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War Crimes Court Rejects Immunity Bid by Former Liberian Leader Taylor - 2004-05-31


The special war crimes court in Sierra Leone has rejected an appeal by lawyers for former Liberian leader Charles Taylor that he be immune from the court's powers. Mr. Taylor is accused of numerous war crimes for his involvement in Sierra Leone's civil war.

A summary of the decision issued Monday in Freetown says the U.N.-backed international court has jurisdiction to order the arrest and trial of Mr. Taylor on war crimes charges, even though he was still serving as head of state when the indictment was issued.

The head of a citizens' group in Liberia, Aloysius Toe, was overjoyed by the decision. "We welcome the decision by the Special Court. We know that it is a right step in the right direction. What we are doing is to see how we can pressure the Liberian authorities to request the Nigerian government turn Mr. Taylor over," he said.

Since last August, Mr. Taylor has been living in luxurious exile in Nigeria, where he was granted asylum, provided that he does not interfere in Liberian affairs.

His lawyers, who had argued the war crimes tribunal did not have proper jurisdiction, say Mr. Taylor still has no intention of appearing before the court.

The interim leader of Liberia, Gyude Bryant, as well as the presidents of Nigeria and Sierra Leone, have all indicated they would like to see the peace process in Liberia consolidated, before any trial of Mr. Taylor.

The former rebel turned president has been indicted on 17 counts of crimes against humanity, including arming and training rebels and mercenaries during Sierra Leone's civil war, which ended in 2002.

On Monday, the appeals chamber of the special court also issued another ruling, which favored the prosecution, saying that forcing children to become soldiers is a valid charge.

Chief prosecutor David Crane views this as historic. "The bottom line is that child soldiers are a huge issue in the world. They are recruited and used in many places, and this will be the first time that the concept of recruiting children under the age of 15 will be recognized as a crime against humanity," he said.

Lawyers for the former head of pro-government militias in Sierra Leone, Hinga Norman, argued unsuccessfully that the use of children as soldiers was not defined as a crime at the time of Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war.

The trial of Mr. Norman and two other leaders of the Civil Defense Forces, Moinina Fofana and Allieu Kondewa, begins Thursday in Freetown. They also face charges of killing, looting and terrorizing civilians.

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