Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Trying a tyrant

April 04, 2006

CHARLES TAYLOR IS A LOT like avian flu: He's frightening, unpredictable and an unwelcome visitor to any country. The world is better off with him safely behind bars and awaiting trial than with him infecting all of West Africa.

Taylor, the former president of Liberia, pleaded not guilty on Monday to 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity -- charges that just scratch the surface of the atrocities he engineered. Taylor fled Liberia in 2003 after a decade-long military dictatorship (thinly legitimized by a staged election in 1997) during which he helped orchestrate a civil war in Sierra Leone and destabilized much of West Africa. The brutality of the fighting sponsored by Taylor, characterized by widespread mutilation, rape and the formation of child militias, is the stuff of horror shows; hundreds of thousands were killed.

Taylor is generating nearly as much fear now as he did when he was loose. Some fret that his trial will set a dangerous precedent by discouraging other African despots from ceding power peacefully, as Taylor did three years ago, because there's a good chance they could be brought to justice afterward. That's like arguing against trying killers because it will discourage other killers from turning themselves in to police. It is far more important to demonstrate that the rule of law applies even to heads of state and that thuggish regimes won't be allowed to slaughter with impunity.

In a perfect world, Taylor would be tried at the scene of his most serious crimes: Sierra Leone. The people of that war-torn nation deserve to see justice served within their own country by the special court that has been authorized by the United Nations to try those involved in war crimes there. Yet there is a push led by Britain and the United States to move the trial to The Hague, and that would probably be for the best. Taylor still has many supporters in Liberia, some of them occupying important positions within the government. Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is rightly worried that a trial in neighboring Sierra Leone could destabilize her country.

Taylor on Monday showed every sign that he has learned all the tricks of predecessors in the international docks, such as Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein; he went on the attack immediately, saying he didn't recognize the court's jurisdiction and claiming that the entire procedure was an attempt to "divide and rule" the people of Liberia and Sierra Leone. If the trial goes according to form, one can expect tirades, stalling tactics and an effort to politicize the procedure. No matter. Taylor and his cohorts need to be shown that Africa and the world will not stand by while they tear the heart out of a continent.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|