By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 16, 2006
UNITED NATIONS, June 15 -- Britain agreed Thursday to jail former Liberian president Charles Taylor if he is found guilty of responsibility for atrocities in Sierra Leone, ending an impasse that for months had delayed his transfer to The Hague to stand trial before a war crimes tribunal.
"I was delighted to be able to respond positively to the request of the United Nations secretary general that, should he be convicted, Charles Taylor serve his sentence in the U.K.," British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said in London. "My decision was driven by two compelling arguments. Firstly, that Taylor's presence in Sierra Leone remains a threat to peace in that region. Secondly, that we are demonstrating through concrete action the U.K.'s commitment to international justice."
Taylor faces 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other violations of international humanitarian law. The United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone was set up in 2002 to prosecute those bearing greatest responsibility for atrocities committed by rebels under Taylor's sway in the Sierra Leone civil war, which lasted from 1991 to 2002. Taylor has said he is not guilty of the charges.
Beckett's announcement ends a protracted U.N.-led effort to locate a country that would be prepared to detain Taylor.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan welcomed the decision. "I am very grateful to Prime Minister Tony Blair and Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett for this statesmanlike decision, which marks another step forward in our battle against impunity for the most heinous crimes," Annan said at a news conference at U.N. headquarters.
Taylor was arrested March 29 in Nigeria, where he lived in exile since being forced to give up the Liberian presidency in 2003. Taylor sought to flee Nigeria after Liberia's new president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, requested this year that he be surrendered to the Sierra Leone court to face trial. He was captured as he tried to slip across the border and flown to Monrovia, Liberia, where he was detained by U.N. peacekeepers and transferred to a prison in Sierra Leone.
The court's president asked to try him in another country because of concerns that Taylor supporters could threaten members of the court and possibly help him escape. The Netherlands agreed to allow the Sierra Leone court to carry out its trial at the headquarters of the International Criminal Court, on the condition that another country agree to take Taylor. Several countries, including Austria, Sweden and Denmark, had refused to take him.
Beckett said the decision still requires approval by the British Parliament. But Britain's U.N. ambassador, Emyr Jones Parry, said he would seek passage of a Security Council resolution on Friday to authorize Taylor's transfer from Sierra Leone to a prison cell at the headquarters of International Criminal Court.
Taylor launched a bloody insurgency in Liberia in 1989, where he ruled as a warlord before being elected president in 1997. While in power, he supported rebel movements in neighboring countries, including Sierra Leone, and contributed to instability across West Africa.
He faces charges of backing Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front, which killed, raped, enslaved and mutilated thousands of civilians during the civil war.