Smith Urges Action After Charles Taylor's Escape
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations, today denounced the Nigerian government's failure to ensure the secure transfer of former Liberian President Charles Taylor. Smith said that the events surrounding Taylor's disappearance have enabled "a war criminal to escape from justice."
"There have been persistent questions about the level of security provided by the Nigerian government to ensure that Charles Taylor didn't have unchecked ability to travel," said Smith. "As a result a warlord with ties to Al-Qaeda and terrorism is now on the loose."
Taylor, who is under indictment on 17 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the Special Court for Sierra Leone, had been a supporter of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels who killed and maimed thousands during the 1990s. The Sierra Leone Court has tried several leaders of the RUF and their allies in the Sierra Leone military. Taylor is the last remaining major contributor to that conflict under indictment who is known to be alive.
"The Nigerian government should have taken Taylor immediately into custody if their true intention was to transfer him into Liberian hands as assured this past weekend by President Obasanjo to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf," Smith said.
In August 2003, the United Nations, the United States, the United Kingdom and Nigeria entered into an agreement that allowed Taylor to live in restricted exile in Nigeria. As part of the agreement, Taylor was to have no role in further destabilizing Liberia or any other nation. The former leader has been accused of meddling in Liberian internal affairs during last fall's elections and in various rebel activities in West African nations, such as Côte d'Ivoire. The Nigerian government repeatedly denied that Taylor was in communication with rebels, but his access to communications technology and visitors was unimpeded during his exile in the southern Nigerian city of Calabar.
"We must review our relationship with Nigeria in light of Taylor's escape and should immediately authorize a substantial financial bounty through our Rewards for Justice program that would help to ensure his capture," Smith said.