The trial of Roy Belfast, Jr., also know as Chuckie Taylor, son of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, is expected to begin Monday in Miami, Florida. At the height of the Liberian civil war, Chuckie Taylor, a U.S. citizen allegedly created and commanded the Anti-Terrorist Unit, his father's notorious personal security force.
But in 2006, a federal grand jury in Miami indicted Chuckie Taylor for participating in the July 2002 torture of a victim in Monrovia. He's charged with one count of torture, one count of conspiracy to commit torture, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime. Chuckie Taylor faces up to 47 years in jail if found guilty on all counts.
Theresa Harris is deputy director of the World Organization for Human Rights USA. She told that her organization, as a friend of the court, provided information on what she called the serious international human rights issues involved in the Chuckie Taylor trial.
"The crime of torture in the United States, which is a felony federal crime, was adopted by Congress as a way of implementing the United States' obligation under the Geneva Convention against torture, which is a United Nations treaty. And that treaty requires the United States and all countries that are party to it, that ratified it, they are required among other things to criminalized torture and to prosecuted people who are alleged to have committed torture regardless wherever it happened in the world," she said.
Chuckie Taylor is charged with one count of torture, one count of conspiracy to commit torture, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime.
Harris said the charges against Chuckie Taylor are serious and that it is up to the prosecutor to make the charges stick.
"The indictment names several very grave, serious allegations of torture and other atrocities that are listed as quite serious, but it would be up to the U.S. attorney's office to present the evidence during the trial to prove that Chuckie Taylor is responsible for those particular acts of which he is alleged," Harris said.
Because of the fear that U.S. citizens could also be tried in other countries for alleged torture, Harris hoped that the United States would respect the Geneva Convention against torture.
"The reason that we have an international treaty on torture that all countries must themselves respect the prohibition against torture and similarly enforce when other countries don't observe that prohibition. So we do in fact also need to make sure that U.S. officials are also not committing torture at the same time. But it's a universal obligation. But of course what happens in this trial, many people will be looking at it to see how it reflects on the United States' own practices," she said.
Harris said it is possible that witnesses from Liberia could testify because Chuckie Taylor is alleged to have committed his crimes against Liberians.
"It would appear that the victims who are named in the indictment, the specific charges, all happened in Liberia to Liberian citizens. So it's certainly possible that Liberians will be the witnesses. But we don't know yet who the witnesses will be," Harris said.
She said her organization wants to send the message that people who commit human rights abuses should not find safe havens in other countries.
"Our organization is hoping that the U.S. government will uphold its obligation under international law and would set the standards for other countries for ensuring that torturers do not go free, that people who have committed horrible human rights abuses cannot find safe haven in the United States. We hope that other countries will look to that," she said.