Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg

Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg
Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg © Gernot Keller, 2007
Blinkered Justice articles also appear on CrimeTalk and Government In The Lab

Monday, 30 April 2012

Charles Taylor: justice done or justice seen to be done?

Wallace Johnson Statue, Freetown, Sierra Leone (c) Mark Gee
As we celebrate the guilty verdict handed down to Charles Taylor for the crimes that he helped perpetuate, we appear to have gotten carried away with the man and what it means for human rights. We seem to have lost focus of his victims whether justice has been served to those who were most affected by his crimes.

I have checked the online versions of mainstream papers based in Sierra Leone (Awareness Times, Awoko, Exclusive Press and Sierra Leone Daily Mail), and in Liberia (The 1847 Post, In Profile Daily, The Inquirer and Daily Observer). Although far from a perfect means of gathering evidence - basic internet coverage that only a small percentage of population have access to/can afford – I was hoping to understand whether local Sierra Leoneans and Liberians feel that justice has been served.

Other than stating,Thousands of survivors of Sierra Leone’s brutal civil war celebrated after learning of the conviction”, the Sierra Leone Daily Mail only covers the reactions of Special Court of Sierra Leone (SCSL) officials, the US government, and non-government organisations (NGOs). None of the other online resources in Sierra Leone have any news on the Taylor verdict. I also understand that there has been little coverage of the Taylor verdict in the printed press in Sierra Leone.

In Liberia, all of the news outlets mentioned above have covered the verdict in some way. As well as publishing articles in the lead up to the Taylor verdict, the Liberian press have covered official and NGOs responses in more detail. The Inquirer has dedicated most coverage to public reaction. Of a local BBC phone-in, they report:
Reverend Jasper Nd'ganblor said, “...our concern is the peace that has been so far attained in the region whether it will hold and if it will help us sustain the peace it will be in the right direction...Liberia has gone through so much and that of Sierra Leone and we want the diplomatic tie to continue to abide instead of seeing each other as enemies.”
Julliet, women's advocate in Sierra Leone added her feelings by saying, “This verdict is with mixed feelings...Impunity needs to be addressed; justice needs to be given to whom it is due. This man pronounced war on Sierra Leone. He said we will taste the bitterness of war and we tasted it; the women tasted it. The women died; the women suffered and I am not happy at all.”
A local vox pops found:
Mr. Varney Konneh of Monrovia said, “I hope Sierra Leoneans are happy; they wanted justice and now they have justice. I just hope they will be at peace; Liberians will remember this day, because of Sierra Leoneans; Liberians are grieving over the situation.”
Justice has been done; there is nothing we can do about it and Sierra Leoneans are rejoicing because they think it is the right thing to do but let them know that what comes around goes around,” one Mr. Jallah said.
I am so happy that Taylor will not be set free, I suffered in this country when Taylor was in power. My daughter was raped by Taylor's so-called ATU soldiers; today he has been punished for all the wrongs he did to us,” Madam Yvonnie Smith said.

Wheelchair merchant, Monrovia, Liberia (c) whiteafrican
Other regional media outlets, such as Africa Review note:
Motorists honked in the streets of Freetown, in apparent jubilation for the verdict, but next door in Liberia, tension was high....The ruling has also reportedly heightened tension between Sierra Leone and Liberia.
Whilst the Global Post states that reactions in Liberia were mixed:
Taylor's war-crimes conviction is a watershed moment, said Aaron Weah, program associate at the International Center for Transitional Justice. "The verdict signals hope for Liberians who were victims of the civil war here that, five to six years from now, they too will get justice," said Weah.
So why might reaction in Sierra Leone be so muted?

There may well be a number of reasons for this, but it is noteworthy that their own (show) trials of Foday Sankoh, commander of the RUF, Sam Bockarie, leader of the RUF, Johnny Paul Koroma, leader of the AFRC, and Sam Hinga Norman, head of the CDF, have never taken place. Sankoh, Bockarie and Norman have all died, whilst Koroma has eluded capture and may be dead.

