Opinion

The case against Kaddafi: Will Charles Taylor “Name and Shame" him?

13 November 2007 at 09:27 | 901 views

By Professor Hassan B. Sisay, Wisconsin, USA.

As 2008 approaches, the day of reckoning for Charles Taylor draws closer. Soon the former president of Liberia will have his day in court to answer to charges of multiple heinous crimes he allegedly committed against the citizens of Liberia and Sierra Leone.

According to various documented accounts, rebel groups backed by Blaise Campaore of Burkina Faso, financed by Moammar Kaddafi of Libya and sponsored by Taylor, meted out unspeakable brutality and savagery on the citizens of Sierra Leone and Liberia during the civil wars in both countries.

While Taylor is not facing trial for his heinous abuses of human rights and use of violence to hold on to power in his country, his actions in Sierra Leone will soon be subjected to intense international scrutiny at the Hague. Emphatically, I concur with famed Liberian journalist Abdoulaye W. Dukule’s assertion that: AFTER CHARLES TAYLOR, the international community should go after MOAMMAR KADDAFI...AND BLAISE COMPAORE’.

The UN Panel of Experts Report on Diamonds and Arms in Sierra Leone “ found conclusive evidence of supply lines to the RUF through Burkina Faso, Niger and Liberia.” Without the money, recruitment of rebels and logistic support provided by the above, thousands of our compatriots would be alive today.

For his involvement in the Lockerbie bombing that led to the deaths of about 300 people, Gaddafi paid his victims families $3 billion. Imagine how much he owes Liberia and Sierra Leone for financing Charles Taylor and his rebel militias who killed and maimed nearly half a million people. All accounts indicate that Taylor through his support of Foday Sankoh’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel group contributed in the killings and destruction of major portions of Sierra Leone.

At its peak, RUF rebels used arms supplied by Libya and transited to them by Taylor to maim, rape and amputate the limbs of hapless Sierra Leoneans. Nearly a million people were displaced from their homes and forced to seek refuge in neighboring countries. It is impossible to determine exactly the level of killings, mutilations, sexual abuse and enslavement of boys and girls perpetuated on Sierra Leoneans by the pro-Libyan RUF militia.

In his opening remarks, David Crane, former founding Chief Prosecutor for the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone ( 2002-2005), accurately described the carnage saying, “what took place in Sierra Leone marks the limits of our language to communicate, and falls outside the realm of expression...[it’s] “a tale of horror, beyond the gothic into the realm of Dante’s inferno.”

Crane accused Gaddafi of plotting to destabilize Sierra Leone and Liberia, disclosing that, he “was behind the past decade of war in West Africa.” Crane added that the Libyan leader “wanted to geopolitically control West Africa through surrogates such as Liberia’s Charles Taylor and Sierra Leone’s Foday Sankoh.” Crane asserted that Gaddafi was “intimately involved in plotting to take down Sierra Leone,” and had considered indicting him, but he decided against it. “Though Kaddafi would not be on trial,” he said, “ the case would name and shame him.”
Sadly, Kaddafi was neither ashamed nor repentant of his actions in Sierra Leone and Liberia. He has openly criticized Nigeria for arresting and handing Charles Taylor to the United Nations Special Court in Sierra Leone for trial, and described it as “ an unacceptable precedent that threatened all African leaders.”

Crane’s failure to indict the Libyan leader provoked considerable anger, speculation, and left unanswered many questions. For example, since the rebel forces of both Taylor and Sankoh committed such horrible crimes against civilians with the complicity and financial support of the Libyan leader, why were the West African rebel leaders indicted by the UN Special Court and not Gaddafi? Why should the trainer, financier and purveyor of terrorism in the African continent, and particularly in Sierra and Liberia go unpunished? Why has the international community remained largely silent about Gaddafi’s atrocities in Africa. How come his African victims have remained uncompensated compared to those in Europe?

Even more startling, why should the Western powers protect an individual whose propensity for harming and killing fellow human beings has been so well documented? United Nations reports reveal that: “virtually all of the arms and money that fueled the (civil wars in both Liberia and Sierra Leone) were supplied by Libya.”

