Sierra Leone: Special court needs support, Nigeria must hand over Charles Taylor

Amnesty International UK Media Director Lesley Warner said:

'The Nigerian government's sheltering of a person indicted for crimes against humanity and war crimes violates international law. Nigeria is under a legal obligation to arrest Charles Taylor and either surrender him to the Special Court or open an investigation with a view to proceedings in Nigerian courts.

'No one, regardless of their status - including a head of state - has immunity for the most serious crimes under international law.

'We have written again to President Obasanjo saying that allowing Charles Taylor to come to Nigeria in order to help secure a political settlement to end Liberia's armed conflict cannot be at the expense of impunity for human rights violations. It sends the wrong message and erodes the very credibility of international human rights law.'

Thirteen people were indicted by the Special Court during 2003 for bearing the greatest responsibility for crimes against humanity, war crimes and other serious violations of international law. Nine of those indicted are currently in the custody of the Special Court and trials are expected to begin in March or April 2004.

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor is charged with crimes including killings, mutilations, rape and other forms of sexual violence, sexual slavery, conscription of Children's rights, abduction and forced labour which were perpetrated by Sierra Leone armed opposition forces with his active support.

Despite his indictment and an international arrest warrant Charles Taylor was allowed to leave Liberia for Nigeria on 11 August 2003 where he remains with guarantees from the Nigerian government that he will be neither surrendered to the Special Court nor brought before Nigeria's own courts. Amnesty International has called on all states, including Nigeria, to cooperate fully with the Special Court by entering into binding legal agreements to assist fully in any investigation and in surrendering individuals who are indicted by the Court.

Both the UN Secretary-General and the Security Council have repeatedly expressed their support for the Special Court and called on all states both to cooperate fully with the Special Court and provide adequate funding for the court.

Despite these calls, however, the very existence of the Special Court has been threatened by a financial crisis. The Special Court must receive its full budget if it is to continue its work in a way which adheres to the highest standards of judicial practice and provides a 'legacy' to the Sierra Leone legal and justice systems.

Lesley Warner continued:

'We are urging all states to make urgent and generous contributions towards funding the Special Court, both for the outstanding budget for its current second year of operation and also for the subsequent year.'

While some of the shortfall for the second year has been met by bringing forward contributions from the third year, this only aggravates the serious shortfall projected for the third and planned final year.

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