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2008 and the Rule of Law in Africa


In 2008, the rule of law played a prominent role in a number of African countries and is expected to do so in the New Year as well. David Crane, former chief prosecutor of the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone and a Syracuse University College of Law professor, spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the rule of law and justice over the past year.

“It moves forward slowly and in incremental steps, but stop and think what’s taken place in2008. The (Charles) Taylor trial has started and it’s gone very well. It’s moving forward justly and openly. We’ve had the request by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court for an indictment against another African head of state, (Omar) al Bashir… in Sudan. We’ve had (Zimbabwe President Robert) Mugabe go to some kind of peace table; granted, it’s started to unravel. And we’ve had what I consider an incredibly important judgment and that is the conviction and sentencing of Col. Bagosora, who was really pretty much the linchpin in the starting of the genocide in Rwanda. So, from this ole chief prosecutor’s point of view, I think it’s been a good year,” he says.

Crane expects a verdict in the Taylor trial in 2009. He’s accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity stemming from Sierra Leone’s civil war, in which he allegedly supported rebels.

In seeking peace, there may be a choice between expediency and the rule of law. That is, granting amnesty, for example, rather than trying those accused of serious crimes. Crane uses the case of Charles Taylor to explain his position.

“When I unsealed the indictment, and he was whisked off to Calabar in Nigeria (for exile), individuals were saying, oh my goodness, this is going to disrupt the peace process, justice is going to get in the way. We need peace first, justice later. But at the end of the day, if you consider it, two years later you had the free and fair election…of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first woman in Africa to be elected a sitting president. So, in my mind, the indictment of Charles Taylor and his eventual arrest and trial actually brought peace to the region,” he says.

He says the same issues were discussed before the ICC prosecutor requested an arrest warrant for Sudan’s president in connection with the crisis in Darfur. He says, “An indictment, if properly carried out according to procedure and law, actually brings peace over time…. Justice is always the important end state. And certainly peace is important and we may have to have peace first, then justice, but to actually have a sustainable peace we really have to have justice as well.”

Professor Crane says President-elect Obama will face a number of rule-of-law challenges when he takes office on January 20th.

“In his campaign, he certainly has laid down a marker that we will return to the rule of law and respect the rule of law. And…his administration certainly will follow that up. We’ve see grumblings related to Guantanamo (prison for suspected terrorists) and its possible closing. We see considerations as to what’s going on in the various tension centers in Iraq and Afghanistan. And I think that with his approach of reaching out, I think that we’re going to see…an attempt to move forward with respect to the rule of law,” he says.

But he says it won’t be easy. “It’s going to be a real challenge because of the fact that the rest of the world has looked at the United States through a prism based on the alleged problems that President Bush and Vice-President Cheney have had with the rule of law,” he says.

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