The thought that Kaddafi may have escaped prosecution because Western powers felt he was an asset to them for security and strategic purposes is deeply troubling. This calls for further investigation. On its face it defies logic and appears to be a double standard that does not promote international cohesiveness and law and order. When crimes against humanity are committed we should employ the same standards of investigation and punishment for the perpetrators, and not seek ways to justify or ameliorate their deeds.

In announcing the move to renew diplomatic ties with Libya, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice praised Kaddafi for his nation’s : “excellent co-operation in the US-led war on terrorism.” Similarly, President George Bush and former Prime Minister Tony Blair heaped unconditional praise on the Libyan leader for his “courage and statesmanship” in giving up his nuclear weapons program. David Welch, US Assistant Secretary of State rationalized that the American decision to renew diplomatic relations with Libya “came after a careful review of Libya’s behavior, and “adherence to international norms.” Since 1993, this assessment has been contradicted by numerous investigative reports including Amnesty International and the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

The effects of Kaddafi’s actions that wreaked havoc on the civilian populations of Sierra Leone and Liberia, are not minimized by the assumption that Kaddafi may have been changing his politics in the eyes of Britain and America. Why then did he escape indictment for his deeds? The answer is simple. It appears Western powers sanitized the Libyan leader, turned a blind eye to his appalling human rights record, helped him to gain international respectability, and presented him to the world community as a reformed leader who merits acceptance by other civilized nations. Earlier, former President Ronald Reagan described Kaddafi as a “barbarian, zealot, and a “flaky” individual.

In 1986 Reagan ordered an attack on Libya following the bombing of La Belle discoteque in West Berlin that caused American casualties. Reagan held Kaddafi responsible for terrorism aimed at America, and approved air strikes on the Libyan capital, Tripoli, that resulted in over one hundred people dead including Kaddafi’s adopted daughter, Hanna Kaddafi. Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, once described the Libyan leader as 100% insane, while other Arab leaders suggested that Kaddafi’s membership in the Arab League should be terminated. How Kaddafi was morphed by western powers from pariah to patron is a long and complicated diplomatic process.

Bruce Jentleson, a State Department official in the Clinton administration said this to explain America’s reversal of diplomatic direction: “ the US didn’t make this decision because Kaddafi underwent some full transformation; we still don’t like him... but he wanted to stay in power and was willing to move on something important to us, so we struck a deal.” Further, Jentleson indicated that Western leaders convinced Kaddafi that if he gave up his nuclear programs and “did a policy change, we would not do regime change.” Jon B. Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C. noted : “ while some aspects of the Libyan leader’s behavior remained objectionable, such as meddling in African politics it never challenged U.S. strategic interests.”

In other words, although the civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia financed by Gaddafi caused the deaths of more than half a million people, massive destruction of property, heinous rapes, displaced two million people, and resulted in immense hardship on the civilian populations of both countries, that unambiguous despicable record of human rights violations was not enough to maintain the diplomatic ostracism of Kaddafi. An exuberant Bush Official even proclaimed that Libya “ is out of the terrorism business.” The Los Angeles Times put it best in its defense of the new policy: “if any atrocious record on human rights were enough to land a nation on the [terrorist] list, then the U.S. would have to add China, Egypt and Uzbekistan and dozens of others.”

Gamal Nkrumah, son of the fiery Ghanaian Pan Africanist, writing in the Al-Ahram weekly, a leading Middle East newspaper, described what happened between Washington and Tripoli as “a marriage of convenience cemented by business ties.” In short, when the rule of law, morality, human rights, and the so-called wider public and strategic interest collide, the latter prevails.

It is highly possible that the above rationalization and or justification may have influenced the Western powers slow reactions to the horrors in Darfur, Sudan, the Rwandan Massacres; and why the international community took such a long time to end “apartheid” in South Africa. Kaddafi knows too well the strong links in the geopolitical considerations by western powers between the economic, social, political and strategic matters, and how the West is beholding to him by its considerable dependence on Libyan oil. Accordingly, he has been unwavering in using his economic power to gain legitimacy in the eyes of the West.

