Dear President Obasanjo,

More than two years ago, former President Charles Taylor left Liberia after being forced from power in August 2003. We understand that Nigeria initially granted Charles Taylor refuge after extensive consultation with regional and international leaders. However, Charles Taylor has been indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone on seventeen counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. We urge you now to assist in his prompt surrender to the Special Court.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone is best placed to bring justice to the countless African victims of the crimes for which Charles Taylor is accused. The civil war in Sierra Leone was characterized by murders, rapes and other crimes of sexual violence, mutilation and the widespread use of child soldiers. Tens of thousands of individuals were killed, up to one quarter of the population was displaced and thousands more endured limb amputations, sexual violence, forced labor and abduction. The Special Court has a mandate to prosecute those bearing the greatest responsibility for these crimes, while ensuring a fair trial for all those who stand before it. However, the Special Court will only operate for a limited time. As such, this valuable window of opportunity is rapidly closing.

The U.N. Panel of Experts on Liberia rightly noted that “the presence of former president Charles Taylor in exile in Nigeria, even though the Special Court for Sierra Leone has issued a warrant for his arrest on charges of war crimes, is in itself a destabilizing factor. The situation of de facto impunity arising from this situation of exile can only undermine respect for international law and thereby lessen its deterrent effect.”

At the Security Council debate on justice and the rule of law on October 6, 2004, Nigeria said “The concept of justice and the rule of law is fundamental to human existence and the enjoyment of freedom, which we all cherish.… We believe that the work of the tribunals and the Special Court will bring justice to the victims of abuse of human rights and international humanitarian law.”

Moreover, the Security Council has clearly rejected impunity for serious crimes like those committed in Sierra Leone and expressed a strong commitment to promoting justice and the rule of law. In this regard, Nigeria has taken noteworthy steps towards promoting international justice, by acceding to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and by urging other states to sign on to the Rome Statute. Nigeria also plays an important role in supporting the Special Court by serving as a member of its Management Committee.

Given Nigeria’s aspirations of becoming a permanent member of the Security Council, it is vital that it continue to demonstrate its commitment to ending impunity and promoting the rule of law by promptly surrendering Charles Taylor to the Special Court.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Dicker
Director
International Justice Program
Human Rights Watch

Kolawole Olaniyan
Director
Africa Programme
Amnesty International

Cc: H.E. Mr. Aminu Bashir Wali