- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Much of the world recently focused on the handover of Saddam Hussein to the Iraqi government for trial, but far less attention is given a similar issue involving one of the most notorious African war criminals Africa ever: former Liberian President Charles Taylor.

For more than a decade, Mr. Taylor helped fuel brutal conflicts throughout West Africa. Among other crimes against humanity, Mr. Taylor sponsored the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in Sierra Leone which was responsible for torture, mutilation and deaths of tens of thousands of innocent civilians — including children as young as 2.

In response to the Sierra Leone atrocities, the United States worked with the United Nations Security Council to establish, by a unanimous vote, the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL). The court’s simple mandate is to bring to justice those most responsible for the crimes against the people of Sierra Leone, and it moved aggressively to begin its first trials earlier this year. Congress has strongly supported the court, appropriating $20 million for its work, $5 million more than the U.S. pledged.

Even so the SCSL has reached an important crossroads. Three of the four persons most responsible for the crimes in Sierra Leone — Foday Sankoh, Johnny Paul Koroma, and Sam Bockarie — are all known or believed to be dead. Charles Taylor, indicted on 17 counts by the SCSL, is the only one of the four who can still be tried. Many Sierra Leoneans believe the SCSL will fail if Mr. Taylor does not face justice — which would be like convening a war crimes tribunal for Yugoslavia while letting Slobodan Milosevic off the hook.

The international community has a responsibility to help bring Mr. Taylor to justice. The United Nations Security Council resolution establishing the SCSL declared that “[T]he international community will exert every effort to bring those responsible to justice … “. Interpol has issued a Red Notice for Taylor for “crimes against humanity” and for “grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions.”

On May 31, the court rejected a motion filed by Mr. Taylor claiming head-of-state immunity — removing any shred of doubt he is an international fugitive and must stand trial.

Despite all this, Charles Taylor continues to live in Nigeria, enjoying the protection of the Nigerian government. We owe the Nigerians a debt of gratitude for helping remove Mr. Taylor from power, but the job of promoting regional peace and reconciliation cannot not be completed unless Mr. Taylor answers to the grave charges brought by the court.

Earlier this week, the Liberian Assembly rejected a resolution calling for Mr. Taylor’s transfer to the SCSL. Sad to say, fewer than half of the members bothered to vote on the issue and just 18 votes (out of 72 members) defeated the resolution.

Allowing Nigeria to shield Mr. Taylor helps establish a terrible precedent of allowing indicted war criminals to escape justice from a U.N.-backed tribunal, hinders efforts to promote the rule of law in Africa, and damages U.S. efforts to protect human rights around the world. Mr. Taylor’s immediate transfer to the SCSL is also essential to the long-term stability and security of Liberia and other parts of West Africa.

Charles Taylor has already broken the terms of his agreement with the Nigerian government by continuing to meddle in the affairs of Liberia. There is no way to predict what other actions he may take to destabilize the region.

Transferring Charles Taylor to the court also is widely backed in Nigeria. Prominent members of Nigeria’s military and civil society have vigorously opposed the decision to shield Mr. Taylor. Nigerian peacekeepers suffered at the hands of Mr. Taylor’s forces in the 1990s. Two Nigerian citizens who had limbs amputated by Taylor-sponsored RUF forces recently filed a motion in Nigerian courts for Taylor’s extradition.

We need real leadership to ensure justice is done.

• First, the Liberian government, lead by interim President Jude Bryant, should move for the Assembly to reconsider a resolution calling on Nigerian transfer of Mr. Taylor to the SCSL.

• Second, Sierra Leone’s President Amhad Kabbah should tell Nigerian authorities, in no uncertain terms, that the people of Sierra Leone wish to see Charles Taylor before the SCSL.

• Third, the Economic Community of West African States should issue a statement supporting Mr. Taylor’s immediate transfer to the SCSL.

• Finally, the State Department, which has belatedly agreed Mr. Taylor should stand before the SCSL, should insist the court not shut down until that happens. The Bush administration should also endorse aid sanctions on the government of Nigeria (sanctions that do not restrict programs to aid the Nigerian people) imposed by Congress last year, if Nigeria continues to refuse to send Mr. Taylor to the SCSL.

The people of Sierra Leone have suffered too much for far too long. Charles Taylor must stand trial.

Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, is Vermont’s senior U.S. senator and ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations. Judd Gregg, a Republican, is New Hampshire’s senior senator and chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State and the Judiciary.

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