Eight other indictees, representing the armed forces of the rebels (RUF, AFRC) and government of Sierra Leone (CDF), have since been found guilty of war crimes atrocities. These verdicts gathered a lot less attention in the West, despite the fact that the AFRC case made legal history by ruling on the recruitment of child soldiers and forced marriage in an armed conflict for the first time.

Perhaps the most pertinent of the UK articles on the Taylor verdict and its implications for justice, is this one written by Mwangi Kimenyi and John Mbaku. In “Why wasn't it Africa that found Charles Taylor guilty?, Kimenyi and Mbaku lament the lack of institutional capacities within African justice systems to deal with human rights abuses.

In her blog post for the Overseas Development Initiative, Lisa Denney writes:
The Special Court will undoubtedly have an impact on the post-conflict landscape in Sierra Leone and, of course, sets important precedents in international law and holding political leaders to account. But its short-term nature, limited scope and overwhelming ‘foreignness’ means its will have less effect on most Sierra Leoneans than reform of the country’s legal systems (both formal and informal) – which will remain long after the white four wheel drives and international staff have departed...Indeed, most Sierra Leoneans have had to resolve grievances with community members from the civil war through informal mechanisms, without the judges, robes and new court rooms that international formal legal processes have attracted.

The future of Sierra Leone? (c) Mark Gee
So has justice been done or been seen to be done?

As of today, it is extremely difficult to assess whether Sierra Leoneans and Liberians feel that justice has been done. Whilst some may see justice as having been done, others are unhappy that Taylor has not been tried for the crimes that he committed in Liberia. More worryingly, the verdict appears to have heightened tensions between Liberia and Sierra Leone.

What is more apparent is that justice has been seen to be done, in terms of the Western media's ready acceptance of governments' and NGOs' views of the Taylor trial. Taylor himself has become the sole focus of the international community's war crimes narrative, and more important than other judicial advances (e.g. forced marriage in armed conflict).

Additionally, the SCSL cost a lot of money. As such, donor countries would want to see some form of return to justify the money spent on their international legal project.

Headlines of an historic verdict may well secure future funding for future localised, international justice projects, but it masks an important issue; international justice should reflect local victims' sense of retribution and redress. 

Friday, 27 April 2012

Does Charles Taylor's guilty verdict signal the end of impunity?

(c) Galehr [CC-BY-3.0] via Wikimedia Commons 

Although that is not what the UK media would have us believe today. The likes of The Independent and The Telegraph have written lead articles suggesting that all leaders can be held accountable for their crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Independent froths:
Of even greater significance, however, is the milestone the case marks in the effort to ensure that even the most powerful individuals may be held to account under international law. As the first conviction of a former head of state since the Nuremberg trials, Taylor's sentence sends the clear signal that even those in the highest positions are not untouchable.
So who might these most powerful individuals be? If we are talking about leaders of nation states, then we should look immediately at the the leaders of the United Nations Security Council; the Presidents of the USA, France and Russia, the Prime Minister of the UK, and the Premier of China.

Yet three of these leaders would face no sanction under international criminal law because they are not party to the Rome Statute that governs the ICC. The USA, Russia and China have not ratified the statute, and so are immune to any charges brought against their elites.

The likes of Presidents Bush, Putin, and Hu will never face criminal sanctions for their roles (aiding and abetting) war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya and Tibet to name but a few. Whilst the UK is a party to the ICC, how likely is it that we will see former Prime Minister Tony Blair, and his Ministers, such as Jack Straw, brought to justice for their complicities in Iraqi and Libyan abuses?

