(Brussels) – The European Union and its member states should press for Nigeria to hand over former Liberian president Charles Taylor to the U.N.-backed court for war crimes in Sierra Leone, Human Rights Watch said.

Earlier today, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling on the European Union and its member states to take immediate action to bring about Taylor’s appearance before the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

The Special Court indicted Charles Taylor on 17 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in contributing to the death, rape, abduction, and mutilation of thousands of civilians during Sierra Leone’s civil war from 1991 to 2002. Forced from power in August 2003, the former Liberian president is currently in exile in Nigeria.

“Today’s European Parliament resolution calling for Taylor to be turned over to the Special Court is a welcome step,” said Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch. “The EU and its member states should press Nigeria to surrender Taylor. They should also support a Security Council resolution doing the same.”

Taylor’s continued presence in Nigeria not only undermines the principle that crimes against humanity in Africa should not go unpunished, but it also poses a risk to stability in West Africa, Human Rights Watch said. There are a number of allegations that Taylor remains in frequent contact with members of his former government, and that he also may be supporting an insurgency aimed at Guinea composed of fighters loyal to him. These include combatants from the former Revolutionary United Front of Sierra Leone, the Liberian Anti-Terrorist Unit and Special Security Service, and numerous Guinean dissidents.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone began operating in Freetown in July 2002 and is expected to function on a short time frame, approximately three years. It is funded primarily by voluntary contributions and has faced significant difficulties in raising adequate funds to operate.

“Taylor has been indicted for heinous crimes committed during the conflict in Sierra Leone, and he could continue to threaten stability in West Africa,” said Dicker. “With the court’s clock ticking, he should not be allowed to evade justice any longer.”

The European Parliament resolution calls on the European Union and its member states “to build international pressure in order to bring about Charles Taylor’s extradition.” The resolution notes that EU member states have contributed more than $30 million to support the functioning of the Special Court for Sierra Leone and that the European Union has contributed €800,000 to support the Special Court’s work. The resolution also calls on Nigeria to turn Taylor over to the court, for the United Nations to work toward this objective, and for the U.N. Security Council to urgently take up this issue.

Background on Charles Taylor and the Special Court

Elected president of Liberia in 1997 after a seven-year war that ousted former president Samuel Doe, Charles Taylor gained notoriety for the brutal abuses against civilians committed by his forces in Liberia, and for his use of child soldiers organized in “Small Boy Units.” Forces supported by Taylor have since been involved in conflicts in neighboring Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire.

The Special Court has the power to prosecute those “who bear the greatest responsibility” for serious violations of international humanitarian law and certain violations of domestic law committed in Sierra Leone since November 30, 1996. The United Nations created the Special Court through an agreement with the government of Sierra Leone.