Immunity for Acting Heads of State is no Excuse for Prosecution

(A Press Release Issued by International Federation for Human Rights, FIDH)

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

June 5, 2003

Paris, June 4, 2004 -The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) welcomes today’s decision to indict acting Liberian Head of State Charles Taylor for crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Recently establishing that it will prosecute "persons who bear the greatest responsibility" for war crimes and crimes against humanity, the Sierra Leone Special Court opened the door for Mr. Taylor and other high ranking officials to be brought to justice for their respective roles in the ten-year civil war.

In a bold move to fight against impunity of high ranking officials and heads of State, the Special International Court for Sierra Leone today accuses Charles Taylor, President of Liberia, for crimes against humanity and serious violations of international humanitarian law during the nation’s ten year civil war in Sierra Leone which ended in 2002. Mr. Taylor is accused of being the principal backer of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels during their ten-year fight for control of Sierra Leone’s government and diamond fields.

Indicting Mr. Taylor on 17 violations of international humanitarian law, war crimes and crimes against humanity, Prosecutor David Crane accuses Mr. Taylor of having command and joint criminal responsibility for the human rights violations. The indictment finds Mr. Taylor in violation of Article 6.1 and 6.3 of the Court’s Statute, which allows high-ranking officials to be held individually criminally responsible. The "acts" the indictment refers to include armed attacks carried out primarily to terrorize civilian populations and to punish them for failing to provide support to the RUF rebel forces and for allegedly providing to support to the government and its forces. These attacks included "unlawful killings, physical and sexual violence against civilian men, women, and children, abductions and looting and destruction of civilian property." Other violations in the indictment include sexual slavery, forced labor, years of captivity, forced combat training for boys and girls, and physical bodily mutilations.

While in neighboring Ghana for peace talks, the prosecutor of Special International Court for Sierra Leone issued an international arrest warrant calling for Charles Taylor’s arrest.

According to article 6.2 of the Statute of the Special Court for Sierra Leone "the official position of any accused person, whether as Head of State or Government or as a responsible government official, shall not relieve such person of criminal responsibility nor mitigate punishment".

The FIDH urges Ghana’s authorities as well as any other national authorities concerned to comply with the Special Court arrest warrant.