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The cost of International Criminal Justice

50 years he got. Taylor, at 64, is unlikely going to be a free man ever again in his life. 4 years, and approximately US $250 million later, the world can scream VICTORY for yet another ‘successful’ prosecution of a sitting head of state for committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. As the Head of State, he bore command responsibility for the actions of the state and a duty of care for its citizens. He thus was responsible for the murder and mutilation of civilians. He was thus responsible when his forces cut off people’s limbs. He was thus responsible when his forces used women and girls as sex slaves. He was thus responsible when his forces abducted children and forced them to fight as soldiers.

So the Special Court for Sierra Leone said his crimes include acts of terrorism, murder, violence to life, health and physical or mental well being of people, cruel treatment, rape, sexual slavery and other forms of sexual violence, outrages upon personal dignity, conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 15 years into armed forces or groups, or using them to participate actively in hostilities, enslavement and pillage.

Now he is going to spend 50 years in a British prison.

Given all that he has done, one would expect that he shall be languishing and rotting in prison, and maybe then the victims could derive some satisfaction from knowing that he is paying for all the wrong he did. But is that the case for Charles Taylor?

Here is why I ask this question…

On average a British prison looks like this.

-Prisoners in the UK have access to television with satellite. They have access to video game consoles. They receive wages and cash bonuses for good behaviour, while drugs are cheaper in jails than they are on the streets. They have access to free gyms where they can stay fit. They can even get subscriptions to newspapers with a specific newsagent local to each prison.
-All prisoners have the right to food and water. There is a system to protect them from bullying and racial harassment. They have access to a healthcare system which includes access to nurses and doctors, opticians, dentists, pharmacists and mental health practitioners. Prisoners in need of special treatment as a result of drug or alcohol abuse, HIV or AIDS or disability have access to these special needs.
-All prisoners have access to basic education that enables them to read and write, do maths, manage money, use computers and technology. They also take courses in practical skills such as painting and decorating, bricklaying, hairdressing and gardening. They can even study IT.
-They have a right to see lawyers, to call the lawyer when they need him/her, to write him/her letters and their correspondence is very private. Prisoners have access to religious leaders and their freedom to religion is respected to the extent of respecting dates and times for prayer, religious services and festivals and providing vegetarian, Halaal and Kosher food for those with religions requiring special dietary needs.
And in the UK the fact that these rights are guaranteed by law means that they are granted to prisoners. And so shall they be guaranteed to Charles Taylor. As a ‘special prisoner’, his standards are likely going to be even higher than those for ordinary inmates.

Oh yes, of course I do not dispute that Charles Taylor has human rights despite being a prisoner, and so the British prison will have to take really good care of him in order to respect his human rights. And of course that detention shall result in his isolation from family and lack of personal freedom, but is it punishment enough?

Has it really served justice for the suffering citizens of Sierra Leone? Youth unemployment and poverty is widespread, particularly in urban centres in Sierra Leone. The unrest caused by Charles Taylor left behind a nation with a poorly performing economy, infrastructure was destroyed, and the nation languishes in poverty. In 2008, Sierra Leone ranked 84 out of 88 countries in the Global Hunger Index and last out of 179 countries in the Human Development Index. Many people do not have decent housing. They do not have easy and free access to reliable sources of information let alone televisions with satellite.

The trial alone cost 250 million and keeping Charles Taylor in prison shall cost even more guaranteeing him the same rights that his actions are denying thousands of Sierra Leoneans. I wonder- is there real justice in the international criminal justice system? But also, can we guarantee human rights if we don’t grant them to some of the very worst villains in the world?



mrbeckbeck's picture

Great article

Wow, nice piece Rumbie. I didn't think of this story in this way before... but you raise really interesting questions. As a lawyer you must be having really mixed emotions. In some ways a success, and in many other ways, it doesn't change a lot of the reality.

A while back I saw something similar about a Nigerian governor who laundered millions and millions of dollars out of the Niger River Delta region, and was sentenced to 13 years. It's not justice, but it's something...

Very thought provoking, good work!

Scott Beck
World Pulse Online Community Manager

MaDube's picture

Thanks Scott

As a human rights lawyer I strongly believe that human rights are due to every human being because they are human, whether they are criminals or not, prisoners or not. However the Charles Taylor case leaves me in a difficult position where I question the usefulness of some of these mechanisms we have. Supposedly the Charles Taylor conviction and sentencing is a victory for justice. But, whose justice? If you were the one who had had your mother cut into 12 equal parts and you were to see the conditions under which he will be detained in the British prison, would you feel like justice has been done? If you were the poor woman in Sierra Leone still struggling to find a decent hospital because Charles Taylor's boys destroyed infrastructure, yet he will have access to the best doctors in prison, would you feel that justice was done? If he were to be detained in the terrible conditions that he created, would that also be justice? It does create a dilemma and frankly I find it difficult to decide how things should be done.


monimambo's picture

Nice sentiments

I concur with you for those concern, for here in Africa someone to be given such privileges is like living as a King to them what they stress most is the fact that you are not free to walk in the streets is enough torture even if you get all these, I remember here in my country a man who had been in prison for almost half of is life committed a crime just immediately after being released from prison so that he may go back there since to him he had free food and comforts in prison and citing difficult life out there and unemployment. what does this tell you, its not justice for Africans in my view.

MaDube's picture

I agree with you

Thank you for your comment. I remember when Saif Al Islam (Gaddafi’s son) was in trouble, he requested to be transferred into the custody of the International Criminal Court. I am sure he knew that falling into the hands of his fellow Libyans would be a terrible fate for him and he obviously knew he would live a better life as a prisoner of the ICC than to be detained in Libyan prisons. It is the same thing with Charles Taylor because he will clearly be a very comfortable prisoner. On the other hand, the people that Taylor wronged still have no access to the basics that he has luxurious access to. Serious dilemma.



Breese's picture

Wow! Prison in the UK doesn't

Wow! Prison in the UK doesn't sound too bad! But it's important to recognize the power of being brought to justice for such heinous crimes in front of the eyes of the entire world - that, I think, is powerful. Despite the television and other amentiies, he'll be locked in prison, and at least he will be unable to cause such suffering anymore. Though Sierra Leone continues to deal with the lingering effects of the violent conflict, I think this important event mingt bring a little piece of mind, sense of justice, and re-energize to take their country forward.

Greengirl's picture

Food for thought!

Though I am not a lawyer, but as a development worker and activist, I have unshaken resolve about the importance of secure human rights for everyone.
As for Taylor, I share your sentiments about the sentence handed to him because I could never forget the all too many accounts of atrocities he sponsored in Sierra Leone. In particular, I remember the footage of a young girl of about 15 as she recounted how she was raped and had her two hands were chopped off . It was really disheartening to watch her attempt to scratch her hair with one of her severed hands, as she went on to share about how her 10 year old sister was also violated. Could you imagine too, that they were kept as sex slaves until rescue came. To think that my very own country granted him asylum sometime in 1999! Of course, many Nigerians did not appreciate the generosity of the incumbent President; even though that seemed to have paved way for his journey to the International Court of Justice. While I also share your concerns about the international criminal justice system, I cannot but bask in the euphoria of Sierra Leone's victory over Charles Taylor. They are rid of him, for good!



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