Charles Taylor, former rebel leader and head of state in the West African country of Liberia, was convicted on April 26 by the Special Tribunal on Sierra Leone. The court, held in the Netherlands, was ostensibly set up by the United Nations in conjunction with the Sierra Leone government.
Taylor’s conviction represents the first case in which a sitting political leader was removed and put on trial for supposed violations of both international and domestic law.
The charges against Taylor stem from the civil war that erupted in Sierra Leone during the early 1990s. He was accused of arming and coordinating the actions of the so-called Revolutionary United Front of Sierra Leone, which committed atrocities against the civilian population in a bid to seize power from successive civilian and military governments. Taylor maintains that he was not responsible for the crimes carried out by the RUF.
Testimony claimed that Taylor had financed the war through illegal diamond trafficking. However, the actual controllers of the international diamond industry — which is largely dominated by the Hatton firm, a subsidiary of the DeBeers Central Selling Organization in South Africa, and the Belgium-based Antwerp Company — were never mentioned.
Taylor led his own rebel campaign against a military regime in Liberia in 1989. Sgt. Samuel Doe, who overthrew the government of President William Tolbert in 1980, had been initially supported by Taylor and many other Liberians.
(It’s important to know that Liberia was formed during the 1820s as a purported haven for former African slaves from the U.S. In 1847 the country became a republic, but continued to remain under the political and economic control of the U.S. government and later the Firestone Rubber Co.)
Later Taylor was charged with embezzlement by the Doe government and fled to the U.S., where he had earlier obtained a degree from Bentley College. After being jailed, he reportedly escaped from prison and traveled to Libya, where he received military training and funding from the government of Col. Moammar Gadhafi.
After forming the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, Taylor began to launch military attacks against the Doe government. In 1997, after years of protracted war, he was elected the 22nd president of the Republic of Liberia.
By 2003, Taylor was under tremendous pressure from at least two other guerrilla armies to resign. By this time he had fallen out of favor with the U.S. and other Western-backed leaders in Liberia and West Africa.
Taylor was brought up on charges by the tribunal and agreed to resign in exchange for asylum in Nigeria. Thousands of troops from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), backed by the U.S., entered Liberia to prepare for a political transition. An election later resulted in the ascendancy of current President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a trained economist and a former Taylor supporter.
In 2006 Taylor was extradited back to Liberia, where he was immediately arrested and sent to the Netherlands to await trial.
Political hypocrisy as international law
There is no doubt that horrendous crimes were committed by forces associated with Taylor in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Nonetheless, in recent years The Hague has become a center for the persecution of African leaders for crimes that dwarf those committed by leaders of the imperialist states. Along with the special tribunal, the International Criminal Court has helped destabilize both Sudan and Libya through indictments and threatened kidnappings.
Former Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic was also indicted, deposed and arrested to face a special tribunal. Charges against Milosevic were motivated by U.S.-NATO policies that broke up the last socialist state in Europe during the 1990s.
Yet the crimes carried out by the U.S., Britain, France and other allied states against the peoples of Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan, Colombia, Somalia, Libya, Sudan and beyond are not even mentioned by the putative international legal bodies in The Hague. The U.S. and British governments concocted false allegations against the Iraq government in 2002 and 2003 that led to an eight-year war, resulting in more than 1 million deaths and the displacement of millions of people.
The war in Afghanistan is in its 11th year with no end in sight. Untold numbers of Afghans have been killed and millions have been displaced and traumatized.
The North African state of Libya was attacked in 2011 through a rebel insurgency engineered by the U.S., France and Britain. When this did not succeed, the Pentagon and NATO imposed an arms embargo and naval blockade against the Gadhafi government.
The Pentagon and NATO then carried out 26,000 sorties and nearly 10,000 airstrikes against Libya, killing thousands of people and displacing 2 million more. More than $160 billion in Libyan foreign assets were seized, while a puppet regime was installed that routinely violates the human rights of Libyans and foreign nationals. No one has been held accountable for these war crimes.
These crimes, committed under successive U.S. regimes, are coupled with economic crimes at home involving the wholesale theft of trillions of dollars in home equity, wages, municipal tax dollars and pension funds.
Working people and the nationally oppressed must be suspicious of Western platitudes about international norms and law. “International law” has become a tool of Western imperialism, whether dished out by the United Nations Security Council or other institutions, such as special tribunals and the ICC.
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