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by Thalif Deen

Legacy Of Liberia's Civil War: Garbage, Shrapnel, Carcasses

(IPS) UNITED NATIONS -- The United Nations is on a global hunt for a jailhouse for former Liberian President Charles Taylor, who is to stand trial in the Netherlands on crimes against humanity both in his home country and in neighboring Sierra Leone.

But so far, no one is willing to roll out the welcome mat to Taylor -- irrespective of whether he is found innocent or guilty.

Described as a warlord and a war criminal, Taylor faces 11 charges, including torture, rape, slavery and terrorism, accusers say were committed by the Revolutionary United Front and other armed forces under his direction as president of Liberia.

If he is found guilty, the United Nations needs a jailhouse for Taylor's possibly long incarceration. If he is found innocent, the United Nations will need a new home for him.

Without either one of them, the 15-member UN Security Council cannot act -- and has been virtually brought to a grinding halt.

Sierra Leone and Liberia -- two countries where he is accused of committing war crimes -- do not want him on their soil, fearing that his very physical presence could threaten the stability of both governments.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone, which has the blessings of the United Nations, is based in that country's capital of Freetown. But still Taylor's trial has been shifted from Freetown to The Hague, Netherlands, which currently hosts the International War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Court.

The Dutch government says its role as a willing host to the Special Court is subject to several conditions, one of which is that Taylor, if convicted, has to serve his jail term in a country outside Dutch territory.

Austria and Sweden have both rejected requests to provide a jailhouse for a convicted Taylor.

But several human rights organizations and African activists have strong reservations about the relocation of the trial.

Enock Mensah, president of the New York-based African Development Institute, challenges the decision to move the trial from Africa to Europe.

He said that when Taylor stepped down as president of Liberia in August 2003, Nigeria provided him sanctuary, following negotiations by the 53-member African Union (AU).

The AU, which helped strike a deal with Taylor, "should step in and find a country," Mensah told IPS. He also said that Taylor's trial should take place on African soil, not in Europe.

Asked if any African country would be willing to host Taylor, he said the international community should exert pressure on the AU to find a country willing to host the trial and provide a jailhouse.

When the ex-president of the former Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic, was tried for war crimes committed in his European country, his trial was held in Europe, not in Africa, Mensah said. It is unfair to Taylor if his trial is held outside Africa, he added.

In a joint statement issued last week, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Liberia Watch for Human Rights (LWHR) expressed their concern over the upcoming trial in The Hague.

"Conducing trials in Sierra Leone has been crucial to facilitate re-establishing the rule of law, to rebuilding the national justice system, and to ensuring that justice is done, and is seen to be done, by the victims and the people of Sierra Leone as whole," says Sidiki Kaba, president of FIDH.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone, he pointed out, has already conducted fair trials against high top leaders such as Foday Sankoh and Sam Hinga Norman.

"It has proved it can manage security issues without creating more insecurity. Conducting fair trials in Sierra Leone can make a more significant contribution to future stability and to the transition to democracy and the rule of law in the sub-region," according to Thompson Ade Bayor, president of LWHR.

Kolawole Olaniyan, Africa program director of Amnesty International, is quoted as saying that the relocation of the trial to The Hague would have a negative effect "as it would distance the people of Sierra Leone from the justice process."

He said his organization shares the belief expressed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that "the capture and trial of Mr. Taylor will send a powerful message to the region and beyond that impunity will not be allowed to stand and that the rule of law must prevail."

Amnesty International, he pointed out, is not in a position to determine the severity of the threat to the security of proceedings, if they are to be conducted in Sierra Leone.

"The organization, however, recognizes that moving the trial would have a negative effect of distancing the justice process from the Sierra Leonean people, who have suffered directly as a result of the crimes for which Charles Taylor is indicted.

"Justice must be accessible and visible for the Sierra Leonean people to address the crimes which affect all strata of the population and to act as a deterrent to would-be future perpetrators of such heinous crimes," Olaniyan added.

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Albion Monitor   April 20, 2006   (

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