Friday, April 27, 2012

A victory for international justice

Between 1991 and 2002, Sierra Leone was wracked by civil war. Charles Taylor, leader of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, was a major player in that war, first as a warlord in neighbouring Liberia, and then as its president. Taylor created and backed the Revolutionary United Front, which terrorised the civilian population, most notoriously through a policy of amputating the limbs of those who backed opposing factions. They also engaged in slavery and the use of child soldiers.

Today, after a five year trial, the Special Court for Sierra Leone convicted Taylor on 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and violations of international humanitarian law in relation to those crimes. He has not yet ben sentenced, but he is likely to spend a substantial period (and possibly the rest of his life) behind bars.

This is a victory for international justice, and it sends a message to other warlords and despots that they too will be punished. At the same time, it also highlights how incomplete our system of international justice is. There is justice for Sierra Leone - but not for Iraq. Charles Taylor has been held to account for his crimes - but Bush and Blair have not been held to account for theirs. Until they are, then all we have is a partial system of justice, not a universal one.