Re: The 'charles taylor' gambit *LINK*
Posted By: rasi In Response To: Re: The 'charles taylor' gambit (Eja)
Date: Thursday, 30 March 2006, at 1:03 p.m.
In Response To: Re: The 'charles taylor' gambit (Eja)
In a somewhat testy and yet firm encounter with the international media at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, the new Liberian President Mrs. Ellen Sirleaf Johnson unloaded her near perplexity over the Charles Taylor issue.
Her conclusion was that the right thing would have been for Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo to have handled the matter of surrendering the indicted former Liberian President to the hands of justice without involving the new fragile government of Liberia.
The Liberian president's statement comes strikingly close to those of the international human rights groups that have noted that it would have been a great act of statesmanship if Nigeria's President Obasanjo had gone ahead to surrender Taylor to the UN court after the former Liberian president was indicted. Mr. Richard Dicker, director of the Human Rights Watch had said Obasanjo should have considered the fate of victims whose lives have been affected by the alleged attrocities of Mr. Taylor and acted as a stateman to hand him over for the sake of justice.
Taylor has been indicted on 17 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the UN Special Court in Sierra Leone in 2003 just about the same time Nigeria's Obasanjo led other African leaders to strike a deal with Taylor to relinquish power freely and become an asylee in Nigeria.
Answering a question from this reporter on whether she would have been more comfortable if Obasanjo had just gone ahead on his own to hand over Taylor to the UN Special Court in Sierra Leone without involving her, the first female president in Africa at a weekend press conference where the Taylor issue virtually dominated the entire meeting save for another question on the UN ban on Liberian diamond export said "not only would I have been more comfortable, it would have been the right thing to do."
According to her, the mounting international 'pressure' on Liberia so far on the Taylor case have been "in a way unfair, so I would have hoped that the UN and the international community would have sought long before the new government (of Liberia) took over to make the decision of the Security Council implemented. So we inherited a problem."
Sirleaf Johnson, herself a former UNDP assistant administrator before she joined active party politics in Liberia in 1997 added that Liberia is faced with serious pressures, "we are a small country, we have no powers that others have, we have no security forces to protect our people and the safety of our nation.
Continuing she said :" And so we are caught in a situation where we have to take a major decision that should have been taken long before giving us the opportunity to pursue our development agenda."
Resigning to fate, Johnson observed however "but that is the way it is and so we have to get this behind us because our people want to return to normalcy and get on with their lives."
Sirleaf Johnson an Harvard-trained economist did not say where the pressure was coming from, but it was apparent she was referring to the mounting international clamor especially from human rights groups both in Africa and western countries, especially led by the Human Rights Watch, HRW and also by the UN and the US, both of which have called for the arrest and surrender of Charles Taylor who is currently in asylum in Calabar.
The new Liberian president at the opening of the press encounter moved away from the perception that Liberia's government asked Nigeria to extradite Taylor. Said her "Not being a lawyer I don't know how to judge this word extradition since that is not the word that I use."
She then clarified saying "What I said is that I have consulted with Nigeria's President Obasanjo and asked him that we and leaders of African countries particularly those that were involved in the arrangements that took Mr. Taylor to exile should now bring this matter to closure. And by closure I mean a decision should be taken that would allow Mr. Taylor to have his day in court."
In addition the Liberian president who had made a similar statement at the UN Security Council earlier Friday morning in New York said "We have also asked that once African leaders decide on that path that the leaders ensure that Mr. Taylor has an opportunity for proceedings in an environment that is not hostile and have full rights to self-defense."
In answer to another question Mrs. Sirleaf Johnson said that the UN Security Council members had thanked her for her "rather courageous, but risky, decision" to try to bring the Taylor matter to closure. She expressed the view that the Security Council would ensure that the fundamental rights of people were preserved and that security was protected to the degree possible.
In a significant statement the Liberian president also observed the fact that Mr. Taylor was not indicted by a Liberian government. Said she “Let me be clear Mr. Taylor was not indicted in a Liberian court… he was indicted in the Special Court of Sierra Leone supported by the United Nations. This is why we say the resolution of this must be in accordance with the United Nations and the international community.” She added that time was of the essence in that regard. Liberia’s peace was fragile. There were many loyalists to Mr. Taylor in Liberia, and he had many business interests there.