But how has Kaddafi been able to pacify Africa to avert any future investigation for his support of rebels in Liberia and Sierra Leone ? Again, Kaddafi uses his enormous economic power to soothe African nations that he has openly offended or undermined. Cash-strapped governments such as Sierra Leone, Liberia, Zimbabwe and Malawi receive meager financial aid from Tripoli, including sometimes boat loads of rice, obsolete ferries, weapons, and automobiles to be used by government personnel.

Such aid is miniscule compared to the billions of dollars the Libyan leader has spent to reimburse European victims of his alleged terrorist acts. He has become the self-appointed spokesperson of African causes such as human rights violations in Darfur, Chad, Somalia, and the plight of African would be migrants to Europe. Kaddafi also got Africa to violate sanctions the western powers imposed on Libya. Mandela visited Libya during the sanction period, and air travel between the rest of the continent to Libya were resumed despite the sanctions.

Further, in the late 90s, Kaddafi began a campaign that revived the principles of African unity, as stipulated by the founders of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), and these efforts resulted in the founding of the African Union (AU). Kaddafi seemed to have had an insight into the future, and succeeded in emerging as a true African son. How can a true son of Africa and a promoter of African unity be responsible for destabilizing states, or be held accountable for financing rebel activity in Sierra Leone and Liberia? Why should he (Kaddafi) be made to pay compensation to victims of civil wars in the referred countries? No African head of state has yet confronted him on the above. Rather, there is a surprising silence particularly from Liberia and Sierra Leone, and a seeming willingness by continental leaders to tolerate Kaddafi’s highly questionable diplomacy in Africa.
This pro-Kaddafi support notwithstanding, the Libyan leader’s activities in Sierra Leone and Liberia will take center stage at the Hague during Taylor’s trial in 2008. And as in the past, there will be a number of important questions to ask. For example, why did David Crane the Chief prosecutor in the UN Special court in Sierra Leone consider it expedient to reveal in advance that even though the court had not indicted Gaddafi: “this has not been ruled out?” Was this meant to warn Kaddafi to change his ways or face the consequences? Or did the Libyan leader outwit Western powers by doing what he perceived they wanted done and thereby escape indictment. What other nations and personalities will be implicated in the wars of Liberia and Sierra Leone by Taylor’s impending testimony?

If Taylor agrees to “ name and shame” Kaddafi for being a collaborator, the victims in Sierra Leone and Liberia have a chance for compensation from Kaddafi. Taylor would have validated what has been common knowledge about the source of financing for his crimes, and Taylor and Sankoh’s victims will have a credible evidence to go after Kaddafi. To succeed the victims in Liberia and Sierra Leone must organize and be well represented in the same manner as Hissane Habre’s victims in Chad. If Taylor decides not to “name and shame” Kaddafi, his and Sankoh’s victims still have the basis for compensation because the case against Taylor is being prosecuted on their behalf.

Certainly, the activities of Taylor and Sankoh were supported and financed by someone, some people or some foreign governments. Somebody provided the guns to rebel militias, and assisted the Revolutionary United Front rebels to sell their “Blood Diamonds “ to European buyers. If and when he is properly cornered, Taylor would name names and avoid going down alone. In anticipation of that possibility, the victims ought to be organized, and demonstrate a presence through legal representation during the trial, to protect their own interests.

In addition, the governments of Sierra Leone and Liberia should put considerable pressure on the UN Special Court that is investigating Taylor’s atrocities to also consider the actions of his financier and alleged co-conspirator. They should emulate Kaddafi’s effective bargaining tactics with the EU and Bulgaria in the matter of his citizens who were allegedly injected with tainted blood containing the HIV virus. Kaddafi showed little mercy during the bargaining process with the EU and western powers on behalf of his citizens, and was richly rewarded. By implication, Kaddafi may agree to quietly compensate the Liberian and Sierra Leone victims without being “ named and shamed” to minimize international criticism and condemnation. It is only when the above materializes that Kaddafi will espouse the true qualities of the nobleman and true son of Africa that he has always wanted to be.

Professor Hassan B. Sisay(photo) is with the History Department, St. Norbert College,Green Bay, Wisconsin,USA.

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