50 years he got. Taylor, at 64, is unlikely going to be a free man ever again in his life. 4 years, and approximately US $250 million later, the world can scream VICTORY for yet another ‘successful’ prosecution of a sitting head of state for committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. As the Head of State, he bore command responsibility for the actions of the state and a duty of care for its citizens. He thus was responsible for the murder and mutilation of civilians. He was thus responsible when his forces cut off people’s limbs. He was thus responsible when his forces used women and girls as sex slaves. He was thus responsible when his forces abducted children and forced them to fight as soldiers.
So the Special Court for Sierra Leone said his crimes include acts of terrorism, murder, violence to life, health and physical or mental well being of people, cruel treatment, rape, sexual slavery and other forms of sexual violence, outrages upon personal dignity, conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 15 years into armed forces or groups, or using them to participate actively in hostilities, enslavement and pillage.
Now he is going to spend 50 years in a British prison.
Given all that he has done, one would expect that he shall be languishing and rotting in prison, and maybe then the victims could derive some satisfaction from knowing that he is paying for all the wrong he did. But is that the case for Charles Taylor?
Here is why I ask this question…
On average a British prison looks like this.
-Prisoners in the UK have access to television with satellite. They have access to video game consoles. They receive wages and cash bonuses for good behaviour, while drugs are cheaper in jails than they are on the streets. They have access to free gyms where they can stay fit. They can even get subscriptions to newspapers with a specific newsagent local to each prison.
-All prisoners have the right to food and water. There is a system to protect them from bullying and racial harassment. They have access to a healthcare system which includes access to nurses and doctors, opticians, dentists, pharmacists and mental health practitioners. Prisoners in need of special treatment as a result of drug or alcohol abuse, HIV or AIDS or disability have access to these special needs.
-All prisoners have access to basic education that enables them to read and write, do maths, manage money, use computers and technology. They also take courses in practical skills such as painting and decorating, bricklaying, hairdressing and gardening. They can even study IT.
-They have a right to see lawyers, to call the lawyer when they need him/her, to write him/her letters and their correspondence is very private. Prisoners have access to religious leaders and their freedom to religion is respected to the extent of respecting dates and times for prayer, religious services and festivals and providing vegetarian, Halaal and Kosher food for those with religions requiring special dietary needs.
And in the UK the fact that these rights are guaranteed by law means that they are granted to prisoners. And so shall they be guaranteed to Charles Taylor. As a ‘special prisoner’, his standards are likely going to be even higher than those for ordinary inmates.
Oh yes, of course I do not dispute that Charles Taylor has human rights despite being a prisoner, and so the British prison will have to take really good care of him in order to respect his human rights. And of course that detention shall result in his isolation from family and lack of personal freedom, but is it punishment enough?
Has it really served justice for the suffering citizens of Sierra Leone? Youth unemployment and poverty is widespread, particularly in urban centres in Sierra Leone. The unrest caused by Charles Taylor left behind a nation with a poorly performing economy, infrastructure was destroyed, and the nation languishes in poverty. In 2008, Sierra Leone ranked 84 out of 88 countries in the Global Hunger Index and last out of 179 countries in the Human Development Index. Many people do not have decent housing. They do not have easy and free access to reliable sources of information let alone televisions with satellite.
The trial alone cost 250 million and keeping Charles Taylor in prison shall cost even more guaranteeing him the same rights that his actions are denying thousands of Sierra Leoneans. I wonder- is there real justice in the international criminal justice system? But also, can we guarantee human rights if we don’t grant them to some of the very worst villains in the world?