Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Rise and Fall of International Law in Africa – March 2006

It has never been possible to conduct in international community any policy on the basis of Kant's categorical imperative: act as if your every action shall become a universal moral law, but at least one of the latest developments on the African continent suggests given the circumstances at hand.

Several interesting developments took place recently on the African continent regarding compliance with international (human rights) obligations. I endeavor to look more in detail in two of them. Firstly in the complex situation concerning request for extradition of former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor, and secondly the first arrest ever by the International Criminal Court in Democratic Republic of Congo.

On Friday 16 March 2005, the Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who was inaugurated on Jan. 16, 2006, as the country's new president (and Africa's first female president after she beat former European footballer of the year George Weah) formally requested Nigeria to extradite Taylor so that he can stand trial for war crimes. At a cost of a quarter of a million lives, the war eventually spilled over into the neighboring states of Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Ivory Coast, thereby threatening regional stability. Charles Taylor is accused of creating and backing the Revolutionary United Front rebels in Sierra Leone, who are accused of a range of atrocities, from the use of child soldiers to chopping off the lips, ears, and limbs of their civilian victims. Taylor himself is also accused of several other atrocities in Liberia and the region, including trading diamonds for weapons and spreading conflict and instability..

On March 17 President Sirleaf made the following statement before the U.N. Security Council:"It is time to bring the Taylor issue to closure," adding that she wants collective action on the issue. She added that the collective decision of the African leaders should be one "that would allow Mr. Taylor to have his day in court. The Liberian people feel that justice would be done when attention moves from Mr. Taylor to support for their development."

The question remained whether the "Big Men" of Africa, whose culture of mutual protection is largely responsible for the culture of impunity and corruption that is eroding the continent, will rise to the occasion. However, the Nigerian government stated on 25 March 2005 stated that Liberia was free to collect Taylor so that he may face war crimes charges in Liberian courts.

But not suprisingly another statement was released by Nigeria's government, saying that
Charles Taylor disappeared from the seaside villa where he had been living in exile. This was three days after the Nigerian government said it would end his asylum and allow him to face an indictment by an international court in Sierra Leone. Liberia has called on "all countries in the region not to give refuge to Mr. Taylor, but to execute the warrant for his arrest." When will African leaders rise to fulfill their international human rights obligations and face charges for most henious human rights violations?

Another part of this contribution focuses on the the situtation in Democratic Republic of Congo, where incumbent government two years ago reffered the situtation for investigation to the International Criminal Court in the Hague. On 17 March 2006, Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, a Congolese national and alleged founder and leader of the Union des Patriotes Congolais (UPC) was arrested and transferred to the International Criminal Court. Thomas Lubanga is alleged to have committed war crimes as set out in article 8 of the Statute, committed in the region of Ituri in the territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo since July 2002. Ituri is reported to be Ituri is one of the areas worst affected by Congo’s devastating war, which is still underway. A local conflict between Hema and Lendu ethnic groups that began in 1999 was exacerbated by Ugandan armed forces and aggravated by a broader international armed conflict in the DRC. As the conflict spiraled and armed groups multiplied, more than 60,000 civilians were slaughtered in Ituri, according to the United Nations. He is among other charged with recruiting children in his rebel group by force and training as soldiers.

It is submitted that Thomas Lubanga’s arrest offers victims of the horrific crimes in Ituri some hope of seeing justice done at last. However, for justice to be fully achieved, the victims must be offered just compensation and post conflict counselling.

Lubanga’s arrest warrant may be reached at:

Addendum: Charles Taylor was caught today on the border between Nigeria and Cameroon and he is already on the plane towards Freetown.


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