The Mystery Behind Taylor’s Extradition to Face Trial

By Alex Redd

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
May 31, 2005


The case to bring Charles Taylor, former Liberian president to trial for 17 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity at the UN-sponsored Special Court in Sierra Leone, has been somewhat of a twist and turn controversial issue of discussion. The court is empowered to prosecute serious violators of international law and certain violations of domestic law committed in Sierra Leone since November 30, 1996. Three trials of nine indictees are being held simultaneously.

According to Human Rights Watch, numerous witnesses from around the country are testifying, receiving needed protection and support. A defense office is helping to protect the rights of the accused, monitoring the situation of detainees and advocating for resources to ensure a vigorous defense. Outreach continues to effectively canvass the country with information about the court through video, radio, and public discussions. Despite the court prosecutor’s effort to get Mr. Taylor behind bars, a rocky road to justice may still lie ahead.

Since Mr. Taylor was granted sanctuary in August 2003 at a sumptuous villa in Nigeria, Liberians have experienced some semblance of superficial calm. This semblance of calm is being supported by the presence of 15,000 blue helmets that are keeping the streets safe. As the country gears up this October to democratically usher in a new government for future political stability, mounting moral pressure is being exerted by international human rights groups, the European Union and U.S. Congress to put an end to Mr. Taylor’s asylum in Nigeria.

Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo’s recent visit to the White House to meet with American president, George Bush did not give any clear indication to extradite the indicted Liberian leader to face trial in Sierra Leone. The Nigerian leader argues that "it is matter of honoring the tacit arrangement guaranteed by the U.S. and U.K. governments to allow Mr. Taylor a safe passage for asylum in Nigeria". This arrangement reportedly includes a condition that Mr. Taylor refrains from interfering in Liberian politics and that he may later appear before the war crimes court to answer questions about human atrocities and other war crimes. It seems, though, President Obasanjo is underestimating functions of the UN-backed Special Court when he insists that Mr. Taylor would only be delivered to a future elected Liberian government.

This assertion may sound shallow to Desmond de Silva, the new prosecutor at the Special Court, who contends that he has gathered new evidence against Mr. Taylor’s persistence to influence Liberian politics as well as engaging in other clandestine activities in the region. The Special Court’s prosecutor and investigators have re-ignited the debate that Mr. Taylor is abusing his asylum in Nigeria by plotting to assassinate Guinean President, Lansana Conteh in January 2005. The Special Court charges that Mr. Taylor is financing insurgents in the region to get rid of the current Guinean government and that he is in frequent contact with some members of his past regime with the aim to influence outcome of the upcoming Liberian elections. Mr. Francis Galawolo, a renowned die-hard supporter of Mr. Taylor, recently reinforced the claim that Mr. Taylor is meddling in Liberian politics. However, Mr. Taylor discounted these allegations made against him through various Nigerian news outlets.

Despite delay to extradite Mr. Taylor, members of the U.N. Security Council including human rights groups and Nigeria tend to agree on one thing: Mr. Taylor may face trial. The question then remains, how soon and where? It bothers some U.S. Congressmen and international human rights observers about the way and manner in which the Bush administration is playing a lukewarm attitude toward Mr. Taylor’s extradition. In early May, U.S. Secretary of State, Condi Rice told ranking members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee that indeed Mr. Taylor would face trial either at the Special Court in Sierra Leone or at another international court of competent jurisdiction. Many observers may see the Bush administration’s back-and-forth-peddling behavior as regrettable, but there may be some reasonable explanation. The Special Court’s findings on "Taylor---al-Qaeda blood diamonds connection" have been rebuffed as unsubstantiated by the Bush administration, according to the U.S. News and World Report magazine May 16th edition.

The UN-sponsored court has charged that Mr. Taylor sold conflict diamonds to al-Qaeda operatives in exchange for cash and guns, and that the operatives converted their assets into diamonds because diamonds are commodities that cannot be easily traced by law enforcement, unlike funds deposited in banks. Without tangible proof that the transactions really took place between Mr. Taylor and these al-Qaeda operatives, the FBI and the CIA aren’t buying the court’s contention. It is assumed the U.S intelligence re-routing effort to focus on the Middle East, where al-Qaeda and other terrorist cells are flourishing, the Bush administration may not be in hurry to press President Obasanjo too hard to hand over Mr. Taylor. At the moment the former Liberian leader may not appear to be a lethal threat to American interests as Mr. Colin Powell, former U.S. foreign diplomat under the first-term Bush administration, and Mr. Pat Robinson, an influential American televangelist would seem to suggest.

