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October 06, 2005

Liberian Presidential Candidates Call for Justice for Past Crimes; Express Diverse Views on How to Deal with Charles Taylor

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More than half of the candidates for the Liberian presidency say it is very important to hold accountable the individuals who committed abuses during that country's long-running armed conflict, finds a Human Rights First survey issued five days before national elections. A majority also says that justice for victims of human rights abuses committed during the war is compatible with the peace process.

On Tuesday, October 11, 2005, the people of Liberia are scheduled to vote in their first national elections since 1997, when Charles Taylor was elected President during a brief pause in the ongoing conflict. They will choose a new President, as well as members of the Senate and House of Representatives. "Voters are faced with significant decisions," said John Stompor, Senior Associate in the International Justice Program at Human Rights First. "The approach of a new Liberian government to issues of human rights and accountability for persons who committed abuses during the war will affect not only Liberia but also other countries in the region."

Because of the importance of these elections, Human Rights First began in late August 2005 to conduct a survey of the views of the Liberian presidential candidates about accountability for past abuses and specific steps that should be taken to address them. Fourteen of the 22 candidates cleared to run for the presidency by Liberia's National Election Commission responded to the survey.

Human Rights First learned that the candidates' views diverge when they are asked to discuss the specifics of accountability for past atrocities, such as how to deal with former Liberian President Charles Taylor, for whom the United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone has issued an arrest warrant on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Only seven of the candidates who responded to the Human Rights First survey agree that Nigeria, which is sheltering Taylor, should hand him over to the Special Court. "The candidates express broad support for the principle of holding accountable those who committed human rights abuses during the war," said Stompor. "It's the practical details, especially regarding Charles Taylor, which inspire disagreement."

Additional findings of the survey include:

  • Twelve respondents, if elected President, would support the establishment of a truth commission, which was created by a law passed in July 2005 by the national transitional government;
  • Ten respondents say that the leaders who bear the greatest responsibility for abuses committed during the war should be brought to court and prosecuted;
  • Nine respondents express little or no confidence in the current Liberian criminal justice system to investigate and prosecute such persons;
  • Six respondents say that those who committed human rights abuses during the war should be required to compensate the victims of such abuses.