The Independent conclude:
But so comparatively new, and awesomely complex, an endeavour as the establishment of international criminal procedures was never going to be easy. For all the criticisms and caveats, the most important point is still that the so-called Big Men who have held sway in Africa – and in the Balkans and the Middle East – for so many decades have witnessed an hour of reckoning at last. No longer can they rest easy in the comfortable assumption they may do as they please, however atrocious, without fear of the consequences. Position and power place no warlord above the law. With the conviction of Taylor, the days of impunity are over.
(c) Strassengalerie [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
We see the court, and perhaps the court sees itself, as being responsible for prosecuting those easily identified as “monsters” or “bogey men”; we change the language from “leaders” or “heads of state” to “warlords” or “dictators”. They come from places that are understood as being “troublesome” or “failed states”. Just as with our domestic criminal justice systems, our eyes averted from the crimes of the powerful.

This is a thorny issue for Africa, as the ICC predominantly prosecute African leaders without taking any action against more powerful Western leaders. Afua Hirsch's blog, and the comments on it, further demonstrate the distrust with which this Westernised legal structure is perceived.

Unlike our domestic criminal justice systems, which have the power to hold public officials to account (regardless of how often they pursue a charge), the ICC has no authority to hold the more powerful state officials to account at the international level. As long as the more powerful countries are able to elude the long arm of the law, any justice can not be free from political interference.

Consequently, it does not signal the end of impunity. 

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Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Desistance and recidivism: the Sky News and Jordanian government model

It seems that Sky News and the Jordanian government have alerted us to new strategies in the fight against recidivism and desistance. It is so brilliant and simple, and I wonder why the criminal justice system has not adopted it wholesale before now. 

No need to ponder whether community-based punishments or prison programmes are best at reducing re-offending rates. The answer is simple; listen to those who are guilty of former crimes (i.e. phone hacking, torture) say they will not commit these, or other, crimes again, and accept it.  

Well, that is more or less what Head of News at Sky News, John Ryley told the Leveson inquiry yesterday (above). He thinks "it is highly unlikely in the future that Sky will consider breaking the law". When pressed further on his lack of overt support for the law, he added that he was "pretty much ruling it out". Now imagine if someone who burgled houses for a living responded in a similar manner in a court of law. 

Whilst I note that Ofcom have started an investigation into Sky's admission of two counts of email hacking, let us not forget that this is a criminal, not civil, offence. Sky News have fallen foul of the Computer Misuse Act 1990 and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000

Using honesty as a tool to divert any guilt, Ryley admits that he was not as aware of these Acts as he should have been. Given that he will have been aware of Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire's criminal activities, surely Ryley, obviously not an unintelligent man, could have then made the fairly obvious connection between phone hacking and email hacking. 

Falun Gong practitioner tortured by guards in a labour camp in China
(c) Asdf12345
Similarly, the UK government has accepted that the government of Jordan will not use evidence obtained through torture in any case against Abu Qatada. Yet Jordan regularly tortures and detains people based on evidence gained through torture. The latest Human Rights Watch report states:

Perpetrators of torture enjoy near-total impunity. The redress process begins with a deficient complaint mechanism, continues with lackluster investigations and prosecutions, and ends in police court, where two of three judges are police-appointed police officers. 

Would the UK government accept similar reassurances from China if it was returning a an illegal immigrant Falun Gong practitioner? Regardless of the innocence or guilt of the fictional Falun Gong practitioner, if the UK is truly a civilised society and a respected guardian of global human rights, we should not be returning anyone to face a trial overseas where torture and abuse of  human rights is so intrinsically linked to justice.

We try and detain illegal immigrants for crimes committed in the UK. We have the means to try Qatada here. We choose not to. 

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Here we are now, integrate us: England's integration strategy

Currently on a short break. I will return in full next week, but will try and tweet in the next few days. Found this little piece which I had prepared a few weeks ago hidden under the cyber carpet. Hope you all well.

Eric Pickles delivering keynote address at Flag Institute 2011
(c) Charles Ashburner [CC-BY-SA-3.0]
A few weeks ago, Eric Pickles, the Minister for the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) unveiled the government's integration strategy, which plan to help create an harmonious England, free of discord and hatred.

