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Human Rights Activists Disappointed Over Possible Taylor Transfer

  • Nico Colombant

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has said she would prefer the case of detained former Liberian warlord Charles Taylor to take place outside Sierra Leone, the site of a special war crimes court. Meanwhile, Dutch officials say the special tribunal for Sierra Leone has asked the Netherlands to host the trial.

President Sirleaf says her government expects the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution that would allow Charles Taylor to be tried outside Freetown.

She said the International Criminal Court in The Hague or any other international court would be preferable. She said the court in The Hague would provide, what she called, a more conducive environment.

She also warned against any individuals who may want to use Taylor's dramatic capture this week in Nigeria and transferal to Sierra Leone as reason to cause chaos. She said they will also face the law.

Meanwhile, the Dutch foreign ministry says the special tribunal in Sierra Leone has asked the Netherlands to host the trial.

U.S. officials brought up this possibility immediately following Taylor's capture, saying a change of venue should be considered for a trial of such magnitude.

Taylor supporters have also called for the trial to be held outside Sierra Leone, saying it could help avoid more instability.

Taylor faces 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in Sierra Leone's 10-year civil war, marked by the trade of diamonds for weapons, the use of child soldiers, the systematic rape of young women, and the physical mutilation of civilians. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Taylor is also accused of using similar techniques during his rise to power in Liberia, as well as involvement in conflicts in neighboring Guinea and Ivory Coast.

Not everyone prefers a trial in the Netherlands. A London-based Senegalese human rights activist, Ibrahim Kane, says the trial should be held in Africa.

"Sierra Leoneans, Liberians, Guineans, to some extent Ivorians, want to know what happened, why this happened and what is the rationale behind these atrocities," he said. "I think they have the right to know, that it is better that this trial happen in the region rather than in The Hague. The coverage from The Hague will be really difficult to follow. So I really do not know what will be the added value of the trial in The Hague, far from the scene where all these atrocities happened."

He also fears this could slow the process.

A Sierra Leone human rights activist, Sulaiman Jabati, also expressed concern, saying most impoverished Sierra Leoneans will not be able to follow what happens in The Hague.

"Imagine how many people have access to television in Sierra Leone. So on behalf of the people of Sierra Leone, we believe that the best place to try Charles Taylor definitely should be in Sierra Leone," he said. "I think if you ask the majority of Sierra Leoneans they will tell you they want to see Charles Taylor in the dock. They want to hear him, they want to hear his lawyers, they want to hear his arguments."

Human rights activists also say they hope the trial will shed light on who was helping Taylor. The former warlord may appear in court this week, as proceedings begin. He is in a cell at the court's U.N. peacekeeper protected compound in Sierra Leone.

But some political analysts and newspaper columnists in the region have said it may be more prudent to have the trial held outside the region, so justice will be served, they say, with fewer threats of more violence.

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