Background Briefing

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I. Introduction

On March 29, 2006 former Liberian President Charles Taylor was surrendered to the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone. Taylor’s surrender for trial provides an extraordinary opportunity for the people of Sierra Leone and West Africa to see justice done for atrocities committed during Sierra Leone’s armed conflict since 1996. Taylor is indicted by the Special Court on war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international humanitarian law primarily for his role in supporting the main rebel group in Sierra Leone, the Revolutionary United Front, during the conflict.

The same day Taylor was surrendered, the Special Court president submitted requests to the Netherlands and the International Criminal Court that Taylor’s trial be relocated to The Hague. The request to move the trial cited concerns over security if the trial is held in Freetown, Sierra Leone, where the court is based. 

The Netherlands immediately agreed to host the trial, but only if several conditions could be met, including that another country would provide detention facilities if Taylor is convicted. Within a week or so, the International Criminal Court (ICC) also consented to the use of its facilities. Despite a very troubling delay of many weeks, when no country was prepared to offer to detain Taylor if he is convicted, the British government announced in a welcome move on June 15, 2006 that it has agreed to provide such facilities. 

The next day, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution to provide a legal basis for the relocation, meeting the only outstanding condition set forth by the Dutch government. With the passage of the resolution, the relocation of the trial is expected to proceed. 

Moving Taylor’s trial from the Special Court’s base in Freetown has serious implications.  The most significant of these is that it will make the justice process less accessible to the communities most affected by the crimes. This briefing paper provides discussion of:

  • The security rationale for moving the trial;

  • Legal and procedural aspects relating to conducting Taylor’s trial at the facilities of the International Criminal Court in The Hague;

  • Implications of moving Taylor’s trial outside of Sierra Leone; and

  • Recommendations to the Special Court, its donors, and the Netherlands, as the host state, in relation to Taylor’s trial being held in The Hague.

    An annex at the end of this paper provides background on the Special Court for Sierra Leone and Charles Taylor’s alleged crimes.

    index  |  next>>June 2006