Blanket amnesty/International war tribunal


My point of view on this may sound provocative but I hold to it passionately. It is that an agreement such as Lomé, which was meant to bring the civil war to an end, should not have been treated as if it was an agreement recklessly to grant immunity for wrongdoing. This was, unfortunately, the blandly inept and misleading notion – mischievous in any respect – that notably Amnesty International and the US Human Rights Watch propounded to their audiences. To this day both continue to hold fastidiously to their positions. The result was that confidence in the effectiveness of Lomé was seriously undermined from day one of its coming into force, and even before the ink of the signatories had dried up.

We also had the unseemly spectacle of one of the putative moral guarantors and key role players of the agreement – the United Nations – publicly, paradoxically, entering a reservation on the clauses dealing with the amnesty, while Mary Robinson, the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights, was doing global rounds whipping up a maelstrom of ambivalence over peace or continuing warfare. It is this institutional ambivalence of the human rights lobby that needs to be corrected urgently to avoid confusion in future.

At the same time, I do have to make a candid assertion. It is that the grant of a pardon– in Sierra Leone's case blanket amnesty  under the Lomé Agreement - to rebel aggressors, some of whom admittedly are of the worst kind ever, is clearly at odds with the norms of the rule of law in any democratic society. My point however is that by any standards, Sierra Leone is not a democratic society, no matter what anyone might say. The government is not democratic nor are the prevailing conditions of life by any stretch of the imagination, what with a permanent state of emergency in force! Not even the vapid and sometimes patronising tantrums of external ethical purveyors of this illusory notion can alter that fact. This hollow pretence that somehow Sierra Leone is a normal society borders on intellectual dishonesty and must stop. Instead the reality and experience on the ground must be considered.

The indisputable fact is that, whether we like it or not, a horrible civil war is being fought in Sierra Leone and it has gone on for close to 10 ugly years. Thus the consequence of such a fact alone, in the words of the UK Guardian newspaper of July 29, in its editorial approving the decision to let loose known mass IRA and Loyalist killers on to the streets of "civilised" Belfast, is that "...when it comes to making peace, the normal rules cannot always apply either …The painful fact is that when wars are ending justice sometimes has to take second place to ensuring peace".

It only needs to be said that that whatever happens, the worst brutes on all sides must be made to give account but I do not think that an international tribunal is the best forum for that. The cart is being placed ahead of the horse. What needs to be put into place first is a credible Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate these matters, and elicit the facts upon which a decision to prosecute the very worst offenders can be safely and fairly made. Then a court, and it not need to be international, can be empowered to undertake a criminal trail. Most international criminal courts/tribunals tend to be set up during or after a war and operate unfairly because they already presume the guilt of the accused however much they wrap their terminology in legalistic verbiage; and the accused are always the 'losers' of the war. How many brutish killers have not fought their way to power in many countries and stayed there with the tacit acquiescence of the so-called 'conscientious' moral world order?

In the main, international criminal courts and tribunals: (a) always run the risk of only serving to play to the public gallery and inadvertently satisfy, thus pamper and succumb to, the excesses of those who are out to seek revenge for whatever reasons; and, consequently, (b) do not solve or even address the political problems inherent in the conflict but gloss over the crucial facts that need to be brought to light, to explain and make everyone understand the root causes of these horrendous events and the motives and the identity of some of the largely anonymous persons behind them.

It seems to me that this development in Sierra Leone is a knee-jerk reaction that is aimed at extending the Arusha Tribunal’s remit to crimes against humanity. But lest it should be forgotten, one must point out (in the words of a BBC teletext commentary) that "in those countries, as in Yugoslavia (until recently), Burundi, Mozambique and Angola, the people accused of atrocities were/are in power, too powerful to be tried, or have been brought into the state structure as part of a negotiated peace process. What made Rwanda different was the fact that the war in that country was won outright". So maybe the objective of the present manoeuvres in Sierra Leone by the UN and the British Government should be seen as a move for decisive victory. In the absence of that, it is a waste of time and money trying Sankoh and any others, not to talk of putting on trial child soldiers who are just as much the victims of this war.