(New York) – Nigeria's announcement that it will consent to the transfer of former Liberian President Charles Taylor to Liberia is a landmark step toward ensuring justice for West Africa, Human Rights Watch said today. Now Taylor must be physically transferred to the U.N.-backed war crimes court in Sierra Leone. Nigeria must ensure that Taylor is not permitted to flee from justice and the international community must ensure that security in Liberia is maintained during this process.  
 
"Nigeria's announcement that Taylor can be sent to Liberia moves us one giant step closer to him facing trial," said Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch. "The day the Special Court takes custody of Taylor will be a tremendous moment for the people of Sierra Leone, Liberia, and all of West Africa. It will give victims of the widespread murder and mayhem associated with Taylor the chance to finally see justice done."  
 
The transfer will enable Taylor to face trial at the Special Court for Sierra Leone where he is indicted on 17 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity because of his support for rebels in Sierra Leone. The crimes include killings, mutilations, rape and other forms of sexual violence, sexual slavery, the recruitment and use of child soldiers, abduction, and the use of forced labor by armed groups.  
 
According to news reports, Nigeria will not actually transport Taylor to Liberia, but will allow for his transfer to take place. However, credible sources in the past week have told Human Rights Watch that little or no security exists around Taylor's compound in Calabar, Nigeria, prompting fears that he might escape before he can be brought to justice.  
 
"Nigeria must urgently take steps to tighten security around Taylor's villa in Calabar and should immediately take him into custody," said Dicker. "It would be a disgrace if Nigeria allowed Taylor to flee."  
 
In 2003 Taylor left Liberia for Nigeria, where he was offered asylum and has since then been living in Calabar. Nigeria, acting with the support of the United States, the African Union and other actors in the international community, offered to take in Taylor as a temporary measure to end the bloodshed in Liberia and secure a peaceful transition to a new government.  
 
President Olusegun Obasanjo, who is to visit Washington this week, had previously resisted surrendering Taylor to the Special Court but indicated that he would respond to a request from a duly-elected Liberian government. Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf made such a request, which was publicized on March 17.  
 
The logistics of Taylor's transfer to the Special Court have not yet been clarified. However, in November 2005, the U.N. peacekeeping force in Liberia was given authority to detain and transfer Taylor to the Special Court for Sierra Leone for prosecution if he enters Liberian territory. The U.N. force must also maintain security amid fears in Monrovia that Taylor allies might use his transfer to stir up violence in Liberia.  
 
"We call on all governmental and inter-governmental actors in West Africa to ensure Taylor promptly appears for trial," said Dicker. "The U.N. peacekeeping forces in Liberia and Sierra Leone will need to play their role to ensure justice can be done while stability in West Africa is maintained."  
 
The Special Court for Sierra Leone was set up in 2002 to try those most responsible for war crimes committed during Sierra Leone's armed conflict.