It can be recently recalled that Mr. Powell buttressed the Nigerian leader’s statement that the brokered-deal that allowed Mr. Taylor to resign as president to seek asylum in Nigeria, must be honored. Mr. Powell, a multilateralist, may have known about the brokered-deal that rescued Mr. Taylor out of Liberia in August 2003. Meanwhile, international human rights groups have sharply criticized Mr. Powell for supporting President Obasanjo’s refusal to extradite Mr. Taylor to face trial. In addition, Mr. Pat Robinson, an influential Christian conservative, criticized the Bush administration for demanding Mr. Taylor to leave office, arguing that Mr. Taylor is a devout Baptist while rebels of the LURD are Muslims. Therefore, the Bush administration is trying to install a typical Jihadist government that may pave the way for Islamic dominance in the region.

While the brokered arrangement that allowed Mr. Taylor a safe passage to resettle in Nigeria is being honored since August 2003, component of the deal that forbids Mr. Taylor from interfering in Liberian politics, is being seriously violated according to prosecutor of the Special Court. It seems, though, the stage is gradually unfolding to finally make a push against Mr. Taylor at the world’s highest body, UN Security Council.

On May 24 the president of the Special Court in Sierra Leone, Justice Emmanuel Ayoola briefed members of the U.N Security Council on progress of the Special Court as well as effort to bring Mr. Taylor to trial. The UN Security Council is scheduled to meet later in June 2005 to discuss myriad of issues affecting its membership as well as problems affecting troubled spots around the world. The desperate need to include the issue of Mr. Taylor’s extradition to Sierra Leone on the UN Security Council’s June agenda is what Mr. Samuel Kofi Woods, Regional Director of the Foundation for International Human Dignity (FIND) is hoping to accomplish.

Mr. Woods, a renowned Liberian human rights lawyer, arrived at the UN Headquarters in New York on May 15th to persuade some members of the UN Security Council that Mr. Taylor is still fomenting trouble in Liberia as well as the West African region. Mr. Woods held discussions with the current Chair of the UN Security Council, Ambassador Ellen Margrethe Loj of Denmark, as well as other significant members of the UN Security Council to make the case that Mr. Taylor is still a hanging shadow in Liberian politics. During a phone interview, Mr. Woods said, virtually all members of the UN Security Council agree that Mr. Taylor would appear before the Special Court for trial. "Peace without justice is nothing----they are inseparable, therefore, we cannot achieve one without the other", Mr. Woods noted.

The FIND regional director pointed out that the main premise to extradite Mr. Taylor is to "end the culture of impunity in Liberia and the sub-region as a whole". Mr. Woods observed that effort to prosecute Mr. Taylor would serve as precedent to fulfill mandate of international justice, which may set the basis to deter other perpetrators of violence and human rights abuse. On the question of Nigeria’s reluctance to hand over Mr. Taylor, the Liberian human rights activists said, Nigeria is under obligation to abide by international law of justice of which Nigeria is a signatory. Mr. Woods emphasized that the essence of good governance is respect for human rights and freedom of speech. If these basic rights are arbitrarily trampled upon without impartial redress, then international justice is important to pursue because denial of justice brings about the breakdown of the rule of law, argued the FIND boss.

As the UN Security Council plans to meet in June it is not certain whether the council would discuss the extradition of Mr. Taylor to the war crimes court in Sierra Leone. It is not also clear as to whether President Obasanjo would hand over Mr. Taylor under the current wave of moral pressure from the international community. It is a mystery, however, despite the many pressures exerted by international political and social forces, only time will tell the judgment day for Mr. Taylor to face trial. The hope may be that, if the UN Security Council strikes a decision in favor of the Special Court, President Obasanjo may put his country’s interest first. But as it now appears, all effort for Nigeria to hand over Mr. Taylor still remains a pipe dream.