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Letter to Nigerian President Obasanjo on Bringing Charles Taylor to Justice

Dear President Obasanjo,

We write to urge you to deliver Liberian ex-president Charles Taylor to the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Taylor is charged with crimes against humanity, war crimes and other serious violations of international humanitarian law for his role in contributing to the deaths, rape and mutilations of thousands of civilians during Sierra Leone's civil war. Impunity for Taylor would defy international law, be an affront to Taylor's innumerable victims, and undermine the establishment of a lasting peace in the region based on the rule of law.

We believe Nigeria should resolve this issue urgently ahead of the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting you will host in Abuja from 5-8 December 2003. It is unacceptable for a leading member of the Commonwealth such as Nigeria to provide refuge to someone indicted for war crimes in another Commonwealth country such as Sierra Leone.

Nigeria's Obligations Under International Law

Over the past decade, the ad hoc criminal tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda and United Nations (U.N.) bodies have consolidated the strong trend against impunity for perpetrators of serious human rights crimes. The U.N. Security Council has expressly affirmed the need to bring to justice those who violate international humanitarian and human rights law and the U.N. General Assembly has rejected the use of amnesty laws for serious violations of human rights. (S/PRST/1998/18; S/PRST/1999/6; A/RES/44/162; A/RES/47/133)

The heinous crimes committed during Sierra Leone's civil war have prompted U.N. bodies to make significant statements to ensure that perpetrators of these crimes do not escape justice. In 1999, the U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General attached a disclaimer to the Lomé Peace Agreement rejecting any interpretation that the amnesty under the accord would extend to genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed during Sierra Leone's civil war. In 1999, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights stated in regards to Sierra Leone that, "in any armed conflict, including an armed conflict not of an international character, the taking of hostages, wilful killing and torture or inhuman treatment of persons taking no active part in the hostilities constitutes a grave breach of international humanitarian law, and that all countries are under the obligation to search for persons alleged to have committed or to have ordered to be committed, such grave breaches and bring such persons, regardless of their nationality, before their own courts." (Resolution 1999/1)

Nigeria is well placed to react positively to the U.N. Security Council request that states cooperate with the Sierra Leone Special Court. (S/RES/1478) Nigeria has freely undertaken legal obligations to cooperate with efforts to bring those who commit serious human rights crimes to justice. For example, as a state party to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, Nigeria has committed to extradite or prosecute those responsible for war crimes that amount to grave breaches of the Conventions. As a state party to the Convention against Torture, Nigeria has committed to extradite or prosecute those responsible for all acts of torture.

The Special Court's statute and implementing legislation affirm that there is no legal basis for shielding Taylor from justice. Article 6(2) of the Special Court's statute provides that the official position of any accused person does not relieve him or her of criminal responsibility. Article 10 of the Statute provides that an amnesty granted to an accused person does not operate as a bar to prosecution by the Special Court. The International Court of Justice has also affirmed that immunity for high-ranking officials does not apply before international criminal courts with jurisdiction.

Nigeria's Commitment to Justice

As a state party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and a member of the Management Committee of the Sierra Leone Special Court, Nigeria has made a strong commitment in principle to end impunity for the most serious human rights crimes and to support the work of the Special Court to bring justice for the horrific abuses committed in Sierra Leone's civil war.

Both in your role as head of the Africa Leadership Forum and following your return to office as civilian head of state in Nigeria in 1999, you have personally played an important part in the adoption by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and the African Union of the Conference on Security, Stability, Development and Cooperation in Africa (CSSDCA). In 2000, the OAU adopted the Plan of Action setting up the CSSDCA at its summit in Lomé. In this plan of action, Nigeria, with other OAU member states, also committed to "condemn genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in the continent and undertake to cooperate with relevant institutions set up to prosecute the perpetrators." Dating back to 1996, the OAU Council of Ministers expressed its dedication to accountability for serious human rights crimes by endorsing a "Plan of Action Against Impunity in Africa" adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights earlier that year.

The Rule of Law and a Lasting Peace

As the United Nations Secretary-General reaffirmed on 11 March 2003, without justice, there can be no lasting peace. Charles Taylor's past record of broken promises provides little basis for optimism that providing Taylor with safe haven will contribute to long-term stability or security in the region. As you know, less than two months after leaving Liberia, Taylor already was accused of interfering in Liberia's affairs from his new base in Nigeria.

It would be a tragedy if Charles Taylor were to live out his life in exile and luxury, like former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, never facing a court of law. By the same token, bringing Taylor to justice would be a victory for the people of Liberia, Sierra Leone and indeed Africa, and an important step in restoring peace and the rule of law to the troubled region.

Continuing to provide Taylor with safe haven when he is an indicted war criminal flies in the face of Nigeria's expressed commitments to end impunity. We believe that Nigeria should honor its commitments to justice and abide by its obligations under international law by delivering Taylor to the Special Court. The victims of Sierra Leone's brutal civil war deserve no less.


Kenneth Roth
Executive Director

Cc: H.E. Kofi Annan, Secretary-General, United Nations
Chief Akin Olujinmi, Attorney General and Minister of Justice of Nigeria
H.E. Joaquim Chissanó, President of the Republic of Mozambique & Current Chairman of the African Union

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