June 9, 2005
Charles Taylor has done for West Africa what Slobodan Milosevic did for the former Yugoslavia. Yet while Mr. Milosevic is on trial in The Hague on charges including genocide, Mr. Taylor, Liberia’s former president, is enjoying the lush life in a Nigerian government guesthouse.
When Mr. Taylor was under siege by rebel forces in 2003, the United States, Britain and Nigeria arranged for him to get asylum in Nigeria, figuring that his quick exile would cut down on the bloodshed. So Nigeria gave Mr. Taylor a safe harbor on the condition that he stop behaving as West Africa’s warlord in chief.
It was not a perfect solution. The Nigerians interpreted the deal as preventing them from turning Mr. Taylor over to a United Nations-backed war crimes court, where Mr. Taylor is wanted on 17 counts of crimes against humanity.
A new report by the Coalition for International Justice, however, supports the argument that Mr. Taylor can be prosecuted because his crimes are continuing. He is using cellphones, computers and the visits of his many lieutenants to destabilize Liberia, influence the coming elections there and build a regional army. He is even accused of attempting to assassinate the president of Guinea. Nigeria now must do what American troops should have done in 2003: turn him over to the Special Court.
African leaders, mindful that their hands are less than clean, are nervous about turning over a former fellow president to a serious tribunal. The United States had also not pushed Nigeria until recently. Late last month, Washington endorsed surrendering Mr. Taylor, based on the new information that he is still an active threat. Washington has spent some $800 million on the Special Court and on attempts to rebuild Liberia. Neither effort will fully succeed until Charles Taylor is behind bars.
Copyright The New York Times