Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is asking African leaders to decide whether to bring former President Charles Taylor to trial on war crimes charges. Mrs. Sirleaf was speaking at the United Nations, where she addressed the Security Council.As she entered the Security Council chamber Friday, Mrs. Sirleaf said "it is time to bring the Taylor issue to closure." She told reporters she had asked Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo to reach a collective decision of African leaders on whether to hand Taylor over to a war crimes tribunal.
"He is now consulting with the African leadership to achieve that objective," she said. "If the collective decision of the African leadership is that Mr. Taylor, in bringing this to closure should go to the courts, then that will be the decision that will be taken collectively."
Moments later, the Liberian leader told the Security Council it is time to address what she called "issues from our painful past, including impunity," so her country could move ahead.
Taylor has been living in exile in Nigeria since he was forced from power in 2003. He has since been indicted for war crimes by a court in Sierra Leone for his role in that country's civil war. He has repeatedly denied the charges, calling himself a scapegoat.
President Obasanjo previously said Nigeria would turn Taylor over to an elected Liberian government, but not to the court. In her remarks to the Security Council Friday, President Sirleaf suggested that now is the time to settle the matter.
"I've asked the president of Nigeria to consult with colleagues in the sub-region and the international community on the resolution of this issue in conformity with the requirements of the United Nations and the international community," she added. "I have also asked that as we bring this matter to closure, we ensure that in any proceedings there is an environment that protects all, including the accused, fundamental human rights."
Human rights groups have long been calling for Taylor's extradition. Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch Friday urged African leaders to comply with the Liberian request.
"Charles Taylor, more than any single individual, is associated with policies that have meant murder and mayhem for countless, tens of thousands of people across West Africa," he noted. "Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and even Cote d'Ivoire. This man needs to be brought to trial. A fair trial. And because there is a U.N. Sierra Leone court in Freetown, President Obasanjo needs to step up to the plate and comply with the request that has been made to him to surrender Taylor."
Taylor plunged Liberia into civil war in 1989, as the head of a band that invaded from Ivory Coast. He was elected president in 1997 during a lull in the fighting.
He is accused of crimes against humanity for aiding an insurgency in Sierra Leone during his years in office.
A Taylor spokesman said earlier this week that the terms of his asylum in Nigeria would rule out the possibility of a trial. The spokesman accused the United States of seeking to persecute African leaders though the use of hybrid courts.