- Pressure from human rights groups and the EU parliament against the government of Nigeria is increasing to hand former Liberian President Charles Taylor over to the UN-backed court for war crimes in Sierra Leone. Despite an internationally valid indictment, the Nigerian government continues to protect Liberia's ex-dictator, charged with serious war crimes in Sierra Leone.
Two international human rights groups, Amnesty International and US-based Human Rights Watch, today urged Nigerian authorities to hand over Mr Taylor to the Sierra Leonean special court. Human Rights Watch also called on the European Union (EU) and its member states to put pressure on Nigeria.
The US human rights group is reacting to a resolution passed earlier today by the European Parliament, calling on the EU and its member states to take immediate action to bring about ex-President Taylor's appearance before the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
The European Parliament resolution calls on the EU "to build international pressure in order to bring about Charles Taylor's extradition." The resolution notes that Europe has contributed more than US$ 30 million to support the functioning of the Special Court for Sierra Leone and that the EU has contributed euro 800,000 to support the Special Court's work.
- Today's European Parliament resolution calling for Taylor to be turned over to the Special Court is a welcome step, said Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch. "The EU and its member states should press Nigeria to surrender Taylor. They should also support a [UN] Security Council resolution doing the same," Mr Dicker added.
The Special Court indicted Charles Taylor on 17 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in contributing to the death, rape, abduction, and mutilation of thousands of civilians during Sierra Leone's civil war from 1991 to 2002. The former Liberian president was forced from power in August 2003 by Liberian rebels and a US and Guinea-led coalition.
Since that, Mr Taylor has been harboured by the Nigerian government "in violation of its legally binding obligations under international law," according to Amnesty. "Its decision to grant refugee status to Charles Taylor violates Nigeria's obligations to surrender a person indicted for crimes under international law or to submit the case to its prosecuting authorities," the group says.
According to Human Rights Watch, Mr Taylor's continued presence in Nigeria "not only undermines the principle that crimes against humanity in Africa should not go unpunished, but it also poses a risk to stability in West Africa." When still President in Liberia, Mr Taylor was accused of fuelling armed conflicts in neighbouring Sierra Leone, Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire.
There are now a number of allegations that Mr Taylor remains in frequent contact with members of his former government, and that he also may be supporting an insurgency aimed at Guinea composed of fighters loyal to him. These include combatants from the former Revolutionary United Front of Sierra Leone, the Liberian Anti-Terrorist Unit and Special Security Service, and numerous Guinean dissidents.
Sierra Leone's Special Court has the power to prosecute those "“who bear the greatest responsibility" for serious violations of international humanitarian law and certain violations of domestic law committed in Sierra Leone since 30 November 1996. The UN created the Special Court through an agreement with the government of Sierra Leone after the end of the 10-year conflict in the country.
Its jurisdiction therefore does not include all those who committed crimes under international law throughout the civil war. Only 11 of the very large number of people suspected of committing these crimes have been indicted. Two of them, including former Liberian President Taylor, have yet to be arrested and surrendered to the Special Court.
Elected President of Liberia in 1997 after a seven-year war that ousted former President Samuel Doe, Mr Taylor gained notoriety for the brutal abuses against civilians committed by his forces in Liberia, and for his use of child soldiers organised in "Small Boy Units". Forces supported by Mr Taylor have since been involved in conflicts in neighbouring Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire.
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