The world over, leaders often abuse office with reckless abandon, forgetting one day they would be held to account in a court of law or court of public opinion.
This subject is compelling, given Zimbabwe’s record of human rights abuses; some bordering on crimes against humanity, before and after Independence.
Since coming to power in 1980, Zanu PF has waged a campaign of terror and barbarism against real or perceived opponents. Thousands of Zimbabweans have been maimed or killed during President Robert Mugabe’s largely horrific rule.
From the Gukurahundi massacres in the 1980s to the 2008 election killings via Murambatsvina in 2005, Zimbabweans have been brutalised in ways which have shaken the conscience of the nation and left all civilised citizens wondering why some people should be allowed to beat, torture and kill other human beings without consequences.
Up to now victims of Zanu PF brutality, who bear scars of cruelty, have not been able to get justice. Perpetrators of horrendous crimes continue to walk the streets freely and in some cases even enjoy comfy lifestyles after being rewarded with top jobs and perks for work well-done in the killing fields.
I will return to this later. For now let’s go back to Taylor and his conviction.
The abuse of power, although prevalent everywhere, is largely dramatic in Africa, although times are changing.
Just yesterday Taylor was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the tribunal. The Special Court for Sierra Leone ruled he aided and abetted severe human rights abuses during Sierra Leone’s civil war between 1991 and 2001.
Taylor was convicted of helping Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels wage a terror campaign during the vicious civil war. He gave RUF rebels arms in exchange for diamonds.
The trial even saw British model Naomi Campbell testify she had received diamonds from the flamboyant ex-warlord. Prosecutors charged the RUF paid Taylor with “blood diamonds” worth millions, sometimes stuffed into mayonnaise jars. During the trial, prosecutor Brenda Hollis told the court: “Taylor created, armed, supported and controlled the RUF in a 10-year campaign of terror against the civil population of Sierra Leone.”
Presiding Judge Richard Lussick said Taylor was guilty on all 11 counts of murder, rape, sexual slavery, recruitment of child soldiers, and enslavement.
Taylor is the first head of state to be convicted by an international court since the Nuremberg trial in 1946 of Karl Doenitz, who briefly ruled Nazi Germany after the death of Adolf Hitler. .
Taylor, who pleaded not guilty, will be sentenced on May 30. He has the right to appeal.
There is no doubt the Taylor ruling, which brought a measure of justice to the people of Sierra Leone, sends an important message to high-ranking state officials; no matter who you are or what position you hold, one day you will be brought to justice for your crimes.
Zimbabwean leaders must take notice, especially those who have been spearheading human rights abuses against innocent people. Time will come – hopeful soon – when you will be held to account. People are beginning to take a robust stand against those who abuse power and perpetrate human rights abuses with impunity.
Apologists for murderers must be also condemned because in reality they are no different from butchers themselves. Those sent to do the hatchet jobs of beating up and killing people must know they will also be held to account as the plea of superior orders is no longer enough to escape punishment.
What is really problematic in the case of Zimbabwe is not just the scale of abuses, but the arrogant lack of remorse and failure to embrace truth and reconciliation by the brutal perpetrators beyond their choreographed phoney remarks and insulting gestures.
But as the Taylor verdict shows, those in power in Zimbabwe must not think they are untouchable because the day of reckoning will come, maybe sooner rather than later.