The idea is that in an integrated society, everyone can play a full part in the every day workings of life nationally and locally. The UK government believes that there are 5 key themes on which an integrated society can be built: social mobility, participation, responsibility, common ground, and tackling extremism and intolerance.

Despite using several of these same themes, multiculturalism is seen to have failed, with the sense that we now live in a more divided society. The 2011 summer riots, and the perceived threat from Islamic extremists inform this strategy, with risk, fear and security pervading its discourse. As such, the government considers that something needs be done:
We should be robustly promoting British values such as democracy, rule of law, equality of opportunity and treatment, freedom of speech and the rights of all men and women to live free from persecution of any kind. It is these values which make it possible for people to live and work together, to bridge boundaries between communities and to play a full role in society. When this is underpinned both by opportunities to succeed, and a strong sense of personal and social responsibility to the society which has made success possible, the result is a strong society.
The use of “British values” in this context is used to represent a nation that is civilised, Christian and white. The same values that informed a colonial Empire, raiding Africa and Asia for her resources. Why is it that “British values” are different to, or better than, other nation's values?

The strategy is predominantly aimed at a young, male, disadvantaged Muslim/White audience. In a society that has “welcomed” migrants from all over the world, English identity, and values, may well have changed, through personal and professional partnerships, and through other cultural influences, such as music, film and food.

Disability protest poster (c) Byzantine_K
As evidence that their targeted audience is the right one, DCLG refer to their own, commissioned reports, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission's Triennual Review (2010). “How fair is Britain” notes that women and the disabled experience social exclusion, certainly in the guise of a lack of being able to participate and intolerance. Yet, there is nothing for them in this integration strategy.

Is this because the UK government considers that both groups have integrated? If so, why would the government consider that its key factors might work for its target audience, when women and the disabled still feel excluded?

It is in the shift from 'the national' to 'the local', that the government believes that cultural nirvana can be attained. DCLG notes that local communities have long come together to address civil problems, and it is drawing on this social capital to resolve our divided society. However, it accepts that it has to provide a national framework to make it work, utilising the production of civic leadership on integration, with locally-led partnerships driving it forward thanks to cross-Whitehall liaison and assistance.

Even in this basic approach, there are anomalies. For example, whilst the government talk of civic leadership and creating “the space for an open and honest debate”, it recently closed the door to a number of health-industry leaders' involvement in discussions on the localisation of health services. This undermines participation.

Although each of the 5 factors mentioned above appear distinct from each other, they overlap and intertwine, just as ideas of the local and national do.

DCLG propose encouraging young people to develop their sense of responsibility and self-management, through volunteering and a National Citizens Service. Deemed to be participating in their local communities, DCLG will ensure that “people can trust public bodies”, such as those who can enable them to find work locally. Yet when these public bodies face charges of fraud and corruption, it is difficult to see how this might work. More so, when the state fails to rescind its central contract.

In terms of localities leading the way in economic regeneration, and thereby creating social mobility and tackling extremism, DCLG have failed to explain how this might come about. Whilst speaking English is assumed to enable social mobility and a sense of common ground, it ignores those migrant businesses, such as Chinese restaurants, that use the same language and cultural references. Their chefs may not speak English, and depending on your understanding of local, few would argue they have not integrated into their local areas.

Chinatown, London - local integrated community? (c) Aurelien Guichard
The additional language requirement for people to be able to speak English before they settle here is surely a bid to appease a supposed silent majority who baulk at immigrants not speaking English. In any case, it is difficult to see how this might happen, given that the rules for entry into England also concern the rest of the UK.

So how does 'local' England integrate with their (inter)national partners overseas? Within the EU, and the UK, it has not adopted the Euro, and it has not come on board with Schengen. We veto EU moves to regulate the financial markets that helped cause the recent crises. Cynics might argue that the UK has sought to take without giving, seeing its own rights and responsibilities in an international arena quite differently to how it views its “problem people” acting out theirs.

To close, DCLG make the following point in their strategy:
People come together through day-to-day activities, not 'integration projects' which too often feel irrelevant and prove unsustainable.