I was never a proponent of “Truth and Reconciliation Commissions” in adjudicating crimes, especially crimes involving human rights abuses and atrocities during armed conflicts, such as torture, rape, kidnappings, murder, etc. The idea that a perpetrator of these crimes could just come forward and receive amnesty for telling the truth of their participation in these reprehensible acts and then ask and receive forgiveness, to me was a not only a devaluing of the ideal of justice, but also of human life. Especially African/Black life! I found my opinion on this issue somewhat of a paradox since I am strongly influenced by Christian ideology about forgiveness (but the quote by JFK more reflects my real stance: “Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names”), but as a law enforcement practitioner, I also strongly believe that one should be accountable for one’s actions, and criminals acts should be punished.
I first became aware of this concept being put into practice after the white South African apartheid government came to an end in 1994. To my knowledge, it has been used also in Rwanda, Liberia and Sierra Leone after their bloody civil wars. I am also aware of the reality that not everyone received amnesty through this process, although due to political and civil stability, some of those who should have been prosecuted (and executed) went free. I am talking here more about leadership figures who started, encouraged, perpetuated, ordered and even participated in these crimes. In the case of South Africa for instance, former presidents F.W. de Klerk and P.W. Botha, both received amnesty, although de Klerk apologized for the sufferings caused by apartheid, while Botha refused to appear before the commission calling it a “circus”.
Various international criminal tribunals and courts have subsequently been established to prosecute government and military leaders who were involved in crimes against humanity, genocide and other war crimes. Currently Liberian ex-president Charles Taylor, is being tried by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague, Netherlands, on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. A former Rwandan army major was just convicted of his role in massacre of 10 Belgian U.N. peacekeepers in 1994, at the start of the Rwandan genocide. These various international courts and tribunals currently have outstanding warrants out for ex-presidents of Chad and the Central African Republic, five leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda; a janjaweed leader in Darfur; a Sudanese government minister; a Congolese warlord; is it only me or is there a certain pattern emerging here, hmmmm…. Granted there are warrants out for some former Balkan leaders, but their capture is being hampered more by political interference and back room dealings, than by not knowing where they are currently hiding…. and for the record, as one who does not easily believe and/or ascribe events to conspiracy theories, even I found that it was way too convenient for former Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic to abruptly die before being sentenced by ICC.
Interestingly, one of the countries which refused to recognize the legitimacy and jurisdiction of the ICC was the U.S.A. There was a concern (more like a fear) on their part, that the court would/could be used to bring U.S. government and military leaders to trial. I am no legal scholar, but would these acts individually or collectively, be considered worthy of prosecution by the ICC:
- lying to start a war to topple a hostile leader who was a former ally;
- creating a situation of chaos, destruction, mass murders and civil war in the said country;
- encouraging the imprisonment and torture of said citizens who were not charged with any crimes and using the former prisons and torture chambers of the former dictator;
- establishing a prison in a foreign country for those deemed “enemy combatants”; and amid allegations of torture, hold your own military tribunals to try these “enemy combatants”, while there are constitutional challenges at home and outcry from the international community;
- kidnapping of individuals and “renditioning” them to countries, where your allies sense of justice and adherence to human rights are questionable at least, but are more often than not: non-existent! Or better yet… send them to secret prisons that you have set up around the world to “vigorously and/or aggressively” interrogate them;
As someone who has friends and acquaintances who have suffered at the hands of Charles Taylor and his armed forces (primarily gangs of boy soldiers), and the Sudanese Islamic government, I am all for bringing any and all those involved in “crimes against humanity” to justice. The leaders should be tried and punished (executed where applicable). I do however see a place for “Truth and Reconciliation Commissions”…. to address the actions of those, like the boy soldiers who were physically and psychologically coerced, as well as being filled with drugs (mixtures of cocaine and gun power), to engage in atrocities. I understand that there are no simple solutions to this issue, especially since the procedures and practices of justice, like history, are wriiten and controlled by those in power.