Britain’s offer to hold former Liberian leader Charles Taylor in jail is the strongest signal to Africa that there will be no impunity for war criminals, said David Triesman, minister for African affairs.
Taylor, a former teacher who became one of Africa’s most feared warlords, is awaiting trial at a United Nations-backed war crimes tribunal in the capital of Sierra Leone, a former British colony and Liberia’s neighbor.
He faces 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for backing rebels in Sierra Leone and Britain’s offer on Thursday to hold him if convicted paves the way for the trial to be transferred to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
“We took the decision on this occasion because we said we would sort this out. We started the process in Sierra Leone and we want to finish it,” Triesman told Reuters.
“We believe that this is a really strong — probably the strongest signal you could send anywhere in Africa — that there is no impunity, that major criminals will be brought to justice and if they are sentenced they will serve their time.”
Taylor is blamed for fomenting war across West Africa and his continued presence in the region is seen as a real threat to peace in Sierra Leone and Liberia, where 300,000 people died in more than a decade of war.
Liberia’s own civil war ended in 2003 when Taylor flew into exile in Nigeria and many involved in the vicious conflict — some rebels were filmed cutting out human hearts and eating them — are still at large.
Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has said it will not flinch from recommending the trial of those guilty of massacres, murders and rapes even if they are elected officials.
Triesman said it would be up to Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to decide who should face further action and that he had no doubt she would come to the right judgment.
“The whole of the argument that there should be no impunity for the most serious criminals is a serious argument,” he said.
“I hope she will feel that the most serious allegations will be pursued against people who are war criminals, people who have committed massive crimes against humanity.”
Same goes for Uganda's war criminals
Triesman also said that bringing the leaders of Uganda’s feared Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) such as Joseph Kony and Vincent Otti to court would be another major signal to Africa that there is no escape from justice for war criminals.
“There’s probably a relatively limited number of people across Africa where the news of them being brought to trial would be phenomenal and Kony and Otti are, in my view, clear examples of that group,” he said.
Led by self-proclaimed prophet Kony, the cult-like LRA is notorious for massacring civilians, mutilating survivors and kidnapping thousands of children who are forced to serve as fighters, porters and sex slaves.
Kony’s deputy Otti was blamed for the murder of eight U.N. troops earlier this year in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“The fact is that these are again people of unusual brutality and again across Africa, [if] they were arrested and brought to trial it would, as with Taylor, send a very, very stark message.”