Jury still out on international war crimes system

Mon Apr 30, 2012 1:39pm GMT

By Peter Apps, Political Risk Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former Liberian President Charles Taylor's war crimes conviction may be seen in some quarters as a victory for global justice, but a backlash against costly, lengthy international tribunals is also underway.

Found guilty of aiding and abetting a host of crimes including murder, rape and torture as well as arming brutal Sierra Leonean rebels, Taylor became the first head of state to be convicted by an international tribunal since the Nuremberg Trials after World War Two. He will be sentenced on May 30.

While Adolf Hitler avoided justice at Nuremberg by committing suicide in his Berlin bunker, his successor Admiral Karl Doenitz was convicted of crimes against the laws of war and planning a war of aggression.

Human rights groups and western governments in particular welcomed the Taylor verdict, saying it stood as a warning to others that while the wheels of justice might take a long time to turn, the age of impunity for national leaders was over.

But with the United Nations-backed "hybrid" court trial - including both international and Sierra Leonean members - taking a decade and costing an estimated $50 million, some see that as simplistic. Some put the cost of the entire Sierra Leone tribunal process at some $200 million, while British newspapers complained that plans for Taylor to serve his sentence in a British prison could cost taxpayers up to 100,000 pounds a year.

At the very least, some wonder whether the money could have been better spent in impoverished West Africa.

While Taylor's prosecution was handled by a tribunal only looking at one conflict - Sierra Leone, not the Liberian civil war in which he is also accused of mass atrocities - most more recent war crimes cases are in the hands of the International Criminal Court.

That has now issued indictments for crimes committed in six countries - Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Sudan, Central African Republic, Libya and Kenya - and found itself coming under growing criticism itself.   Continued...

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor looks down as he waits for the start of a hearing to receive a verdict in a court room of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in Leidschendam, near The Hague, April 26, 2012. REUTERS/Peter Dejong/Pool
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