Charles Taylor at The Hague, David Lawley-Wakelin and Tony Blair’s ‘moral decline and fall’
Last week, Charles Taylor, the first former head of state to be convicted by an international tribunal since the judgement of high-level Nazis in Nuremberg, received a long-overdue conviction at the Hague for “aiding and abetting, as well as planning, some of the most heinous and brutal crimes recorded in human history.” Liberia’s ex-President (pictured), looking broken and old, now faces the prospect of spending the rest of his natural life in a British jail for his offences, a luxury that many West Africans, cruelly maimed, raped, enslaved or murdered in Sierra Leone’s civil war did not enjoy.
Elsewhere, our octogenarian head of state celebrates the diamond anniversary of her ascension to Majesty. This sixth of June, she will have shared a table with Mahinda Rajapaksa: the President of Sri Lanka, a man allegedly responsible for appalling war crimes. Rajapaksa denies these claims. This comes after Her Maj condescended to host Bahrain’s Hamad Al- Khalifa among an assorted salad of autocrats, alleged human rights abusers and other, less controversial, leaders earlier in the month. The Bahraini Sheikh haunted the gilded halls of quasi-power while the on-going suffering of his people was, one must assume, allowed to drift discreetly into Mrs Windsor’s Royal memory hole.
Not far from the venue for this genteel gathering, the man whose intervention in Sierra Leone many believe ended Taylor’s brutality in the civil war, was accosted by an impromptu protester, David Lawley-Wakelin. The imputations lanced in the direction of Blair by the uninvited “massive chump” (to quote Tom Chivers’ sneering Telegraph blog) reminded us of the former Prime Minister’s ever-controversial role in the invasion of Iraq, albeit via unproven allegations of corruption and conspiracy. It also drew attention to Blair’s post-prime ministerial activities- an issue that we should be thankful to Mr Lawley-Wakelin for reminding us of, and to which we will return.
The academic Chris Mahony, who worked at the Special Court for Sierra Leone (or SCSL, the Court set-up to indict those responsible for abuses in the civil war) wrote in the Atlantic recently that Taylor’s sentencing by The SCSL “advances, incrementally, international criminal justice” while reminding us of the nature of the international justice system. Mahony argues however, that the latter is a project “that is developing in such a way as to reflect global power, not the ideals of global justice.”
While celebrating Taylor’s acquaintance with The Hague and his well-deserved punishment, Mahony referred to his conviction as “an aberration, the exception that proves the rule” about the workings of institutionalised global justice, given that “International courts are unable to exercise jurisdiction over many of the most powerful criminals” in the world.
Pointing to a pertinent example, he referred to statements made by David M Crane, the American lead prosecutor at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, which indicted Taylor and intended to seek the prosecution of Muammar Gaddafi, a man considered by Crane to be “the centre point” of a “long-term criminal conspiracy” that ultimately led to the killing of tens of thousands of people during the civil war.
In an important piece produced by The Times last year journalist Soraya Kishtwari wrote that Professor Crane explained to her that “indicting Gaddafi would have been the “death knell” for the courts as the countries objecting would have pulled funding…Asked why he believed there was opposition from the international community to act on the evidence he had uncovered, he said: “Welcome to the world of oil.”
This brings us back, aptly, to Tony, 2012. It was during Blair’s rapprochement with Gaddafi that this alleged prevention of justice occurred. The “deal in the desert” now seems like typical Blairism: questionable “good intentions” mixed with Realpolitik. As a result a weapons program was defenestrated by Gaddafi, who nonetheless continued mistreat his own people. Britain’s entry into Libya lent false respectability to the regime of Muammar the “Mad Dog” and Libyan cash peregrinated in the direction of BP and the London School of Economics. Our credibly alleged role in “extraordinary rendition” followed hard after.
For the greater “good”, no doubt, Blair also unctuously sidled up to Egypt’s great oppressor Hosni Mubarak, whom he described not long ago as an “immensely courageous” man and a “force for good”. Mubarak was last week effectively sentenced to life in prison for multiple crimes committed against his own people(although, as Robert Fisk rightly reminds us, his greater offences –like those of Saddam Hussein during the time he received western support- were not counted in his fateful for verdict political reasons).
Some ineffable “good”, one presumes, may be being done by Blair and his crew behind-the-scenes in Kazakhstan, as John Rentoul appeared to speculate in these pages. This, in response to Nick Cohen’s recent piece in the Observer concerningthe former Prime Minister’semployment by President Nursultan Nazarbayev, whose regime reportedly “shoots strikers, burns the offices of opposition parties and kills their leaders.” Cohen, a Euston Manifesto signatory, trumpeted the millions allegedly paid to Blair by Nazarbayev as the latest dividends of the former Prime Minister’s “moral decline and fall.” On the face of it, you’d be hard pressed not to agree.
“Excuse me, this man is a war criminal!”Lawley-Wakelin asserted before being bundled out of Leveson last week, another statement with which many would concur–vehemently. But Blair will almost certainly never suffer the fate of Taylor, to whom he cannot be honestly compared; even if Iraq was a war of aggression-“the supreme international crime” to quote American jurors present at the Nuremberg.
Benjamin Ferencz, former chief prosecutor at the latter trials, made a compelling case in 2006 that the invasion of 2003 comfortably fits such a description, something that is hardly a fringe view among legal experts.
It is worthy of note that Ferencz’s legal work for the commission that established the International Criminal Court is still considered textbook.
However, for the ICC to actually prosecute individuals suspected of a major international crime, the court requires, generally speaking, significant state co-operation, or jurisdiction afforded it by the United Nations Security Council. Thus, the balance of power in the world being as it is, Blair or Bush will never sit in The Hague, barring some miracle.
Don’t be fooled: Charles Taylor’s deserving conviction was no watershed for the rule of international law, as necessary and important as it was. In international relations, lamentably, power still maintains its grip on the reins of justice.
Picture: ReutersTagged in: Africa, Charles Taylor, David Lawley-Wakelin, Nuremberg, sierra leone, The Hague, tony blair
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