By Walter Chari
â€œ…And here I am, a former African Head of State who has been transplanted from our continent to an isolated jail cell in the Netherlands, awaiting trial at the hands of a court behind which the powerful nations are to be found,… Today it is me and God only knows who it will be tomorrowâ€.This was written by the former Liberian President, Charles Taylor in one of his many letters since 2007 to the leaders of the African Union, ECOWAS and other continental statesmen soon after Nigeria so infamously handed him over to the West after having promised to help him. Taylor had been hounded for Liberia and much like with Muammar Gaddafi in Libya right now, there was no real pity for a man many people viewed as a warlord in expensive clothing.
But just as with Gaddafi now, there was and still is a lot of rancour about the manner in which the West took it upon themselves to intervene in Africaâ€™s affairs so that they could impose a regime that was better suited to them than to the people of the continent and more importantly the people of Liberia.
Taylor pleaded for the â€œformation of a commission to look into the political and legal underpinnings of how I ended up in Europe to face trial and their implications for other African Heads of States and Governmentâ€. The very manner in which Taylor came to be in the hands of the ICC says a lot about the disdain with which Africa is held by the West.
It was in 2006. Taylor was in Ghana and was engaged in peace talks sponsored by the African Union and the UN to end Liberiaâ€™s civil strife. Present at those talks were the host, John Kuffour, South Africaâ€™s Thabo Mbeki, Mozambiqueâ€™s Joaquim Chissano, Nigeriaâ€™s Olusegun Obasanjo and Sierra Leoneâ€™s Tejan Kabbah.
An indictment was sent via email, they did not even have the courtesy of sending an emissary to the Ghanaian government, while a Press conference was being held far away in Sierra Leone to announce to the world that Taylor would face a slew of charges revolving around alleged crimes against humanity (he is now facing 11 charges related to the war in Sierra Leone).
Kuffour, seeing that things were getting out of hand, put Taylor on his own presidential jet and flew him to Monrovia. The New African magazine (March 2004) subsequently quoted Kuffour saying he â€œfelt betrayed by the international communityâ€ by the manner in which the Taylor issue was being handled.
â€œFive African presidents were meeting in Accra to find ways of kick-starting the Liberian peace process, and Mr. Taylor had been invited as President of Liberia. We were not even aware that a warrant had been issued for his arrest. Incidentally, the African leadership had taken the initiative to convince Mr Taylor to resign and allow all the factions in Liberia to negotiate. It was when the presidents were leaving my office for the Conference Centre where Mr. Taylor was expected to make a statement that word came in that a warrant had been issued for his arrest. I really felt betrayed by the international community (and) I informed the United States of the embarrassment that the announcement caused.â€
Observers said Africaâ€™s anger at the time stemmed from the fact that it seemed the warrant for Taylorâ€™s arrest was deliberately issued to scupper the Liberian peace talks and showed no respect for their efforts (echoes of what is happening in Libya?). New African wrote:
â€œThe then chief prosecutor of the Court, the American lawyer David Crane, perhaps thinking about the interests of his home government more than the interests of West Africans, may have calculated that a successful conclusion of the Accra talks would lead to elections in Liberia fixed for July 2003 which were likely to be won by Taylor and his NPP party.
â€œThat was bad news for the external agenda and the earlier the talks were nipped in the bud, the better. The plan worked! The talks continued in Accra though. Taylor agreed to step down as President if he were seen as the impediment to peace. And on 11 August 2003, he duly relinquished power and went into exile in Nigeria, after an-immunity-from prosecution deal had been arranged and secured by the African Union, ECOWAS, the UN and the US and UK governments…The understanding was that Taylor would continue to be protected by the Nigerian government and would not be handed over to the Special Court (for Sierra Leone). To give him double assurance, Presidents Kuffour, Mbeki, Chissano and Obasanjo accompanied him to the Nigerian capital, Abuja, on the first leg of the journey into exile…
â€œBut contrary to the deal, the Special Court and Western human rights groups with an agenda to push got some 300 African NGOs to back a public relations campaign to force Nigeria to hand over Taylor. Lawsuits were hastily arranged in Nigeria and Obasanjo, facing unpopularity at home for his plan to seek a third term, began to bow to the pressure by making one fateful promise: he would only hand over Taylor to an elected Liberian president who makes the request and to that effect, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who had initially stated correctly that the Taylor issue was not a priority, came under intense pressure from Washington and the human rights community as her recent visit to the US loomedâ€.