So she noted that “Whatever decision is taken by the African leadership must ensure that the safety of the Liberian people and the stability of our nation is not undermined,” she emphasized.
In what was her first visit to the United Nations as President of Liberia, Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf could not stop saying “The Liberian people are committed to the processes of change. They are committed to peace. They want to see their lives restored to normalcy. They want their country, once again, to be respected. They want to regain their dignity and to be able to pursue their potential in life, in an environment that is safe and responsive to their needs.”
At a conference that featured all but one question on Mr. Taylor, Sirleaf Johnson expressed some degree of exasperation saying that the Liberian people would feel that justice had been served, once the attention of the world media moved from Mr. Taylor to support for Liberia’s return to normalcy, peace and development. She implored journalists to “make the shift from one individual to 3 million people’s quest for a new life”.
Introducing President Johnson-Sirleaf, the Under-Secretary-General for Communication and Public Information, Shashi Tharoor, said she had the unique distinction of being the first woman ever elected President of an African country.
Tharoor noted that " Long before becoming President, Ms. Johnson-Sirleaf had an illustrious career; as Minister of Finance of Liberia, as President of the Liberian Bank for Development and Investment, as a senior World Bank official, as Vice-President of Citibank’s Africa regional office, and as the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Assistant Administrator and Director of the Regional Bureau for Africa."
In a press statement released over the weekend, the Human Rights Watch said the Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf "took a landmark step for justice and accountability in West Africa when she formally asked Nigeria to surrender former president Charles Taylor to face trial" and called on President Olusegun Obasanjo to "now respond by promptly handing Taylor over to the U.N.-backed war crimes court in Sierra Leone."
Earlier before she took question, the Liberian president reviewed Liberia’s successes and problems, expressing gratitude for the support of the United Nations and the country’s bilateral partners in her country’s transition in the last two years, culminating in free and fair elections. She disclosed that the process of reform and of putting the country back on the track to peace, stability and development has now resumed.
For instance she had started to secure the peace by composing an inclusive Government, able to work bilaterally and multilaterally. Efforts were also under way to restructure the armed forces, but the Government would continue to rely on the United Nations and the peacekeepers for full assurance of peace, until Liberia’s own security forces were fully professional and institutional.
Besides, the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission had been launched, as had the development process -- both importance stages in the transition from war to peace. Sirleaf Johnson also said a long-term development agenda, quick-impact measures were already in play, to positively affect the lives of Liberians and respond to the thousands upon thousands of demobilized youth. Efforts were also under way to rehabilitate the infrastructure, both economic and social. That should all provide the basis for a resumption of normal life and encourage the return of refugees and internally displaced persons. Liberia was seeking to restore its international reputation and working to strengthen its relationships, not only with its neighbours, but throughout Africa and the world.
In terms of the role played by Mr. Taylor, his potential influence and interference in the affairs of Liberia, she said she could not quantitatively assess his role, but Mr. Taylor had been in power for many years and he had many loyalists in Liberia. He had run a warring faction with thousands and thousands of young combatants who still felt solidarity with him, and they were still there. Until the new Government was able to respond to their needs and give them an alternative, they still had those ties. She could not judge the extent of the impact of those ties on the country’s stability. She could only hope to manage and contain it. That was why she had appealed to the Security Council to ensure that the peace was maintained, should there be a response.
She said it was important to bring the matter to closure, but she was not in a position to talk about a precise date. The African leadership was being consulted.
She said that Liberia had not met all the requirements for lifting the sanctions on diamonds, but she hoped that at the next review in June, it would be possible for the Council to lift the bans on the diamond and forestry sectors, so that those important resources could “come back” into the country’s own management, in support of its development agenda.
To another question, she said she believed that all African leaders were now embracing democracy and understood that impunity in violation of human rights must come to an end. The decisions being made by African, and all other global leaders, reflected their commitment to that objective.
A Nigerian Perspective?
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