A coalition of 300 African and civil society groups is urging Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo to hand over former Liberian president Charles Taylor promptly to a UN-backed court in Sierra Leone. Thursday’s announcement by the Campaign Against Impunity was issued one day before the arrival of Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in Abuja for talks with the Nigerian leader. Taylor has been charged by the UN-sponsored court in Sierra Leone with 17 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
President Obasanjo has rejected calls to turn him over to the Freetown court but has said he would consider surrendering him to a duly elected Liberian government. Shaoli Sarkar, who researches Sierra Leone issues for the Washington office of the Coalition for International Justice, says President Sirleaf does not consider discussion of Taylor’s handover a top priority for her country, which is struggling to recover from a 14-year civil war. Nevertheless, Sarkar tells Voice of America reporter Howard Lesser she hopes the subject will be raised during talks in Abuja:
“President Sirleaf has been very, very open to discussing the idea about Taylor. Her message, which I think is that ‘Look, there are basic things that need to be fixed throughout Liberia, and I need the money to do that. And I don’t want to feel constrained that this issue of Taylor is going to prevent me from receiving funds.’” Researcher Sarkar says the reason that more than 300 African groups in the Coalition Against Impunity are seeking to bring Taylor to justice in Sierra Leone is that they are concerned that President Obasanjo may be helping Taylor elude answering for war crimes he allegedly committed by arming Sierra Leone rebels and financing an illicit weapons market through the sale of “blood diamonds.”
“What’s at stake here,” says Sarkar, “is that the mandate for the Special Court for Sierra Leone is through December of 2006, and funding is not secured for more than this year. So the need to bring Taylor in front of the Court as soon as possible is very important. And the more that West African government officials, people in the international community can continue to say, ‘Yes, it’s very important to bring Taylor to justice, but it’s more important to take care of these other things first,’ may be very problematic because the question that’s not being asked and should be asked is: If the mandate of the Special Court expires, what happens to Taylor at that point?”