Global Policy Forum

War Victims Haunt Taylor

May 28, 2004

When exiled former Liberian president, Charles Macarthur Taylor, flew from the Roberts International Airport on August 11, 2004, to Lagos, on to Abuja, and finally to Calabar City in eastern Nigeria under the "protective custody" of the presidents of Nigeria, South Africa, and Namibia, little did he know that he would be haunted indefinitely.

Until the Sierra Leonean Special Court demanded his extradition last November, Taylor had counted on the gentleman agreement reached between his exile host, Nigeria, and the international community that "Nigeria will not be harassed when she provides asylum to Liberia's fugitive president."

But now the situation has changed with enormous pressure being mounted by the Sierra Leonean court on the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to send Taylor to Sierra Leone to face war crime charges for his role in that country's decade-long mayhem. Additional pressure came initially from UK-based Amnesty International and US-based Human Rights Watch; but now, local groups both in Nigeria and Liberia are throwing in their weights to have Mr. Taylor extradited for trial in Sierra.

As The Analyst Staff Writer reports, the Civil Society Organizations of Liberia (CSOL) has launched an anti-impunity campaign and is using the extradition of Mr. Taylor as a litmus test. The Civil Society Organizations of Liberia (CSOL), a conglomeration of pro-democracy and rights advocacy grouping in the country, has launched what it called a three-month anti-impunity campaign to raise the consciousness of the Government of Liberia to the reality of justice.

The campaign, which begins in solidarity with a law suit filed in the Nigerian high court by two victims of the Sierra Leonean war against the continued stay of Mr. Taylor in Nigeria, is being simultaneously launched in the Americas, Europe, Asia, and parts of Africa, according to an CSOL press statement issued yesterday under the signature of Steering Committee Chairman J. Aloysius Toe.

As a boost to yesterday's launch, the CSOL said it plans to present a petition to the NTLA this morning to request it to authorize Chairman Gyude Bryant to demand custody of Mr. Taylor from President Olusegon Obasanjo of Nigeria. The organization said it intends to persuade the government through words and peaceful actions to cause her to demand custody of Mr. Taylor from the Nigerian government.

The 3-month campaign is expected to achieve four cardinal objectives, amongst them, "to denounce at all times, acts of committing crimes with impunity; for the Liberians society to remain steadfast, focused, and courageous in taking ownership of the fight against impunity; and to encourage and remind state institutions (i.e., police, justice system) to be responsive to criminality and bravado gansterism, through the provision of indiscriminate justice to victims."

According to the CSOL, the early extradition of Mr. Taylor to face his accusers in Sierra Leone is a good beginning of efforts to eradicate the culture of impunity in Liberia because it is absurd to mention impunity without first ensuring that Mr. Taylor is brought to justice.

"In the first instance, allowing Mr. Taylor to go to Sierra Leone is not an automatic guilt but an opportunity being provided him to exonerate himself of charges leveled against him," the CSOL release noted, arguing that by going to court, Taylor would be enjoying an opportunity he denied Sam Dokie, Noah Flomo, David Toe, Charles Brown, George Yealleh, ECOMOG soldiers, and countless victims of massacres and mass murders before and during his reign of terror.

It said not only will the trial of Mr. Taylor exact retribution for crimes against humanity and set the basis and pace for the prosecution of war criminals in Liberia, but that it will also allay the fears of Liberians that Taylor is planning another war against them.

"Moreover, this will be a great and significant step which will serve to reinforce the fight against the culture of impunity and will help to lay the groundwork for future efforts to bring perpetrators to justice for crimes committed in Liberia," the statement reiterated.

Meanwhile, a high court in Nigeria is reportedly hearing a case brought before it by two victims of the Sierra Leonean civil war in an effort to compel the Nigerian government to turn Mr. Taylor over to the Sierra Leonean special court. The identities of the plaintiffs were not disclosed, but it is believed that they are exiled Sierra Leone nationals seeking sanctuary in Nigeria. It may be recalled that recently, members of the Nigeria Bar Association and the Journalism Union of Nigeria protested the hosting of Mr. Taylor in Nigeria after murdering three Nigeria journalists in Liberia in the early 1990s.

Notwithstanding the continuous pressure on the Nigeria government to let Taylor face justice in Sierra Leone, President Obasanjo of Nigeria is said to be contending that he would only turn Taylor over to an elected Liberian government. The earliest Liberians are expected to have an elected government is January 2006.

In a related development, the Special UN Court in Sierra Leone has been hearing legal arguments by lawyers representing Mr. Taylor that he can not be tried because he was indicted in on June 4, 2003, while still serving as the President of Liberia. The defense counsel is arguing that Mr. Taylor should therefore be covered by presidential immunity from arrest and trial, especially by a foreign court that has no jurisdiction over him.

Observers say whether Taylor is extradited to Sierra Leone to face trial or not will be determined by the outcomes of the defense contention in Sierra Leone, the Nigerian high court decision, and the pressure now being initiated from home to compel the NTGL to request the custody of Mr. Taylor.

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