Global Policy Forum

War Court Zeros in On Taylor

September 23, 2004

Former President Charles Taylor flew into exile supposedly under a secret international covenant, last year, under the escort of ECOWAS and AU countries as part of the Liberian peace process. This was done in spite of Taylor's 17-count indictment by the War Crime Court in Sierra Leone for his role in RUF's decade-long devastation of Sierra Leone.

While his departure, which many consider unceremonious and constitutional, helped solve the problem of continuous mayhem and killings on all sides by belligerent armed factions in the Liberian conflict, it opened another window of controversy vis-í -vis his repatriation for trial in Freetown. The Freetown court wants him, but Nigeria has been holding on for close to a year now on account of the so-called pact. Now for the first time, the Special Court has disclosed Nigeria's willingness to end the controversy by repatriating Taylor for trial. The Analyst Staff Writer has been looking at a dispatch from the office of the chief prosecutor.

"Nigeria has shown consistent interest in supporting the Liberian peace process, beginning with the Nigerian government's leadership in removing Charles Taylor from Liberia in August 2003. As evidence mounts that Taylor is an obstacle to lasting peace in Liberia, I am optimistic that Nigeria will continue to support the Liberian peace process by transferring Charles Taylor to the Special Court for Sierra Leone." These were the words of the Chief Prosecutor of the Special War Crime Court in Sierra Leone, David M. Crane, as contained in the court's September 20 press dispatch.

Prosecutor Crane's optimism came against the milieu of a statement made last week by UNMIL's head and SRSG Jacques Paul Klein at the UN when he alluded to Taylor's continued negative influence on the peace process in Liberia by saying, "Charles Taylor's shadow still looms over Liberia."

"We have specific information that Charles Taylor continues to interfere in Liberian affairs and we share Mr. Klein's concerns. There can be no true peace in the region until Charles Taylor is brought to the Special Court for Sierra Leone for a fair and open trial," Mr. Crane said as he welcomed SRSG Klein's statement which he noted would serve as a catalyst in softening Nigeria's resolve to give Mr. Taylor a protective asylum in Calabar at any cost.

Klein's support aside, Mr. Crane expressed optimism that Nigeria would eventually transfer Taylor for trial at the Special Court for Sierra Leone because of Nigeria's place in preserving international peace. According to him, Nigeria has a strong record of support for the Special Court."Nigeria sits on the Special Court's Management Committee at UN headquarters in New York; Nigeria is the largest African donor to the Special Court; and from its beginning, the Court has been guarded by the Nigerian contingent of the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL)," Mr. Crane was quoted by the dispatch as saying.

The fact that Mr. Klein's statement at the Security Council is supportive of what the UN-backed special court claimed it has discovered all along, plus Nigeria's continued commitment to that court's existence, according to Chief Prosecutor Crane, indicated that the court was zeroing in on Mr. Taylor and that it was only a matter of time before he was arraigned before the special court.

Whether Nigeria's stance on the Charles Taylor's repatriation issue has anything to do with its commitment to the special court or not, Mr. Crane neglected to say, forcing analysts to believe that his optimism may hinge on sheer conjecture. "While it is true that Nigerian UNAMSIL troops guarded the Special Court from the beginning and that Nigeria sits on the Special Court's Management Committee at UN headquarters, it does not follow that Nigeria is prepared to abandon Taylor," argued one political analyst who suggested that Taylor may have paid luxuriously for his asylum in Calabar.

According to him Mr. Crane's bases for optimism were not new factors as Nigeria refused to release Mr. Taylor in spite of them. "Nigeria's argument is she has to protect her reputation as a respecter of international understanding and covenants and Nigeria has consistently pushed this line without mincing words," noted another analyst who noted that it would require the full pressure of the international community, headed by the UN and US, to get Nigeria to let go her "sacred cow" – Taylor.

Where that pressure will leave Nigeria's second argument that Taylor's asylum is part of the peace since it helps to contain him is not known, but observers say the benefit of repatriating Taylor must be scrupulously weighed against his continued shielding from the law by Nigeria.

Charles Taylor faces a 17-count indictment for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the conflict in Sierra Leone. The charges include terrorizing the civilian population, unlawful killings, sexual violence, physical violence, forced conscription of child soldiers, abductions, forced labor, looting and burning, and attacks on UN peacekeeping personnel.

During preliminary hearings late last year, Mr. Taylor's counsels lost the bid to force the court to abandon the case on grounds of lack of jurisdiction over a sitting president of a neighboring country. Some legal minds have since argued that Nigeria has committed blunder when she allowed Taylor's counsels to file returns to the special court in the first place only to argue that his trial would jeopardize the Liberian peace process after he lost arguments that the court has no jurisdiction over him.

Whether Nigeria minds her critics on the legal blunder or not is not clear, but what is clear is that Nigeria is ready to stand between Taylor and trial in Sierra Leone as she has done despite international pressure and civic and legal actions from her own citizens against Taylor's continued stay in Nigeria.

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


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