Global Policy Forum

Justice for Charles Taylor

Washington Post
May 5, 2005

President Bush will meet today with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, a democratically elected leader who has taken modest but praiseworthy steps to fight endemic corruption in his country and has committed peacekeeping troops and political leverage to promoting stability and democracy in his neighborhood. Mr. Obasanjo has, however, one large skeleton in his closet: Charles Taylor, the indicted war criminal and al Qaeda ally who has wreaked havoc throughout West Africa. Exploiting his grant of asylum in Nigeria, Mr. Taylor is once again threatening to destabilize Liberia and its neighbors. Mr. Bush and his visitor need to talk about putting a stop to this menace.

In August 2003 Mr. Obasanjo helped end warfare in Liberia by granting Mr. Taylor sanctuary, on the condition that he forgo any attempt to regain power or meddle in the affairs of Liberia's neighbors. For some 15 years before that deal Mr. Taylor had led or sponsored a series of wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Ivory Coast. He committed some of the most horrific war crimes in Africa's modern history, including the brutalization of thousands of children who were compelled to join his armies, used as sex slaves or dismembered. To finance his conquests, he traded in diamonds and took financiers of al Qaeda and Hezbollah as his partners. Indicted by a U.N.-sponsored tribunal on 17 counts of crimes against humanity and besieged by enemy forces in his devastated capital, he won safe passage to Nigeria because Liberians and outside powers, including the United States and Britain, believed it would save lives and allow reconstruction in the region.

Twenty-one months later that process remains fragile: U.N. peacekeepers guard a tenuous calm in Liberia in advance of October elections; in Ivory Coast a peace agreement hangs by a thread. In blatant violation of his asylum deal, Mr. Taylor is doing his best to disrupt this progress. According to the chief prosecutor of the international tribunal, he masterminded the attempted assassination of Guinea's president in January; he allegedly traveled to Burkina Faso the next month to meet one of the candidates he is sponsoring in the Liberian elections. Mr. Taylor hopes to install a crony as Liberian president so that he can return to the country and renew his regional warfare. The best means of stopping him, trial by the Sierra Leone-based court, will be lost with the expiration of its mandate at the end of this year.

Mr. Obasanjo has taken the position that he cannot break his promise of asylum to Mr. Taylor unless he is presented with irrefutable proof of his continued criminal behavior or is petitioned by a Liberian government -- unlikely precisely because of the warlord's influence. Mr. Bush can break this logjam by telling Mr. Obasanjo, in public as well as in private, that the United States is convinced that Mr. Taylor has violated his agreement and must be turned over to the court. He can also commit strong American support to a U.N. Security Council resolution that with the support of the current council chair, Denmark, would call on Nigeria to deliver Mr. Taylor to the court. Nigeria's president has no interest in offering further cover to a criminal who aspires to plunge his region into chaos. He needs the support and encouragement of Mr. Bush to bring Mr. Taylor to justice, before it is too late.

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


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