Global Policy Forum

Trial Sought for Ex-Leader of Liberia

Associated Press
April 10, 2005

At a time that President Bush says he is taking a strong stand against tyranny, some members of Congress say he is doing little to bring one of the world's most notorious dictators to justice. Former Liberian President Charles Taylor is under indictment by a war crimes tribunal, accused of crimes against humanity. Yet he continues to live comfortably in exile in Nigeria. International officials say he is meddling in politics in Liberia and elsewhere in West Africa.

In resolutions, floor debates and interviews, lawmakers of both parties have been urging the Bush administration to press Nigeria to turn over Taylor to the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone. Taylor, a former warlord, is accused of directing Sierra Leone's notoriously brutal Revolutionary United Front rebels and trafficking in guns and diamonds. Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., plans to introduce a resolution this week calling on Nigeria to transfer Taylor to the international court. The idea is "having Congress take the lead on setting a policy," Royce said.

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, top Democrat on the subcommittee that funds foreign aid, offered a measure this week calling on the United States to use "its voice and vote" at the United Nations to force Taylor's transfer. "Despite assurances by the State Department more than a year ago that Taylor will ultimately appear before the court, they have made little effort to get him there and, even worse, they seem to have no strategy for doing so," Leahy said in a statement.

The State Department says it is working on getting Taylor turned over to the court, but declined to provide details. Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., said he has discussed Taylor with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other U.S. officials and has received assurances they would pursue the matter. Still, he said, "I think we can do more."

The congressional efforts follow the European Parliament's approval of a resolution calling for Taylor to be brought before the court. It also comes as court officials have been lobbying U.S. officials to take a stronger stand. But some rights officials and congressional aides say State Department officials are divided about how hard to press Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo to turn over Taylor. Nigeria is an increasingly important strategic ally for the United States. It is a major oil producer, Africa's most populous nation and a pivotal force in dealing with terrorism, violence in Sudan and other issues on the continent.

Obasanjo is seen as guiding Nigeria toward greater democracy and less corruption. Moreover, Nigeria agreed to accept Taylor in 2003 at the behest of the United States and other nations to prevent further bloodshed as rebels were poised to topple his government. "The Nigerians were pressed very hard to take Taylor because no one was willing to go in there forcefully and remove him," said Princeton Lyman, a former ambassador to Nigeria. "The idea that somehow Nigeria is at fault here for not turning him over to the tribunal is unfair."

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