Former Liberian president Charles Taylor has been flown from Freetown to the Netherlands. There, he will stand trial for war crimes allegedly committed during Sierra Leone's civil war. The UN Security Council approved his transfer last week. Mr. Taylor is seen as the central figure behind a series of civil wars in Liberia and neighboring Sierra Leone between 1989 and 2003. He is specifically accused of sponsoring and aiding rebel groups in Sierra Leone -- in exchange for a share in the lucrative diamond trade.
Harpinder Athwal is political advisor and special assistant to the prosecutor of Sierra Leone’s special court. English to Africa reporter Ashenafi Abedje asked her about the significance of Mr. Taylor’s transfer to the Netherlands.
“What’s important is that it’s no matter where Charles Taylor’s trial takes place, it will be conducted by one trial chamber of the Special Courts. In this incidence that trial chamber will be sitting in the Hague. In reality it makes no difference, this trial will still be conducted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone.”
She addressed the concerns of some who think Taylor should be tried in Africa rather that in Europe. “Absolutely, absolutely they have a point, especially as the Special Court was set up in Freetown. However, we have made all necessary arrangements to try to insure that the trial could take place here. But with regards to security concerns within Sierra Leone and in the region as a whole, the UN Security Council, which passed a resolution 1688, decided that this trial should be moved outside of the region for the security of the region and the court is complying with that request.”
Athwal says it’s unlikely that Taylor will serve time in Africa. “The Special Court actually does not have a single agreement with any African country which is willing to take any of our indictees to serve their sentences. So that’s not actually a possibility.”
As for the broader implications of this trial, she says, “The arrest of Charles Taylor and also the case of Charles Taylor is hugely significant for international law and also for Africa as a whole. This case makes it very, very clear that no matter how rich or how powerful one individual may be or how feared that person may be, no one, no one is above the law. And the trial process will show that even the highest, mightiest people will have to face the courts to answer for any acts they do commit.”
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