Royce, Bipartisan Group of Lawmakers Call for Charles Taylor to be Brought to Justice
Bipartisan, Bicameral Group Contacts Secretary Rice ahead of Thursday's meeting with Liberian President-Elect Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf
(WASHINGTON) - Saying they would feel considerably more optimistic about Liberia's future if former Liberian President Charles Taylor faced his war crimes indictment at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, a bipartisan group of lawmakers led by U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) suggested Wednesday that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice make the issue a priority.
In a letter to Secretary Rice that comes in advance of her scheduled Thursday meeting with Liberian President-Elect Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the legislators ask Rice to make the status of Charles Taylor, who continues to enjoy asylum in Nigeria, a paramount concern of the United States in conversations with the President-Elect.
"It is my hope that Secretary Rice will strongly recommend to President-Elect Johnson-Sirleaf that she call upon the government of Nigeria to transfer Charles Taylor to the custody of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, which has indicted him for war crimes and crimes against humanity," said Royce, who noted that Nigerian President Obasanjo has committed to consider an extradition request made by a democratically-elected Liberian government.
"The present situation provides a unique window of opportunity. Delay only works to Mr. Taylor's advantage. The time for action is now. For if we fail to act, and Mr. Taylor is allowed to escape justice, history will look poorly upon the international community, and the future of millions of West Africans will be needlessly imperiled," Royce continued.
Other lawmakers joining Royce in signing the letter were: Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL), Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-RI), Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), Rep. Vic Snyder (D-AR), Rep. Sue Kelly (R-NY), Rep. Dianne Watson (D-CA), Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), and Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ).
Royce chaired the House Subcommittee on Africa for eight years (1997-2005). He is currently the vice-chairman of the panel.
Text of the letter to Secretary Rice:
December 13, 2005
Dear Madame Secretary:
On the occasion of Liberian President-Elect Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf's visit to Washington, we write to respectfully request that you make the status of former Liberian President Charles Taylor a paramount concern of the United States in your conversations with the President-Elect. It is our hope that you will strongly recommend to President-Elect Johnson-Sirleaf that she call upon the government of Nigeria to transfer Charles Taylor to the custody of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, which has indicted him for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The treatment of Taylor is a matter of security and justice for the West African people.
The election of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in November promises a new beginning for Liberia. Liberians enthusiastically demonstrated their faith in the democratic process, marking the freest and fairest election in their country's history. In 2003, Congress, on a bipartisan basis, played a leadership role in appropriating $200 million for relief and reconstruction efforts in Liberia. Since that time, Congress has worked to ensure strong funding for Liberia during the appropriations process to see that the basic needs of the Liberian people are met. Many in Congress look forward to continued work with you and the new Liberian government to confront the country's many political, development, and other challenges.
We would be considerably more optimistic about Liberia's future, however, if Mr. Taylor faced the 17-counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity charges that the Special Court has lodged against him. In our view, progress in Liberia, and the international community's considerable investment in the region, is in jeopardy so long as Mr. Taylor is permitted to elude justice and meddle in Liberian politics. Of equal importance, justice must be pursued for the people of West Africa, who were brutalized in the war Taylor is accused of fueling. The United States and other governments have strongly supported the Special Court and its mandate, both financially and politically. This investment risks producing little return, however, if Mr. Taylor remains outside of its reach.
Unfortunately, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has resisted numerous calls, including by the United States Congress, to transfer Mr. Taylor to the custody of the Special Court. However, President Obasanjo has committed to consider an extradition request made by a democratically-elected Liberian government. That is why we are asking you to request that President-Elect Johnson-Sirleaf now call for the Nigerian government to deliver Mr. Taylor to the Special Court.
Last month, we were encouraged to see the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopt a resolution, cosponsored by the United States, mandating that the U.N. peacekeeping force in Liberia arrest and transfer Mr. Taylor to the Special Court for Sierra Leone to stand trial if he were to return to Liberia. This resolution -- which emphasized that Taylor's stay in Nigeria is temporary and recognized him as a threat to the region -- is further indication of the international community's strong desire to see Mr. Taylor face the Special Court. Additionally, the European Union, days after President-Elect Johnson-Sirleaf's election, issued a statement that the new Liberian government "must cooperate fully with the international community to ensure that former President Charles Taylor is brought to court." Should Mr. Taylor continue to evade justice, the international community may show reluctance to continue with its strong support for the reconstruction of Liberia and Sierra Leone.
President-Elect Johnson-Sirleaf has a strong democratic mandate to call for Mr. Taylor to be placed in the custody of the Special Court. Such a call by the Liberian President-Elect would send a powerful message that the use of violence to achieve political ends is no longer acceptable in West Africa, and would help usher in a new era for the rule of law in the region.
Madame Secretary, Mr. Taylor must be held accountable. Achieving this end will require decisive and quick action by President-Elect Johnson-Sirleaf, backed by the United States. While some will argue that the "timing is not right," we believe that the present situation provides a unique window of opportunity. Delay only works to Mr. Taylor's advantage. The time for action is now.
Thank you for considering our views.
Representative Ed Royce
Representative Henry Hyde
Senator Barack Obama
Senator Lincoln Chafee
Representative Betty McCollum
Senator Patrick Leahy
Representative Frank Wolf
Senator Jack Reed
Representative Vic Snyder
Representative Sue Kelly
Representative Dianne Watson
Senator Russ Feingold
Representative Chris Smith