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UN Rights Chief Calls for Prosecution of Liberia's Ex-President Taylor

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, is calling on African leaders to push for the prosecution of former Liberian President Charles Taylor. Ms. Arbour is asking them to "encourage" Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo to turn Mr. Taylor over to the criminal court in Sierra Leone.

U.N. Human Rights Chief Louise Arbour says former Liberian President, Charles Taylor must be turned over to the special criminal court in Sierra Leone for justice to be done.

She says the issue of his surrender from his exile in Nigeria is very important. "Justice, I think, screams to be done both in Liberia and in Sierra Leone," she said. "There is no reason for a valid legal process not to follow its course. This man has been indicted by an international mixed international and national court and, in my view, whether or not there is satisfactory evidence that he is breaching the terms of his exile, the time has come for him to stand trial and the international community should say so with no ambivalence."

In an effort to end Liberia's long-running civil war, Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo agreed to grant Charles Taylor asylum in his country. Under a deal worked out between both men, Mr. Taylor, reportedly agreed not to meddle in Liberian and Sierra Leonian affairs in return for protection from prosecution.

High Commissioner Arbour says she has not seen the agreement. She says she does not know if it even exists in written form nor what its terms are. But, she notes none of this matters, because Charles Taylor has been indicted as an international criminal and should stand trial.

"I think it is somewhat unfair to focus exactly on President Obasanjo who offered his good offices at a time where there seemed to be a gridlock on the issue of the peace process in Liberia," said Ms. Arbour. "At this point, I think, it is incumbent on all leaders, in particular on African leaders, in particular leaders in the region to publicly support a call to President Obasanjo rather then let him assume alone the burden of appearing to renege on promises that he may have made to Charles Taylor. I think it is important for regional leaders to echo my call that justice has to follow its course."

Ms. Arbour says President Obasanjo has indicated if a newly elected government in Liberia requested Charles Taylor's extradition to the court in Sierra Leone that he might respect this.

However, she says she does not think this would be a good idea. She says it would put a huge amount of pressure on Liberia's new government to make this sensitive decision.

She warns the threat of prosecution at home may well provide the incentive for Charles Taylor to make sure his supporters in Liberia are elected to office and he will escape justice.