Getting Away with Murder: Ghadaffi's West African Legacy Commentary
Getting Away with Murder: Ghadaffi's West African Legacy
Edited by: Jeremiah Lee

JURIST Contributing Editor David Crane of Syracuse University College of Law, former Chief Prosecutor for the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone, says that amidst the recent feting of Libyan leader Muamar Ghadaffi in European capitals, part and parcel of his larger political rehabilitation in the West, his regime's role in atrocities in Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 1990s must not be forgotten….

While President Muamar Ghadaffi waltzed around the capitals of Europe last month with cynical leaders eager to do business with this political oddity from Libya, it must not be forgotten that he laid waste two countries in West Africa in the 1990s. His direct participation in the conflicts within Liberia and Sierra Leone caused the murder, rape, maiming, and mutilation of over a million human beings and the internal displacement of several million more. His surrogates Рin the guise of former President Charles Taylor of Liberia, President Blas̩ Compare of Burkina Faso, the late Foday Sankoh of Sierra Leone along with a covey of gun runners diamond dealers, and financiers from all over the world Рjoined in a decades long joint criminal enterprise that remains a threat to peace in that back-water part of the world.

During the late 1980s, Ghadaffi trained hundreds of potential terrorist in various camps strewn about the Saharan sands of Libya. A virtual rogues gallery of those who bore the responsibility for the conflicts in West Africa are all alumni of those camps. During my initial investigations into the war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated that stemmed from the ten-year civil war in Sierra Leone, we began to uncover direct evidence from independent witnesses that the true source of the suffering came from Ghadaffi. Using link analysis from these sources, all of whom did not know the other, the dots that we connected went through President Charles Taylor, somewhat President Blasé Compare and his henchman Ibrahim Bah, directly to President Ghadaffi. All three of these individuals were graduates of those terror camps.

President Ghadaffi’s plan was to place as many surrogates into West Africa so he could influence West Africa and use it for his own political purposes. He managed to do this in Burkina Faso, Liberia, tried to in Sierra Leone, and the Ivory Coast. The next country would have been Guinea. He was stopped when the international community created an international tribunal in Sierra Leone which not only investigated, indicted, and prosecuted those who bore the greatest responsibility for the tragedy of Sierra Leone, but exposed the joint criminal enterprise that was backed by Ghadaffi’s oil dollars.

As we reviewed the evidence it became clear that President Charles Taylor was the most directly responsible for the horror of the Sierra Leone conflict, with both Presidents Compare and Ghadaffi a culpable secondary. For his direct involvement, I signed the indictment against President Charles Taylor for numerous counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity in March 2003. He now sits on trial for those misdeeds before Trial Chamber Two of the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Compare and Ghadaffi are both un-indicted co-conspirators so to speak. Their specific involvement in this sad history will most undoubtedly come out at Taylor’s trial.

It is amazing how the smooth salve of oil and the bandage of petrol-dollars helps the West look the other way regarding what took place in West Africa in the 1990’s with Ghadaffi’s specific backing. The subtle support and buying off of many African leaders continues today by President Ghaddafi. The West, particularly Europe knows this. Ghadaffi’s visit to France in December 2007, feted as a legitimate leader by the French, is just such an example. The bitter pill of human rights violations by this pariah goes down much easier with the promise of new commercial contracts.

Dialog and engagement with the world’s tyrants, dictators, and warlords smacks of appeasement and is a source of continued of unrest, atrocity, and conflict. The beast of impunity must be faced down wherever it rears its ugly head. What took place in Europe last month augers poorly for the future.

David M. Crane is a professor at Syracuse University College of Law, and former founding Chief Prosecutor for the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone (2002-2005).


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