Aug 20 2007

The Taylor trial: speed is not a priority

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 7:39 PM

Charles Taylor deserves swift justice and he isn’t receiving it. The former President of Liberia, on trial for crimes against humanity in the Netherlands, has wrangled a reprieve until next January. Lawyers for Taylor have persuaded the International Criminal Court to allow them more time to prepare a defense. The time may be spent well, moreoever, since Taylor’s case is complicated. Human-rights advocates have trumpeted the fact that Taylor is the first African head of state to go on trial for human-rights violations. The trouble is that Taylor’s alleged crimes didn’t occur within his own bodies. Given all the African dictators — present and former — how have directly killed and tormented their own citizens, Taylor’s case is unfortunately challenging. He waged a vicious proxy war in Sierra Leone, but the nature of his involvement makes achieving a conviction hardly routine. How much better to have put on trial, say, Omar Bashir, Sudan’s president, whose direct role in extra-legal killings can be amply (even easily) documented. The international justice community does itself a disservice by avoiding straight-line cases such as Bashir’s. To be sure, Taylor deserves imprisonment; his Liberian rule was criminal many times over. Yet his law-breaking could be well adjudicated within Liberia itself, rather than in Holland — and by Liberians, not foreign do-gooders. By abdicating responsibility for dealing with Taylor humanely yet decisively, Liberia’s new democratic government loses an opportunity to display its rationale and its effectiveness. By aiding and abetting the loss of this opportunity for Liberian self-reliance, the international community perversely weakens African efforts to discipline its own law-breaking dictators. International criminal courts have a role to play in forging national justice and reconcillation but the role must be limited enough to allow national governments — and their polities — to exercize their own legitimate powers. Swift justice for Taylor — on Liberian soil, and by Liberians — remains the best possible option for dealing with a bad situation. What is happening in the Hague court is at least a notch below the optimal. Time will tell whether Taylor’s case  is an example of  “half a loaf” internationalism — or worse.

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