Global Policy Forum

Britain Offers to Jail Taylor,

Agence France Presse
June 15, 2006

Britain has agreed to imprison Liberian former president Charles Taylor if he is convicted of war crimes, clearing the way for his trial in the Netherlands over some of Africa's worst atrocities. Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said Thursday that London had agreed to a request by UN chief Kofi Annan that Taylor -- if convicted -- serve his jail sentence in Britain.

The agreement is crucial, as the issue of where he would he imprisoned had been holding up any decision on whether Taylor would be tried in Sierra Leone or, for security reasons, in another country such as the Netherlands. "I was delighted to be able to respond positively to the request of the United Nations Secretary General that, should he be convicted, Charles Taylor serve his sentence in the UK," Beckett said. After Beckett's statement, Dutch authorities immediately declared that "all conditions set by the Dutch government have been met" for a trial there. "The next step is a UN Security Council resolution, which I expect to be drawn up in the next few days," said Dutch foreign ministry spokeswoman Hannah Tijmes.

Once one of Africa's most feared warlords, Taylor, 58, is widely considered to have been the single most powerful figure behind a series of civil wars in Liberia and neighbouring Sierra Leone between 1989 and 2003 which left 400,000 people dead. He has been indicted by the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone on 11 counts of crimes against humanity, war crimes and violations of international human rights. Specifically, Taylor is accused of sponsoring and aiding rebel groups which perpetrated the murder, sexual slavery, mutilation and conscription of child soldiers in Sierra Leone's civil war in exchange for a share in the lucrative diamond trade.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone, established in 2002, has requested that Taylor's trial be moved The Hague for security reasons. Such a request has to be approved by the UN Security Council.

Taylor pleaded not guilty to all 11 charges in early April when he appeared before the court in Freetown for the first time. A spokesman told AFP earlier this month that any trial is unlikely to be held this year. The Sierra Leone tribunal has struck a deal with the International Criminal Court, also based in The Hague, to use its premises to conduct Taylor's trial, ICC spokesman Ernest Sagaga told AFP Thursday. The agreement means Taylor could be judged in The Hague by a special branch of the Sierra Leone court using ICC facilities.

Explaining her decision in a written statement to parliament, Beckett said new legislation would be required for Taylor to be jailed after conviction. "My decision was driven by two compelling arguments. Firstly, that Taylor's presence in Sierra Leone remains a threat to peace in that region," she said. "Secondly, that we are demonstrating through concrete action the UK's commitment to international justice. If we want to live in a just world, we must take responsibility for creating and fostering it." She said Taylor's handover into custody earlier this year was "an historic day for the people of Sierra Leone and West Africa" but acknowledged fears that his continued detention in Freetown could pose a "considerable and immediate threat to regional security." "The international community must not fail them by asking them to run the risk associated with his continued presence in Freetown," she added. "By offering these assurances, we are removing one potential obstacle to allowing the trial to proceed."

Liberia's new president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, visited London in May, not long after securing Taylor's return from exile in Nigeria. Britain, Sierra Leone's former colonial power, was heavily involved in the UN peacekeeping mission that brought the country's decade-long civil war to an end in January 2002.

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


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