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Charles Taylor Sentencing Triumph of Rule of Law over Impunity

30th May, 2012/..The verdict and final sentencing of former Liberian President Charles Taylor is a landmark triumph of justice and accountability over impunity, International Center for Policy and Conflict said today.

Although  the ruling does not mean that the thousands of Sierra Leonean  victims who died will be resurrected, or those whose limbs were amputated will get their limbs back, or that those who were raped will feel whole instead of violated again, it is a win for the Sierra Leone people and accountability processes in that those  bearing the greatest responsibility for what happened to them, like Taylor, have been held to account in a court of law after a fair trial meeting all the guarantees of due process under international human rights law.

 It also means that no one is above the law, without exception. It sends a deterrence message to leaders considering committing serious crimes in violation of international law: even those at the highest level, that they will be held accountable for their actions. Justice cannot be carried out in isolation of the victims of the crimes.

Symbolically, it says that the international community cared enough about what happened to the victims in Sierra Leone by setting up the Special Court for Sierra Leone to try the people who were responsible for the crimes committed against them.

It further sends the message that you must have justice to have sustainable peace. People of Sierra Leone will begin to understand that the rule of law is more powerful than the rule of the gun or political power.

While the years of bloodshed cannot be reversed, some comfort can be found in the efforts of both the government of Sierra Leone and the international community to fight against impunity and to exact justice on the perpetrators of these crimes.

 ICPC further observes that there is no doubt that the verdict is a major victory for the prosecution and a major triumph for international criminal law.  It sounds loud warning bells across the world warning tyrants who commit crimes against humanity, war crimes and other violations that the arm of the law will catch up with them. It is a vindication to the efforts to help countries and people out of conflict without compromising justice.

However, it is unfortunate and a sad moment for the countless Liberian victims of Charles Taylor’s atrocious crimes. It is only proper that the international community take appropriate measure to bring to justice, Charles Taylor’s accomplices who are walking scot free in Liberia despite their heinous crimes.

Flowing from Taylor’s verdict, ICPC calls and challenges national governments across Africa and other parts of the world to guarantee that suffering populations can be vindicated wherever and whenever genocide, war crimes and such other serious violations are committed. This can be done by putting in place credible, impartial and genuine courts in which the criminals can be held accountable; a court that puts an end to an endemic culture of impunity; a court where ‘acting under orders' is no defence; a court where all individuals in a government hierarchy or military chain of command, without exception, from rulers to private soldiers, must answer for their actions.

We remind political leaders that greater will and commitment is needed to accelerate accountability and to operationalize legislation, policy and action at the national level for atrocities committed against innocent population.

On February 12, 2009 the Kenyan Parliament voted against a Constitutional Amendment Bill that would have established an almost similar proposed tribunal made up of Kenyan and international judges. The Waki Commission had set a deadline of January 30, 2009 to pass the prerequisite legislation but on February 24, 2009 Chief Mediator Kofi Annan granted the government of Kenya more time to re-introduce the Bill. However, despite many unfulfilled promises from the government of Kenya, the setting up of a special tribunal failed as MPs demanded the handover of Waki Commission report to the International Criminal Court. They held rallies saying “Let us not be vague, let us go to Hague” with some even declaring Hague will take 90years to happen. This was a clear strategy to defeat justice and accountability for Post-Election violence serious crimes.  

Background Information and significance contributions of such Special Tribunals

On 26th April 2012, the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) found former Liberian President Charles Taylor guilty of having aided and abetted war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international law for his role in supporting Sierra Leone rebel groups during the armed conflict. President Taylor is the first former head of State to be judged by an international tribunal since the Nuremburg trials following the Second World War.

The Special Court in Sierra Leone is considered the first war crimes tribunal to explicitly expose and administer justice for abuses perpetrated on or by children.

These special tribunals have not only set new precedents in holding perpetrators accountable for grave violations of child rights. They have also contributed to the development of an important body of jurisprudence that can strengthen and inform future practice. From the work of tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, for example, there is now greater clarity on questions of rape as a war crime and crime against humanity, the elements of genocide, the definition of torture, the nature of individual criminal responsibility and the doctrine of command responsibility.

Although internationalized criminal tribunals represent progress in ending impunity and restoring a measure of justice and rule of law, ad hoc, temporary or external measures can never replace a functioning national justice system. At its core, the rule of law is based on a strong national criminal justice that is independent and credible; properly financed, equipped and trained; and empowered to uphold human rights and rule of law, even under difficult circumstances.

Signed by:

Ndung’u Wainaina

Executive Director, ICPC

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