We should welcome Charles Taylor’s recent conviction by a U.N. war crimes tribunal.
While president of Liberia, Taylor fomented violent uprisings in neighboring countries with the aid of brutal militias in order to extend his regional influence.
It was during his rule that the term “blood diamonds” was coined, referring to the lucrative stones from Sierra Leone that financed his arms purchases.
Many of these reportedly found their way onto the shelves of such signature stores as Cartier and Bulgari.
None of the prominent diamond retailers who purchased “blood diamonds” without enquiring into their origins has been held morally and legally accountable. Nor the governments and companies from whom Taylor bought his arms.
It is noteworthy that the U.N. tribunal was funded mostly by the United States and Great Britain.
As I have often observed on this blog, absent from the public discourse of the U.S. and Western Europe is any suggestion that Western powers be subjected to the same accountability procedures that are used to impose criminal liability on those who are perceived to be blocking Western economic and political interests.
A smug editorial on Taylor’s conviction in Britain’s Financial Times (April 27, 2012) begins thus: “A strong message was sent to tyrants and warlords around the world yesterday. International law may be slow, but even those in the higher ranks of power can be held to account for atrocities committed against the innocent.”
There was no mention of the treatment of Bradley Manning by the U.S. government for exposing U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, or of any call to investigate the behavior of French troops in the Ivory Coast.
What the editorial should have said is: “those tyrants in non-Western nations whose operations interfere with American geopolitical priorities and Western corporate interests will be held to account. If they are allies of the West, like Malaysia, Saudi Arabia or Israel, their atrocities do not count. In fact, we shall continue to sell them military hardware. And if they are American citizens, they will enjoy immunity from war crimes prosecutions.”
My wife recently came across an interview that Nicholas Wolterstorff, the eminent Christian philosopher, had with Father Eliya Khoury, a Palestinian Arab, born and reared in the West Bank and a former assistant bishop in the Jerusalem Diocese of the Anglican church.
Some years ago, the Israeli authorities imprisoned Khoury for eight months (two of them in solitary confinement) and then, without granting him a hearing, expelled him from Israel.
He had been too outspoken in condemning the injustices being wreaked on his people.
Wolterstorff had a private conversation with Khoury in Amman, Jordan, and he conveys the gist of what Khoury said (while admitting that he is unable to convey the deep sorrow and passion with which he spoke):
“Why, he asked, has the church abandoned us Christians here in the Middle East? We are deserted, forgotten by the church of the whole world. Why do the Christians in America support the Zionists instead of supporting us, their brothers and sisters in Christ? I do not understand. They do not even notice us … We are caught between the Israelis and the Muslims. The Muslims see western Christendom as behind Israel. They see Israel as an outpost of the West – of the Christian West. They want no part of it. … We are willing to become martyrs if that is demanded of us. We shall remain faithful. But you are forcing us become unworthy martyrs, martyrs in an unworthy cause.
… A few years back 12 percent of the Palestinians were Christians. Now only 6 percent are. We are constantly shrinking, constantly getting smaller. They are being forced out of Israel by Zionist policies. Israel is destroying the church in Palestine. The old ones have their homes taken from them by the Israelis, confiscated. The young ones, seeing no future, leave – for the United States, for South America, anywhere. Why do you Christians in America support the Zionists, when the Zionists are destroying the church in Palestine? Why do you not support your brothers and sisters in Christ?
And now I am told that conservative Christian groups in the United States are planning to start a radio station aimed at the Muslims. Why do you not speak to us first about such things? Why do you act as if there are no Christians here? We have lived with the Muslims for thousands of years. Why do you not first ask us our advice? You say that we have not been successful in evangelizing the Muslims. What do all your Western missionaries have to show for their efforts? I tell you, this will only make the Muslims more nervous, more suspicious, more fanatic. Our oppression will become worse. You will cause Christianity to disappear from the Middle East unless you stop this ‘American evangelism’ – and unless your government settles the Palestinian problem.”
– From “An Evening in Amman,” The Reformed Journal, July 1982,
abbreviated by me
This was a cry from 1982. What has changed? In fact, the situation described, both within Palestine and in the U.S., has only worsened.
When Gandhi was once asked what he thought of Western civilization, he is supposed to have replied: “It would be a good idea.”
How do we persuade our friends in North America and Europe that believing in human rights would be a good idea?
Vinoth Ramachandra is secretary for dialogue and social engagement for the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students. He lives in Sri Lanka.