness of international criminal tribunals, the goals of this coalition seem a little over-ambitious. I just wonder what they will do differently to tackle to the problems that they will probably face that other criminal tribunals have dealt with.

Transitional Justice from a Female Perspective

Last Monday I attended a screening at the CSGS of the film, Pray the Devil Back to Hell (http://www.praythedevilbacktohell.com/index.php), which tells the story of a group of Liberian women who attempted to put an end to the violence in Liberia, perpetuated by Charles Taylor’s regime and the group of rebels, LURD, trying to overthrow Taylor’s regime. The film credits the women with playing a large part in ensuring that the peace conference in Ghana occurred and that a peace treaty was signed. Additionally, the first female president in the African continent was elected shortly after all of these events occurred.

The blog for the movie (http://praythedevilbacktohell.com/blog/) links to another article on Slate where women in Togo used similar tactics to the women in Liberia, such as a sex strike, to encourage the resignation of Togo’s president.

Additionally, the International Center for Transitional Justice wrote a report titled “Liberia is Not Just a Man Thing: Transitional Justice Lessons for Women, Peace, and Security”, where they explored some transitional justice mechanisms from a gendered perspective, looking at how women have participated in and benefited from transitional justice processes and what reforms have been made to ensure that sexual crimes are not committed again.

In the past, there has not been much specific attention paid to the punishment of perpetrators of sexual violence and reparations paid to women who have suffered from rape and other forms of sexual violence. Should special efforts be made to focus on women specifically during the transitional justice process? Should women be given priority in the truth-telling process during truth commissions? How can this problem of not fully punishing and providing reparations for sexual violence be solved?

Charles Taylor Trial Verdict

Huge news!  Charles Taylor that was accused of war crimes including the use of child soldiers will have his verdict on April 26th!  The Washington Post article gives some basic information about basic background behind Taylor and who he was and what he did, the number of witnesses used from both the prosecution and the defense, and the significance of the release of this verdict on the international community.  Let us remember that Charles Taylor “is the first former African head of state to be prosecuted at an international tribunal” which is why this news is so big.  One of the witnesses used was supermodel Naomi Campbell, while Taylor himself testified on his behalf by denying all charges against him in a matter of 13 short weeks.

This article not only touches on all aspects of the Taylor trial, it also brings up that the ICC will deliver the verdict of Lubanga’s trial later on this month.  With that said, it seems that we have an exciting two months ahead of us and I am sure we will be following it closely in class.

I also wanted to bring up that I noticed that the title of this article is “UN-backed court says it will deliver verdicts next month in Charles Taylor war crimes trial.”  I found this interesting because when we watch or see anything related to the ICC in Al-Jazeera or France 24, it is referred to correctly as the ICC or the International Criminal Court.  The Washington Post, an American newspaper, called the ICC the “UN-backed court” as if ICC is not independent from the UN.  It also brings up the point that the ICC is not very talked about in the United States, no doubt due to the fact that the US is not a member state of the ICC.  This was just an observation but feel free to agree or disagree.  I just thought it was an interesting choice for a title to this article.

“The Redemption of General Butt Naked”

No joke….this is a real person, and a perpetrator of extreme atrocities.

The above is the title of a documentary film that is playing at Sundance this year that chronicles of the life of a former Liberian warlord who is responsible for murdering thousands amidst a civil war that was rife with child soldiers and fueled by blood diamonds. At Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission he confessed his responsibility for the killing of approximately 20,000 people.  He is now a Christian preacher who renounces violence, helps to socially reconstruct his community, and seeks redemption and  forgiveness.

This fascinating Daily Mail article from Nov, 2010 details the story and asks whether or not it is possible to forgive the “most evil man in the world” and provide justice to victims. And an interesting short BBC segment on General Butt Naked available on YouTube.

We’re not yet into our readings and discussions on truth commissions and related topic of reconciliation, but it’s an interesting case of different conceptions and expectations of justice.