SIERRA LEONE: PROSECUTOR OF UN-BACKED COURT DISAPPOINTED TAYLOR EVADES ARREST

From: UN New York, June 05 2003 03:00PM
© UN News Centre at http://www.un.org/news

The prosecutor for a United Nations-backed tribunal today said he regretted that the international community “disappointed” the people of Sierra Leone in missing a “precious opportunity” to stand up to impunity by failing to secure the arrest of Liberian President Charles Taylor on war crimes charges before he was able to flee peace talks in Ghana.

In Freetown, David Crane, Chief Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, said the fight to bring President Taylor to justice has just begun and “will not end until the people of Sierra Leone and West Africa see him in a courtroom.”

The Court announced yesterday that it had indicted Mr. Taylor for war crimes and issued an international warrant for his arrest as he was in Ghana attending peace talks with opposition forces. Inside the conference hall, Mr. Taylor told delegates he would step down if he is seen as an obstacle to peace in Liberia. He did not mention the Sierra Leone indictment. According to Mr. Crane, after the charges were made public, Mr. Taylor fled the conference to return to Liberia as a fugitive.

“Taylor is now an indicted war criminal and a fugitive,” the Chief Prosecutor said, stressing that the arrest warrant was still outstanding and that any nation that finds the Liberian President within its borders is legally bound to execute it. “All States are on notice that they cannot provide him safe harbour,” he said.

Mr. Taylor is charged with “bearing the greatest responsibility” for war crimes, crimes against humanity and serious violations of international humanitarian law” in Sierra Leone since 30 November 1996, the height of that country’s brutal 10-year civil war. The indictment had been judicially approved on 7 March but had been sealed until yesterday.

Mr. Crane said that by failing to arrest Mr. Taylor, the international community had missed an important opportunity to live up to its promise to help the people of Sierra Leone and West Africa achieve true peace and reconciliation. “Instead of providing a strong message about accountability, the provided weak excuses,” he said.

“Now is the time for leadership,” he said, calling on the UN Security Council, the African Union (AU), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the International Contact Group for Liberia to take action to bring Mr. Taylor to justice. “Either we stand up to impunity or we don’t.”

Meanwhile, a UN spokesman in New York said Secretary-General Kofi Annan continues to support the work of the Special Court. “He also continues to attach great importance to the peace process in Liberia, since that country’s problems can only be solved through political means,” Fred Eckhard said.

“The coincidence yesterday of the indictment of President Taylor by the Special Court as a high-level political effort was under way in Ghana was unfortunate, but illustrates the tension sometimes between the imperatives of justice and peace,” the spokesman said.

In other news from the Court, indictee Ibrahim “Bazzy” Kamara pleaded “not guilty” yesterday to 17 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity levelled against him, at a hearing in the town of Bonthe, off Sierra Leone’s coast. The charges against Mr. Kamara – the alleged commander of a military junta that came to power in May 1997 but which was overthrown nine months later – include terrorizing civilians, use of child soldiers, sexual violence and attacks on UN personnel.


added by: Robert W. Kranz  June-2003