Global Policy Forum

UN Mandates Taylor's Arrest In Liberia


By Laolu Akande

November 13, 2005

Following the election of a new president in Liberia, the United Nations Security Council has moved quickly to signify to Mr. Charles Taylor and Nigeria that the international community would not give up in ensuring that the former Liberian president is tried at the UN Special Court in Sierra Leone. Last Friday afternoon, as news trickled in on the likely emergence of Africa's first female president, the Security Council unanimously passed a resolution that empowered the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) to arrest, detain and transfer Taylor to the UN court in Sierra Leone in the event that he shows up in Liberia.

According to the resolution, the UN Security Council "decides that the mandate of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) shall include the following additional element: to apprehend and detain former President Charles Taylor in the event of a return to Liberia and to transfer him or facilitate his transfer to Sierra Leone for prosecution before the Special Court for Sierra Leone and to keep the Liberian Government, the Sierra Leonean Government and the Council fully informed."

The resolution 1638 (2005) expressed "its appreciation to Nigeria and its President, Olusegun Obasanjo, for their contributions to restoring stability in Liberia and the West African sub-region." It also acknowledged "that Nigeria acted with broad international support when it decided to provide for the temporary stay of former President Charles Taylor in Nigeria."

For some time now, Nigeria has been on the receiving end of international clamour to release Taylor, who is currently on political asylum in Nigeria, to the UN court in Sierra Leone where he has been indicted on war crime charges. The UN Security Council however proceeded to stress "that former President Taylor remains under indictment by the Special Court for Sierra Leone and determining that his return to Liberia would constitute an impediment to stability and a threat to the peace of Liberia and to international peace and security in the region." Therefore relying under its powers in Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, the Security Council ordered the UNMIL to arrest and detain Taylor in case he decides to show up in Liberia.

Observers say this resolution, while clearly avoiding a diplomatic face-off with Nigeria, certainly sends a strong signal to Taylor that he should stay out of Liberia amid speculations that he has been meddling in the nation's politics since his relocation to Nigeria. It is also believed that the resolution indicated to Nigeria the "temporary nature of Taylor's asylum in the country."

According to officials at the Human Rights Watch in New York, Friday's resolution authorizing the UN peacekeeping force in Liberia to arrest Charles Taylor and transfer him to the Special Court for Sierra Leone, if he returns to Liberia, shows that "the circle is tightening" around the former Liberian president. Elise Keppler, counsel, International Justice Program of Human Rights Watch said, "the Security Council has sent a strong signal to Nigerian President Obasanjo that Taylor must face trial at the Special Court where he is indicted on war crimes and crimes against humanity. We expect President Obasanjo to get the message."

Speaking after the UN council vote, Henrique R. Valle of Brazil explained that he had joined the consensus to reflect his country's firm commitment to the settlement of all conflicts in Africa. However, the Brazilian delegation believed that the promotion of the rule of law should be exercised by national institutions, with international assistance if requested. Adherence to the rule of law should be based on the strict observance of a country's domestic framework, as well as international law.

In a similar vein, Martin Garcia Moritan of Argentina said he joined the consensus on the understanding that post-conflict peacebuilding in Liberia must be conducted with respect for law and justice. "Impunity," he said, sends a bad signal for the future and undermined a genuine process of national reconciliation." For that reason, Argentina supported the Mission's mandate, with full respect for Liberia's sovereignty and legal order, and in coordination with its Government, to apprehend Mr. Taylor and facilitate his transfer to the Special Court.

The UN Special Court is an independent tribunal established jointly by the United Nations and the Government of Sierra Leone in 2002 to try serious violations of international humanitarian law, such as war crimes and crimes against humanity, committed since 1996, at the height of that country's 1991-2002 civil war. Taylor and 11 others indicted by the Court are charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international humanitarian law. All but two of the indictees, including Taylor, are in the custody of the Special Court in Freetown.

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
More Information on Liberia


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