African Union Summit: All Countries Must Co-Operate with Special Court for Sierra Leone

The Special Court has indicted Liberian President Charles Taylor for 'bearing the greatest responsibility' for war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international humanitarian law.

Although President Taylor was in Ghana, a member state of the African Union, when the indictment was made public, the Ghanaian authorities failed to arrest him and either surrender him to the Special Court or pursue the case under Ghana's own legal system, as they were required to do under international law.

In the last few days, the Government of Nigeria is reported to have offered 'asylum' to President Taylor in Nigeria, with the implication that the Nigerian authorities will not arrest President Taylor and either surrender him to the Special Court or open an investigation to determine whether to open criminal or extradition proceedings in Nigerian courts.

Amnesty International said: 'African governments meeting in Maputo should state publicly their commitment to co-operate with the Special Court. Failure to do so will undermine the integrity of the African Union.'

Amnesty International has written to both President John Kufuor of Ghana and President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria expressing the organisation's dismay at their failure to co-operate with the Special Court and to fulfil their obligations under international law.

Both countries, as parties to the Geneva Conventions, are obliged to bring to justice in their own courts those who have committed or ordered grave breaches of the Conventions, to extradite them to another country willing and able to do so or transfer them to an international criminal court. No one, regardless of their status - including a head of state - has immunity for the most serious crimes under international law.

In addition, the Constitutive Act of the African Union commits all member states to co-operate in promoting and ensuring respect for human rights, democratic culture, good governance and the rule of law. Through the Act, African governments pledge and express their determination 'to promote and protect human and peoples' rights, consolidate democratic institutions and culture', to 'encourage international co-operation taking due account of the Charter of the United Nations and to promote peace and security'.

Amnesty International is concerned that despite legally-binding obligations under the Act and other international humanitarian and human rights treaties to which many African Union member states are parties, there appears to be a reluctance by some members to fulfil these obligations, including by co-operating fully with the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

Amnesty International said: 'The fundamental principles of justice on which the African Union is founded will be nothing but rhetoric unless African governments fully co-operate with the Special Court.'

The United Nations Secretary-General and Security Council have repeatedly expressed their support for the Special Court for Sierra Leone and have called on all states to co-operate fully with the court.

Amnesty International believes that co-operation by all member states of the AU with the Special Court, including by arresting any person indicted by the Special Court who enters their territory, will not only fulfil the will of the international community that impunity for war crimes, crimes against humanity and other grave crimes comes to an end but will also deter further human rights abuses in Africa.

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