Although the underlying premise of blogs is that someone out there will eventually read the posts, the sheer enormity of the internet provides a sense of anonymity that promotes throwaway gestures and irreverent commentary. As recent events have demonstrated this anonymity is an illusion.
In a recent post I looked briefly at the situation of Omrie Golley, the former spokesman for the Revolutionary United Front ("RUF"). Golley had been imprisoned by the Kabbah government for 22 months without any semblance of due process for allegedly plotting to assassinate the President or Vice President. Golley was only recently released from prison after the new Koroma government declared that there was insufficient evidence to proceed to trial. I focused on Golley's case as a symbol of the failed legal system that characterized the post-conflict Kabbah government. I concluded that the price of a legitimate legal system is the prohibition of arbitrary and indefinite detentions, even where the detainee is a "bad dude."
Apparently, my choice of words was not appreciated. A couple of days after the post, I received an e-mail comment purportedly from Omrie Golley himself, the entirety of which can be read below. Mr. Golley took objection to my post, accused me of being "unprincipled and biased" and implied that my motivation for working in Sierra Leone is the "fat salaries" that are received by lawyers at the Special Court.
I would like to use this space to respond to a number of issues raised explicitly by Mr. Golley before addressing a more substantive issue that his role in the Sierra Leone conflict raises. Before this, however, I want to comment briefly on the nature of blog posts.
Compared to published articles and papers, blogs are relatively informal. I am using this blog to provide periodic updates on my research and to offer brief commentaries on issues in Sierra Leone. Due to the restrictions on the format and limited attention span of internet users, blogs are not the ideal medium for comprehensive analysis. I generally try to infuse my posts with humor and boil down the commentary to quickly digestible bites. My research will eventually be published in a far more comprehensive form and I have purposefully omitted from the blog information that would be more suitable for academic and policy papers. However, in responding to Mr. Golley I will have to engage in a more extensive discussion.
In Mr. Golley's criticism he states that there is a lot to learn from his detention and that "[I] could best possibly serve [the rule of law] in Freetown by simply focusing on [his] case." On this point I partially agree with Mr. Golley, and that is why the original post focused on how he had been a victim of a corrupt and illegitimate legal system. His case is a primary example of the failings of a legal system and the difficult process of legal reform. However, with all due respect to the noteworthiness of Mr. Golley , rule of law issues in Sierra Leone go far beyond his case. This is why my research will be examining variety of subjects including the capacity building efforts of the Special Court, the Ministry's of Justice's Legal Reform Plan, customary law practitioners, the Sierra Leone Bar Association and NGOs involved in providing legal services.
In his comment Mr. Golley stated, "That he could spend so much time writing about what a bad character I am without any substantiation in law and fact, serves to show how unprincipled and biased [Mr. Dermody] is." Mr. Golley misses the point. As a former spokesman Mr. Golley should know that character is not something determined in a court of law. While substantiation in law would be sufficient to establish bad character, it is not necessary to establish bad character. Without getting into philosophical semantics as to the true nature of character, I would submit that a person's character is established by their actions and how they are perceived in their community.
For many people, representing the RUF would be enough to establish bad character. During the Sierra Leone conflict the U.N. Security Council imposed an international travel ban on Mr. Golley and twenty-five other RUF figures for involvement in smuggling "blood diamonds" from Sierra Leone to Liberia. Mr. Golley denied these allegations, which he said were brought by the British Government.
Mr. Golley asserts that he was only interested in "belling the cat" by acting as a peace facilitator. Mr. Golley first became involved with the RUF during the 1996 Abidjan peace negotiations after he saw that the RUF "did not have horns and tails but where fighting against corruption and mismanagement." The Abidjan peace agreement was a failure and fighting continued to rage in Sierra Leone.
Several analyses of the conflict conclude that the RUF lacked a cohesive political ideology. It was not until Mr. Golley became involved that a quasi-political agenda was espoused or created. In a 1999 interview with Voice of America Mr. Golley said it was his job to articulate the RUF's political agenda. However, he declined to provide details about how an RUF government would address Sierra Leone's political and economic problems. Mr. Golley described the RUF's political agenda as Marxist, but involving free market economics and free trade. According to the University of Pennsylvania and Conciliation Resources, Mr. Golley was a leading figure in the RUF who exerted significant influence. Mr. Golley was involved in the 1999 Lome peace negotiations, but like previous accords, it failed to end the conflict which continued until 2002.
