(Brussels) - The transfer of former Liberian President Charles Taylor to face trial in The Hague remains stalled unless a third country steps up to take Taylor if he is convicted.

On March 29, Taylor was surrendered to the Special Court for Sierra Leone, where he is indicted on war crimes and crimes against humanity. The following day, the Special Court requested a change in the location of the trial to The Hague, citing concerns about stability in West Africa if the trial is held in Freetown.

The Netherlands has agreed to host Taylor during his trial, but on the condition that he be transferred out of the country after final judgment. The relocation of Taylor's trial to The Hague would mean that trial judges and staff from the Special Court would conduct the proceedings according to the court's statute and rules. The International Criminal Court has agreed to lend its facilities for the trial.

"Liberia's new president took a real risk by requesting Taylor's surrender, and security concerns prompted the Special Court to request relocating the trial to The Hague," said Richard Dicker, International Justice director at Human Rights Watch. "How can other countries now sit back and do nothing?"

So far, Sweden and Austria have reportedly declined to accept Taylor if he is convicted. Denmark also appears to have declined, but Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has yet to give an official answer. Sweden, Austria and Denmark have provided detention facilities for individuals convicted either by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda or by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. However, in declining on Taylor, they have cited lack of resources or the fact that they have shown a commitment to international justice in other ways.

"A third country needs to offer a jail cell for Charles Taylor if he's convicted," said Dicker. "Countries should be lining up to take Taylor, not backing away."

A number of countries currently have agreements with one or both of the international criminal tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia to allow convicted persons to serve sentences there. The European countries include Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain and Sweden; the African countries include Benin, Mali and Swaziland.

These countries are well-placed to promptly reach an agreement to take Taylor if he's convicted, Human Rights Watch said. Regardless, any country that makes such an offer must have facilities that meet international standards of detention.

Moving Taylor's trial outside Sierra Leone would create serious challenges that the Special Court and its donors would have to address, Human Rights Watch noted. The most significant drawback is that trying Taylor in The Hague could limit the accessibility of the trial to people in West Africa. Nonetheless, legitimate concerns over security may make the move necessary.

If the relocation of Taylor's trial moves forward, Human Rights Watch will issue a briefing paper to the Special Court and its donors on the crucial importance of maintaining the accessibility of The Hague trial for the people of West Africa. The briefing paper will include a number of specific recommendations on how this can be achieved.

Background

The Special Court for Sierra Leone was set up in 2002 to try those "bearing the greatest responsibility" for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during Sierra Leone's armed conflict. 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.

The Special Court has charged Taylor with war crimes (murder, pillage, outrages upon personal dignity, cruel treatment, terrorizing civilians), crimes against humanity (murder, mutilation, rape, enslavement, sexual slavery), and other serious violations of international humanitarian law (use of child soldiers) in the course of Sierra Leone's armed conflict. The indictment alleges that Taylor, as president of Liberia, provided training and financing to the main rebel group in Sierra Leone, the Revolutionary United Front.