By Aroun Rashid Deen – With international pressure already mounting on Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and with the International Criminal Court now in the process of gathering information on civilian deaths in Libya, the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the International Criminal Court have a profound opportunity to indict Gaddafi for war crimes and crimes against humanity he has committed in Sierra Leone. The United Nations has already sanctioned Gaddafi’s government, and now it’s time his prior crimes in West Africa are brought to justice, too.
Muammar Gaddafi was the mastermind and key financier of the brutal war that left hundreds of thousands dead in Sierra Leone in West Africa in the 1990s. The war would not have happened in the first place had it not been for the desire of the Libyan leader to punish the government of Sierra Leone for what he regarded as its siding with the West in the 1980’s when Gaddafi was at loggerhead with particularly the United States and Britain. It was also part of Gaddafi’s broader agenda including his geopolitical ambition to destabilize much of West Africa and establish satellite states in the region to be headed by puppet regimes that will be doing his biddings. The decade-long war ripped Sierra Leone apart. Thousands of its victims, whose arms and limbs were chopped off by rebels, were reduced to paupers, roaming the streets as beggars in Freetown and other cities. Children as young as a day old were also among those whose arms and limbs were hacked off by Gaddafi’s rebels. Pregnant women, too, were disemboweled with delight in their display of ghastly brutality.
As part of his criminal plans to set West Africa on the warpath, Gaddafi instituted a program of guerilla warfare in Libya for a group of disgruntled West Africans, including a group of Sierra Leoneans he had invited to Tripoli to undergo training. The men who led the war on Sierra Leone — former Liberian leader and warlord, Charles Taylor and Sierra Leone’s rebel leader, Foday Sankoh, and The Gambian Fugitive, Kukoi Samba Sanyang — were among those who trained in Libya.
The ring leaders of the Revolutionary United Front rebel group, which was fighting to overthrow the government of Sierra Leone, also received massive financial support from Libya through Gaddafi’s People’s Revolutionary Council.
Long before the government of Sierra Leone and the United Nations jointly set up the Special Court for Sierra Leone to prosecute key suspects of the war for war crimes and crimes against humanity, calls have been made for Gaddafi to face international justice for his role in Sierra Leone — like Charles Taylor now in The Hague. An opposition leader in Sierra Leone, Charles Margai, who was one of the strong advocates for Gaddafi’s indictment, was incensed when Gaddafi visited the country in 2007. In a BBC interview, he called on Sierra Leoneans to boycott the reception that was hosted for him at the national stadium.
David Crane, the first Chief Prosecutor at the Special Court, considered indicting the Libyan dictator. The former prosecutor, who now teaches law at Syracuse University, says that the direct participation of the Libyan leader in the wars in both Sierra Leone and Liberia caused the “murder, rape, maiming, and mutilation of over a million human beings…” But calls for justice were not heeded because it appears principle Western nations developed a fondness for Mr. Gaddafi following his so-called positive gestures, such as his abandoning of WMD programs.
In January 2004, former French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin was quick to express hope that French firms would participate fully in business activities in Libya. This followed Libya’s signing of a deal to pay $170 million to relatives of French victims of a UTA French airliner bombing in 1989, which was blamed on Libya. Current French President Nicolas Sarkozy also went to Tripoli in July 2007.
The greatest irony of it all is that Sierra Leone and Liberia never got compensations from Libya for the untold suffering, infrastructural damage and needless loss of lives even though evidence suggests that he was the master-mind of the carnage.
Then British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, met Gaddafi in Tripoli in 2004. The meeting was christened with the signing of a deal by oil giant, Shell, estimated at hundreds of millions of British pound sterling for gas exploration rights off the Libyan coast.
In August 2008, Italy’s Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi visited Libya and signed a $5 billion dollars investment deal with Gaddafi. Condoleezza Rice, the former US Secretary of State has also been to Libya where she met with the controversial Gaddafi.
The Libyan leader’s promise to, at the least, pay compensations to relatives of his brutal crimes as well as his giving up of his WMDs were welcome news in a world — particularly in Europe — that confronts many terrorists activities. Oil supplies from Libya mean much to the West. But appeasing the West should not stand in the way for justice for Sierra Leone, just so because it is not an affluent country endowed with oil deposits.
Up till now, Gaddafi’s relations with the West were getting cozier by the day. His brutal treatment of peaceful protesters — who seek nothing more than just a political change that guarantees freedom and better living standards — shows clearly that Gaddafi is too grown to learn new tricks. He is fundamental in his choice to resorting to brutality as a means of addressing challenges.
Muammar Gaddafi bears the greatest responsibility for the brutality in Sierra Leone. The Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up at the end of the war found out that Libya contributed in a significant way to the chaos and mayhem that engulfed the country. Mr. Gaddafi’s role in the training in Libya and financing of the rebels justify his direct involvement in the mayhem. Such key roles deserve more than mere naming and shaming.
The desire for a share of Libyan oil or business prospect should not rub leading international policy makers of their moral responsibility to let Mr. Gaddafi account for his brutal misdeeds.
Gaddafi’s hatred for Sierra Leone goes back to the early 1980’s when then President of Sierra Leone, Siaka Stevens, in November 1982, boycotted an Organization of African Unity conference Libya was scheduled to host. The 1982 conference lacked a quorum due to the absence of many heads of state as a result of controversies surrounding Gaddafi’s role in the rebellions that were going on in Africa at the time. Gaddafi must not go unpunished. What was good for the British and French must be good for Sierra Leoneans too.