(New York) - Condoleezza Rice should urge Liberia's president-elect to call on Nigeria to surrender Charles Taylor to the U.N.-backed war crimes court in Sierra Leone, Human Rights Watch said in a letter released today.  
Liberian President-elect Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is visiting Washington this week and is expected to meet with the U.S. secretary of state on Thursday. Johnson-Sirleaf is scheduled to take office on January 16.  
"Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf needs to know that she has firm U.S. support to request Charles Taylor's surrender to the Special Court," said Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch's International Justice Program. "This will strengthen her hand to take this crucial step once she takes office."  
Former Liberian President Charles Taylor has been indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone on 17 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in contributing to the deaths, rape, abduction and mutilation of thousands of civilians during Sierra Leone's armed conflict. Taylor has lived in exile in Nigeria since August 2003.  
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has thus far refused to surrender Taylor to the Special Court. At the same time, Obasanjo has indicated that he would consider surrendering Taylor upon a request from a duly-elected Liberian government. While such a request is not necessary, given Taylor's outstanding indictment, Johnson-Sirleaf's position on this issue is likely to prove pivotal to Taylor's surrender.  
Human Rights Watch welcomed the Bush administration's recent expressions of support for Taylor's surrender, including Bush reportedly raising the issue with Johnson-Sirleaf in a telephone call at the end of November. Rice's meeting this week with Liberia's president-elect should build on these efforts.  
"This visit by Liberia's incoming president gives the Bush administration a prime opportunity to press for justice in West Africa," said Dicker. "Rice should make the most of this meeting."