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Security Council Mulls Moving Charles Taylor Trial to The Hague


The U.N. Security Council is considering a measure clearing the way for transferring the war crimes trial of former Liberian leader Charles Taylor to The Hague. One of the Council's main concerns is how to pay the additional costs involved in a change of venue.

China's U.N. ambassador, Wang Guangya, in his capacity as this month's Security Council president, says Council members agree in principle that the Charles Taylor trial should be moved out of West Africa.

He told reporters Monday that only a few technical issues stand in the way of a resolution allowing a change of venue to a courtroom in The Hague.

"Personally, I believe it is not a major political difficulty," said Wang Guangya. "I do hope that this can be overcome in the next day or two. My hope is we can do it sometime this week."

Taylor has been indicted by the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone on charges stemming from that country's 12-year civil war. At his arraignment in Freetown last week, he pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Ambassador Wang Tuesday said one of the main concerns in moving the trial is the additional cost involved.

The Sierra Leone court was already facing financial difficulties, and the Netherlands notified the Security Council last month that it would not pay the additional expenses, which could run to several millions of dollars.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan recently wrote to all member states asking for more than $14 million to help cover this year's court costs. Ambassador Wang says an even bigger question is where the additional funding will come from.

"I'm not sure how much money we're talking about, but some members believe that by referring this case from Africa to The Hague, the cost will definitely be more, and also they believe that by having it in Africa, the financial situation is already precarious, so therefore, the secretary-general is trying to have voluntary contributions to make sure it is based on solid foundations," he said.

The Sierra Leone court had asked that the trial be moved because of fears that keeping Taylor in the region could provoke political unrest. But many regional experts say it is important to hold the trial in Sierra Leone to allow West Africans to see first hand that justice is being done.

Marieke Vierd, head of the Sierra Leone justice program for the New York-based International Center for Transitional Justice, says moving the proceedings to The Hague takes away one of the Court's biggest strengths.

"Our argument would be that, the withdrawal of regional leaders from the discussion that would surround the Charles Taylor trial in the region, the withdrawal would be quite unhelpful," said Marieke Vierd. "We believe in order for the region to move forward, it should be introspective about the conditions that prevailed that allowed Mr. Taylor and others to perpetrate some of these crimes that have been alleged against him.

The Security Council deliberations come as Taylor's lawyers are saying that transferring his trial would hurt his chances for a fair hearing. Reuters reports that a motion filed in Sierra Leone Monday argues that a change of venue would be "discriminatory."

Taylor, meanwhile, remains in U.N. custody in Sierra Leone.

A spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations Monday said Washington fully supports the change of venue to The Hague. Spokesman Benjamin Chang said the United States remains one of the largest financial supporters of the Sierra Leone court, and is considering the secretary-general's request for additional funding.