Monday, January 23, 2006

Breaking the wall

Last December a federal high court judge in Nigeria authorized a lawsuit that seeks to lift the asylum status of the former Liberian ruler and war criminal Charles Taylor. In March 2003, Taylor was indicted by the UN-mandated Special Court for Sierra Leone for crimes against humanity, violations of article 3 common to the Geneva conventions and additional protocol II and other serious violations of international humanitarian law during that country's decade-long civil war. The full text of indictment is available here

Shortly thereafter, Taylor was granted asylum by Nigeria's president, Olusegun Obasanjo, and he has since resided in a private mansion in the Nigerian city of Calabar. In May 2004, two Nigerian nationals petitioned Nigeria's high court to overturn the grant of asylum. The men had had their arms chopped off in Freetown by soldiers of the Taylor-supported Revolutionary United Front. Rather than shelter Taylor, they submitted, Nigeria must prosecute him or send him to the special court to face trial. In rejecting the government's objections, the high court held that the claimants had a right to sue for redress so long as Taylor enjoyed asylum. Whatever the outcome, the decision stands as a powerful example of an independent court standing up to strong political currents.

Dictators in Africa must be told in every way possible that they cannot preach peace unless they enthrone democracy in their countries and respect universal human rights. His indictment is indicative of his past criminal conduct and criminals should not be allowed to go free, no matter their status. Taylor must answer to charges of committing crimes against humanity. This should serve as lesson to all dictators, wherever they may be -- they can no longer be allowed to disregard the rule of law, and abuse human rights with impunity. However after two years the questions remains the same will Nigeria turn Charles Taylor over to the Special Court for Sierra Leone? The fight against grave human rights violations can only be won if tackled effectively.


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