Today, Taylor is at the Hague, but before his trial began he issued that stark warning: â€œToday it is me and God only knows who it will be tomorrow.â€
In June 2008, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant of arrest to the Sudanese president Omar al- Bashir over the Darfur crisis, becoming the first sitting head of state in the world to be indicted by the ICC. Other notable African figures to be also arrested or indicted by the ICC was the former Vice President in the interim government of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Jean Pierre Bemba who was arrested and extradited to the Hague in May 2008.
The ICCâ€™s rather overzealous Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who certainly appears to have no real sense of justice seeing as he rushes to indict Gaddafi, but has never uttered a word about George W Bush and Tony Blair over Iraq and Afghanistan, stands before a compliant Western media waving these indictments at the drop of a hat.
It is also rather strange that the United States, itself not a signatory of the Rome Statute that created the ICC, is always at the centre of pushing for African and Eastern European leaders to be taken to the Hague.
The Israeli government kills with impunity on a daily basis unarmed civilians in Palestine and the ICC is mum about it. Right now Franceâ€™s Nicolas Sarkozy, fresh from taking the United Nations to the level of aggressors in Cote dâ€™Ivoire is all over the show in Libya and ordering airstrikes on Tripoli in a bid to assassinate Gaddafi.
Britain right now refuses to repatriate the Islanders of Chagos to their homes after they were forcibly and brutally removed between 1968 and 1971 to make way for the American military base on Diego Garcia. All these are holocaust that are in the public glare, but Moreno- Ocampo is somehow blind to all this.
What has to be granted is that the world really does need an international court, but is the ICC as it is what we need? Was the ICC created to hound African leaders and those of smaller nations alone? Is the ICC a calculated assault on Africans to prove to the world that the continent is barbaric and needs someone as excitable as Moreno-Ocampo to bring order and development?
The world has seen rape, torture, gross human rights abuses and looting of oil and historical artefacts in Iraq and Afghanistan, but no one associated with these wars has come within even a sniff of the Hague.
Guantanamo Bay, itself located on occupied Cuban territory in defiance of international law, continues to exist and no one knows what manner of abuses are going on in there, even as Barack Obama has the nerve to tell the world about â€œchangeâ€. The US continues to torture prisoners of its â€œwar on terrorâ€ in other territories so that it does not have to torture them on American soil, but no murmur is heard from Moreno-Ocampo.
The swiftness with which the ICC prosecutor has managed to â€œinvestigateâ€ and collect â€œevidenceâ€ in Libya against Gaddafi is astonishing to say the least. It took nearly a decade for the ICC to collect evidence and testimony on the â€œwar crimesâ€ in the former Yugoslavia. Even after the investigations, the tribunal prosecuted only three Bosnian Serb commanders and the former President Slobodan Milosevic died while in detention.
At present, there are 22 cases currently before the ICC, all of them pertaining to crimes allegedly committed in five African states: Kenya, Sudan (Darfur), Uganda (the Lordâ€™s Resistance Army), the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.
Moreno-Ocampo is yet to secure any convictions, but not for lack of trying. Apart from his Libya charade, he is conducting â€œpreliminary examinationsâ€ in Guinea, Nigeria and Cote dâ€™Ivoire among others.
Obama administration officials have expressed support for ICC prosecutions in both Sudan and Kenya (never mind that they will not be party to the Rome Statute).
That is the kind of world that we live in.
In the face of all this, it is no great wonder that the civilised world has ignored Moreno-Ocampoâ€™s bleating about arresting al -Bashir and consigning him to the Hague. African Union commission chair, Jean Ping earlier this year said: â€œWe Africans and the African Union are not against the International Criminal Court. That should be clear. We are against (Moreno) Ocampo who is rendering justice with double standards…Why not Argentina, why not Myanmar… why not Iraq?â€
It should also be borne in mind that no one has ever left ICC either free or alive. It is essentially a hanging court! Africa should dissociate itself from the ICC until Moreno-Ocampo develops a conscience of sorts or better still is relieved of his duties.
This article has also appeared in the Southern Times. Additional information was written by Mabasa Sasa.
The opinions expressed in this article are the authorâ€™s and do not necessarily represent those of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.