Global Policy Forum

Nigerian High Court Agrees to Review

Justice Initiative
June 3, 2004

Nigeria's Federal High Court agreed Monday to review the asylum status of fugitive former Liberian President Charles Taylor. The decision comes on the first annivesary of the public indictment.

Indicted one year ago for war crimes by the United Nations Special Court for Sierra Leone, Taylor has avoided justice by receiving asylum from Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo in August 2003.

The High Court decision allowing the challenge to Taylor's asylum status to go forward was brought on behalf of two Nigerian businessmen who were tortured in 1999 by rebel groups in Sierra Leone backed by Taylor.

"This decision vindicates the courage and efforts to seek justice of two survivors of a brutal civil war largely engineered and financed by Charles Taylor," said Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, senior legal officer of the Open Society Justice Initiative, one of the groups that supported the suit. "Now it is the duty of judges to decide in accordance with the law regardless of political considerations."

The petitions filed on behalf of Nigerian businessmen David Anyaele and Emmanuel Egbuna, recount the brutal treatment against them and other Nigerians by rebels from the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC).

"The rebels isolated Nigerians from the other captives and began amputating their forelimbs," Anyaele said in his petition. "I witnessed the amputation of tens of persons. Only Emmanuel Egbuna and I survived. "After amputating me, the rebels set me on fire and told me to go deliver their message to the Nigerian government."

Egbuna's statement describes not only the abuse he suffered but also the murder of his brother.

"They cut off the hands of my younger brother, Benedict, from beneath the elbow. They dumped him at the cemetery behind the house. He bled to death in front of me and his pregnant wife. I was next," said Egbuna. "The machete cut through the flesh and the bones of my hands but did not entirely severe them. With my hands dangling from my arms, the rebels also dumped me at the cemetery."

The UN Special Court on June 4 held Taylor accountable for these and other atrocities by indicting Taylor for providing financial support, military training, personnel, arms, and ammunition to the RUF, which worked jointly with the AFRC to take control over Sierra Leone. Yet by granting asylum to Taylor in August 2003, Nigerian President Obasanjo derailed justice and protected Taylor from prosecution.

The petitions from Anyaele and Egbuna, however, open up a new opportunity to bring Taylor to justice by demanding that all obstacles be removed to his appearance in Freetown to face the Special Court's charges.

The petitions claim that, by purporting to grant asylum to Taylor, President Obasanjo breached their rights under Nigeria's Constitution and international law and usurped the powers of Nigeria's National Refugee Commission, the country's sole arbiter of asylum claims. The petitions also accuse the Nigerian government of obstructing Mr. Taylor's trial in the Freetown-based Special Court.

In explaining the Federal High Court's ruling, Justice S.J. Adah said that the Court had a "primary responsibility" to hear the cases.

The suits were filed on behalf of the businessmen by Tunde Fagbohunlu of the law firm of Aluko & Oyebode, and supported by the Nigeria Coalition on the International Criminal Court (NCICC), the Open Society Justice Initiative, the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), and the Amputees Rehabilitation Foundation, an organization founded by survivors of the Liberia and Sierra Leone conflicts.

"The law is on our side, justice is on our side, truth is on our side," said NCICC National Secretary Mohammed Ibrahim. "In fair proceedings, we expect the outcome to bring closer the day when Mr. Taylor will face an impartial international trial."

More Information on International Justice
More Information on Charles Taylor
More Information on the Special Court for Sierra Leone


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