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26 Apr 2012 08:37
Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia, is due to appear in a war crimes court at The Hague to learn his fate at the end of a four-year trial and begin a journey that may end in a British prison cell.
The first African head of state to be brought before an international tribunal will be in the dock at the special court for Sierra Leone to hear verdicts read out by the judicial panel on 11 charges, including recruitment of child soldiers and looting conflict diamonds.
Other offences, alleged to have been committed in Sierra Leone between 1996 and 2002 under his direction, involve terrorising civilian populations, murder, rape, sexual slavery and enforced amputations.
As the former colonial power in Sierra Leone, the UK has offered to make prison space available for the disgraced Liberian leader if he is convicted. Home for Taylor in the coming years could be a solitary cell in a high-security prison, perhaps Belmarsh or Whitemoor.
The gesture of hospitality, made in 2006 by the then foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, resolved a diplomatic standoff and paved the way for his case to commence.
It was proof, she said, of the UK’s “commitment to international justice”.
But the final decision on where a convicted Taylor serves his time will be made by the president of the special court for Sierra Leone, currently Justice Jon Kamanda, once any appeal is completed. That is a process that may run on into 2013.
Court regulations stipulate that the decision will, among other issues, “take into account the desirability of serving sentences in states that are within close proximity or accessibility of the relatives of the convicted person”. The court is even empowered to keep the location secret, if it can.
The “enforcement agreement” between Britain and the special court says the UK will bear the cost of imprisonment and must open the facilities to inspection by the European committee for the prevention of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment.
A spokesperson for the justice ministry confirmed: “We are one of the countries that is able to host [Taylor]. We may give him prison room. We don’t comment on prisoner location until the trial is finished. We have hosted other prisoners [from trials in The Hague] before.”
But the UK’s record on holding such inmates is not unblemished. In 2010, the Bosnian-Serb general Radislav Krstic, who was serving a 35-year sentence in Wakefield prison, was knifed in his cell by three Muslim inmates.
Krstic was convicted at the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague in 2001 over his role as a senior officer in the Bosnian Serb army, including involvement in the massacre of Bosnian Muslim men at Srebrenica in 1995.
Could be worse
Indrit Krasniqi, Iliyas Khalid and Quam Ogumbiyi were already serving life for murder when they forced their way into Krstic’s cell. They were, the prosecution claimed, intent on killing him in revenge for the slaughter of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica.
Whether Taylor will need special protection or a solitary cell inside a British jail may have yet to be decided. In the meantime, he remains incarcerated in Holland’s Scheveningen prison, in a suburb of The Hague on the edge of the North Sea.
He has described the cooking in Scheveningen as an “abomination”. But for all Taylor’s complaints about life inside—he wants conjugal visits, his own cooking and regular basketball—his aides admit things could be worse.
A recent biography, Charles Taylor and Liberia, claimed he had managed to father a child by his wife when she called on him in the Dutch jail; others sources suggested it was two.
The Jewish press has reported that Taylor has received regular visits from a rabbi after converting to Judaism. He also has frequent access to the internet.
Scheveningen’s prison’s spacious, individual cells and family rooms for visits may soon seem luxurious in comparison with the cold comfort of life behind bars in England.—
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