Refugee Rights News
Volume 2, No. 4
Charles Taylor: One Step Closer to Justice
In our July newsletter we featured the efforts of African advocates to see justice done by seeing Charles Taylor handed over to the Special Court in Sierra Leone, where he has been indicted on 17 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes.
One such effort was a case that was brought before the Nigerian courts by two Nigerians who were victims of the amputations that became were the hallmark of the rebel violence in Sierra Leone sponsored by Taylor. The plaintiffs sought to have Taylor’s refugee status revoked and Taylor himself handed over to the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
The trial has been a stirring display of the courage of victims in pursuing justice. The two plaintiffs appeared in Court on the first day of the trial showing the stumps of their severed limbs as gruesome evidence of their complaint. Even the opposing government lawyer was shaken.
Despite his shock, however, the government lawyer pressed the case of the Nigerian government, seeking to have the case thrown out on various grounds. First, the government argued that the plaintiffs lacked the legal standing to bring the Court, and that only the Special Court of Sierra Leone could sue for Taylor’s surrender. Second, they argued that the case violated a procedural requirement in Nigerian law that challenges to administrative decisions made by public officials be filed within three months. The plaintiffs lawyers, however, argued that this case fell under an exception to that law which allowed cases after the three month deadline where the violation was continuing. In this case, they argued, the violation continued as long as Taylor continued to enjoy asylum. Third, they argued that the grant of asylum was a political act not suitable for judicial review and last that a cause for action has not been disclosed.
The judge in the case dismissed each of these objections, describing them as “misconceived.” While he stopped short of granting the remedies requested by the plaintiffs, deferring this stage of the proceedings until December, his dismissal of the government’s objections is a crucial first step in achieving justice. It is a tribute to the efforts of organizations like the Open Society Justice Initiative and the private lawyers from the firm Aluko & Oyebode as well as the victims themselves.