Saturday February 19, 2006While Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf , the newly-elected President of Liberia , seems to be dragging her feet about demanding Charles Taylor from the custody of Nigeria’s leader Olusegun Obasanjo so that he could be handed to the Special Court in Sierra Leone, the United States Secretary of State Condolleza Rice , has maintained her intent to have the former Liberian rebel leader brought to justice.Dr. Rice last week renewed her efforts to have Taylor prosecuted when he urged a U.S. Congressional hearing : ” We believe very strongly that he ought to be brought to justice, and that he ought to be brought to justice as soon as possible,” .
Dr. Rice said that the danger still exists that Taylor could still return to Liberia to cause trouble. She therefore urged that the former Liberian President be taken into custody and sent to Freetown to stand trial for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Dr. Rice’s statement represents a clear indication that the U.S .government is committed to having Taylor brought to justice in Sierra Leone and will continue to exert pressure on the new Liberian leader , Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf, to do the right thing.
Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf is for now the main key to Taylor’s prosecution. because Nigeria’s President Obasanjo has clearly stated that only a request from a constitutionally-elected government in Liberia will he hand over Taylor on request. Taylor for the past two years has been living in Calabar , Nigeria, under President Obasanjo’s protection. He is accused of importing war to Sierra Leone and contributing to the death of over 50, 000 innocent people and the mutilation of thousands more.
The Special Court for Sierra Leone has indicted Taylor for war crimes and crimes against humanity but his prosecution has been bogged down by President Obasanjo’s refusal to hand him over , and Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf’s refusal to take a clear line of action on the issue has further dampened hopes to prosecute the former Butcher of Gbanga.
Many Liberians are frustrated by the attitude of their new President in the issue of having Taylor brought to justice. Some opinions in Liberian online and print newspapers insist that Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf is afraid to see Taylor stand trial because he would open a can of worms that would tarnish her name.
Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf was alleged to have been one of the key financiers and supporters of the Charles Taylor invasion of Liberia in 1989 , which later fuelled a civil war that killed over 200, 000 Liberians and destroyed the country.