Mr. Golley challenged me "to prove [that he] was anything but genuinely committed to the peace process in Sierra Leone." This raises two issues. First, Mr. Golley was involved with the RUF for over five years during which he participated in two failed peace negotiations. It is difficult to conclude that Mr. Golley was only interested in taming the RUF when he spent so long with the group espousing their "political agenda" and justifying their actions. Moreover, it is difficult to understand the political aspects of the attacks that occurred while Mr. Golley was spokesman, even if, as Mr. Golley advocated, you put the amputations, rapes, killing and abductions "in context." Second, whether or not he was committed to the peace process has little to do with the subjective determination of character. It is possible to acknowledge the important role that figures like Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley played in the Northern Ireland peace process without concluding that they are good dudes. Similarly, Mr. Golley could have been completely committed to the peace process and still be considered a "bad dude."
As for Mr. Golley's reputation in the community, he stated that he "[sees] and [hears] the vast majority of Sierra Leoneans to this day thanking [him] for the role that [he] played." Perhaps the majority that Mr. Golley refers to is the classic silent majority.
While Mr. Golley's release from prison was widely covered in Sierra Leonean media outlets, the articles focused on the failings of the legal system rather than the meritorious character of Mr. Golley. A number of media outlets decried his release in very strong terms. The Sierra Leone Herald proclaimed that Golley's release was "subverting the rule of law in Sierra Leone" and that Golley should face the Special Court. In an earlier article, Abdulai Bayraytay, a former senior official for the Campaign for Good Governance, said that "history will however not forgive the likes of Omrie Golley...who defied all informed reasoning in aiding and abetting the rebels and their junta collaborators in wreaking havoc on innocent and unsuspecting Sierra Leoneans all because they wanted to covet political power at all costs through 'unconstitutional means.'"
I have conducted a number of interviews for my research and had numerous discussions with Sierra Leoneans during which the subject of Mr. Golley came up. If Mr. Golley was offended by being called a bad dude, then he would have been aghast by the significantly more poignant language the people I interviewed used to describe him. Several people thought that he should remain in jail and no one had kind things to say about his involvement in the conflict.
Finally, I find it rather curious that the spokesman for one of the most derided and demonized groups of the last decade would consider being labeled a "bad dude" such an egregious insult. Perhaps I failed to realize the power of my California vernacular. I guess Mr. Golley's extensive experience as a spokesman has made him more aware of what constitutes character assassination. With all due respect to Mr. Golley, it would not be unprincipled or biased to conclude from his actions and from his perception in the community that people could consider him a "bad dude."
Oh and while my research into legal development is funded by the Fulbright grant, I receive no "fat salary" for working for the Special Court. I work weekends and evenings to make sure that I meet the responsibilities of both of these full-time positions.
THE BIGGER PICTURE
Mr. Golley's comments implicitly raise a more important and substantive issue. Conflict resolution necessarily involves bad dues. Unless a strategy of single-side maximization is adopted, negotiations and other multi-party efforts will involve people whose goals and identities conflict. As Donna Pankhurst observes, "During conflicts it is common for both, or all, parties to conceive of themselves as fighting for justice." Being committed to a cause does not necessarily correlate to being committed to conflict resolution processes.
There is a distinction between conflict management and transitional justice. Conflict management is much more concerned with a negative peace, i.e. the absence of continued conflict. In conflict management processes there is a greater need to involve all actors in the conflict, even if those actors are objectionable to the populace or anathema to social healing. The challenge in conflict management is to have wide enough representation so that agreements (ceasefires, peace accords, etc.) are effective. These processes necessarily involve parties to the conflict who may be unsavory.
The goals for transitional justice are more forward looking and strive to establish a positive peace. For situations that have progressed beyond conflict management the goals and priorities for societies are more strictly defined. It is not enough to secure an absence of conflict, societal norms and positive community associations need to be reestablished. Actors who played a significant role in conflict management may have not have a similarly prominent role in transitional justice. Or to put it in different terms, the actors with the most agency in conflict management may become the object of transitional justice in the forms of trials and administrative sanctions.
Fortunately, Sierra Leone has moved well beyond conflict management. The challenge facing Sierra Leone is no longer just preventing conflict but creating structures and governance that will provide a beneficial future for the people of Sierra Leone.
Happy New Year everyone.