Monday, May 26

An end to impunity in Africa?

Charles Taylor is not the only former African head of state who is accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes and is being prosecuted. Today it was announced that Ethiopia’s Supreme Court has sentenced former Ethiopian ruler Mengistu – in absentia – to death. Already in 2006 Mengistu was found guilty of genocide after a 12-year trial and was sentenced to life in prison, but the State prosecutor lodged an appeal to demand the death sentence for the Red Emperor and his aides. The ‘Red Emperor’ – Mengistu’s nick-name – has lived in Zimbabwe since 1991. President Robert Mugabe has said he will not be extradited, but a presidential run-off is due next month in Zimbabwe and in case opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai would win the elections, this decision could be subject to change.

In Senegal, another former African ruler is hunted. Since 1999 the victims of Chad’s exiled former president Hissène Habré are pressing the government of Senegal to prosecute Habré, accused of crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture committed during his 1982-1990 rule. Ex-dictator Habré was first indicted in Senegal in 2000 and the Senegalese authorities even arrested him in November 2005. The following year, in July 2006, the African Union mandated Senegal to prosecute Habré, to which Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade agreed. Unfortunately, for several reason the Senegalese government is delaying opening proceedings against the former Chadian dictator who has lived in exile in Dakar, capital of Senegal, since 1990.

What do these three cases teach us?

I think that it is too early to conclude that the trials against Taylor and Mengistu and the efforts to bring Habré to trial announce a new dawn in Africa, more justice, less impunity. But they do give hope. However, recent political developments in Ethiopia where Meles Zenawi cracks down on the opposition, the refusal of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe to step down and the outburst of xenophobia in South Africa are opposite signs. How should we appreciate what happens? One step forwards, two steps backwards – or two steps forwards, one step backwards?

Related links:
Ethiopia’s Supreme Court sentences Mengistu to death:

Human Rights Watch: The case against Hissène Habré:

Open letter to the international and African communities from the International Committee for the fair trial of Hissène Habré:

Senegal: Ex-dictator of Chad arrested:


Friday, May 16

Taylor ’s machine of death and the people behind him

I have been reading for the past six hours the proceedings of Chief Prosecutor Stephen Rapp’s examination of Charles Taylor’s former Vice-President, Moses Blah, and related websites. Moses Blah became President of Liberia after Taylor’s resignation following international pressure in 2003. During three days, May 14 – 16, former Liberian President Moses Blah unravelled Taylor’s machine of death and destruction, inspired by his hunger for wealth and power. Without any doubt, Blah’s testimony will turn out to be one of the most crucial contributions to the trial of the Liberian war-lord President Charles Taylor.

But I was not only struck by Charles Taylor’s greed, his apparant ruthless and heartless character, and the confirmation of cannibalistic practices, encouraged or condoned by the war-lord President. Blah also confirmed the international character of what seemed to be a civil war in Liberia and Sierra Leone. This is another devastating part of his testimony.

The civil wars that raged in Sierra Leone and Liberia as from the late 1980s and the 1990s (Sierra Leone) and until the early part of the 21st century (Liberia) were not merely a part of nation-building in these countries nor where they the result of a struggle for political power of groups with opposing views as to how to organise the country. In reality, they were organised crimes at a large scale. Criminals disguided as politicians determined these nations’ history.

The international context and support of the civil wars and brutalities – through arms deliveries, training, military and financial support - in Sierra Leone and Liberia, confirmed by Blah during his testimony, are extremely important, not only to determine and judge Charles Taylor’s role and responsibiliy, but also to look at his accomplices. There are many.

Among these accomplices are not only Liberians (like Benjamin Yeaten, ‘Zigzag’ Marzah, Cyril Allen, Taylor’s son Chuck Taylor and Grace Minor, to name just a few) but also others, the most known being RUF rebel leader Foday Sankoh (Sierra Leone), President Muammar Gadhafi (Libya) and President Blaise Compaoré (Burkina Faso). Moses Blah confirmed that the governments of Libya, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast supported Taylor’s 1989 invasion of Liberia. Training camps in Libya and Burkina Faso, cooperation with rebels from the Gambia, support from Ivory Coast, involvement of Guinea, Ghana and Nigeria: the wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia were not merely civil wars.

Is it likely that the wars and turmoil in West Africa, and in particular their international background, went unnoticed in European counties or North America? I cannot speak for other countries than the Netherlands, and even in that case I have to be prudent since I certainly do not know all details. Nevertheless, I dare to say that the Dutch government was not aware of all the foregoing and my sincere guess is that this was no exception.

But, isn’t that amazing? All these (developed) countries are member of international organizations, which are active in the region, whereas most of these European and North American countries have well-staffed and equipped embassies reporting on events and trends in the region. How well-informed are they, how competent are they, how reliable is their reporting? What do we – outside the West African region – know and understand what happens in the region? Yet, non-African presidents and other politicians pretend they know what happens behind the curtains.

I have my doubts.

Related links:
Trial of Charles Taylor Blog:

Charles Taylor trial advances at sustained pace: http://www.hirondellenews.com/content/view/1984/329/

Witness: Gadhafi helped Taylor to take over Liberia:

President Charles Ghankay Taylor 1997 – 2003: The war-lord President

Blah diggs into Taylor’s bloody past:

Blah cites death threats in war crimes tribunal

“This type of things happen at war”:

BBC Profile of Moses Blah:


Friday, May 2

Charles Taylor had about US$ 5 billion in private US bank accounts during his presidency! At least, that is what his chief prosecutor, Stephen Rapp, announced today. I was flabbergasted when I heard the news. I could not believe my ears listening to the radio report hearing the shocking details. Five billion dollars! The first thought that came to my mind was: ‘This cannot be true’. But the authority of the chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone is supposed to be beyond any doubt. Subsequently I thought: ‘This equals the total Liberian debt’ - see my posting of March 19, below. Then I thought: ‘Where did all this money come from?’ I sat back, puzzled. How on earth could someone gather five billion dollars? More important maybe, why should someone amass such a fortune? It reminded me of well-known kleptocratic rulers like Indonesian President Suharto, Philippine President Marcos, President Mobutu of then Zaire, and the Nigerian President Abacha. They enriched themselves at the expense of the population. If it were true, then former President Charles Taylor would be among the Top Five kleptocratic rulers of the last hundred years! But whereas Indonesia, the Philippines, the Democratic Republic of Congo (former Zaire) and Nigeria are big countries with a large population, Liberia is small country.

For the time being I refuse to accept the implication that former Liberian President Charles Taylor stole US$ 5 billion from the Liberian people. He always denied he had secret bank accounts and boasted that if any secret funds were found he would turn them over to the Liberian people. It is also shocking to realise that the international community had difficulties in pledging the necessary amount for the functioning of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, some US$ 100 million, an amount which is only a fraction of Taylor’s assumed US$ 5 billion (about 2%).

Chief prosecutor Stephen Rapp said that if Taylor’s monies would be found they would be subject to the existing UN freeze on his assets. He further said that he hoped any money recovered would be shared between the victims of the Sierra Leone civil war and the Liberian state, if Charles Taylor was found guilty.

I fully agree with Rapp.

Related links: