Dear Secretary Rice,
When you meet with Liberian President-elect Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf this week, we urge you to impress upon her the vital importance of her calling on Nigeria to promptly surrender former Liberian president Charles Taylor to the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Upon taking office on January 16, 2006, President Johnson-Sirleaf will no doubt be confronted with many urgent and competing demands. However, by asking for Taylor's surrender to the Special Court, she would take a giant step forward in helping to establish the rule of law in West Africa. We believe that your comments to her on this issue would be invaluable. Knowing that she is supported by the United States - one of Liberia's key allies - will no doubt assist her in taking this step.
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has thus far refused to surrender Taylor to the Special Court, where he is indicted on seventeen counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, on the basis that Taylor was granted asylum with the international community's support and to prevent civilian casualties in the battle over Liberia's capital in 2003. At the same time, President Obasanjo has indicated that he would consider surrendering Taylor upon a request from a duly-elected Liberian government. While such a request should not be needed given Taylor's outstanding indictment, President-elect Johnson-Sirleaf's position on this issue is likely to prove pivotal to Taylor's surrender.
Human Rights Watch welcomes reports of the U.S. administration's expressions of support for Taylor's surrender to face trial at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, including President Bush and you raising the issue with President Obasanjo when he was in Washington, DC in May 2005 and recently President Bush raising this with President-elect Johnson-Sirleaf in a telephone call. Nigeria's continued harboring of Taylor goes against the strong trend against impunity for perpetrators of serious crimes under international law and is an affront to victims of his alleged crimes. Moreover, as a state party to the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Nigeria has undertaken legal obligations to cooperate with efforts to bring those who commit serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law to justice. Additionally, consistent reports of Taylor's involvement in de-stabilizing activities in West Africa also suggest that his continued presence in Nigeria could have a devastating impact on civilians in Liberia and elsewhere in the sub-region.
Sierra Leoneans and Liberians alike have emphasized to Human Rights Watch researchers the singular importance of Taylor's trial before the Special Court to achieving justice for serious crimes in Sierra Leone. With the Special Court expected to operate for a limited duration, particularly given its scarce resources, time is of the essence for Taylor to face trial there. Of course, Human Rights Watch also realizes that his trial by the Special Court does not preclude a trial for the many war crimes for which Taylor has been accused in Liberia. We as well urge that in due time Mr. Taylor and others be held responsible for these.
Strengthening the rule of law and stability in West Africa is undoubtedly a priority of the U.S. administration. We hope you will maximize the opportunity presented by your meeting this week to strongly convey to President-elect Johnson-Sirleaf the crucial importance of her calling on Nigeria to surrender Charles Taylor to the Special Court, and upon taking office, the priority she must afford it. Given the longstanding relationship between the United States and Liberia and U.S. involvement in the negotiations that led to Taylor's current stay in Nigeria, your voice on this issue will be critical.
Washington Advocacy Director
Director, International Justice Program
Jendayi Frazer, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs
Barry F. Lowenkron, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor