n African Journal on Conflict Resolution - The case against Taylor's asylum : a review of Nigeria's domestic and international legal obligations

Volume 7, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1562-6997


The Charles Taylor-led rebellion to oust the then incumbent President of the West African State of Liberia, Mr. Samuel Doe, in 1989 triggered off more than a decade of civil war. This seemed to have been resolved with the special election in 1996 of which Taylor emerged the winner amidst claims of intimidation and corruption. However, in 2000 there was renewed fighting when another rebel group revolted against the Taylor government and once again the seemingly unending catastrophe of brutal proportions was re-ignited. By July 2003, as the Liberian capital was at the verge of being over-run by the rebels, Nigeria finally brokered what appeared to be the final Cease-fire Agreement that all the parties would respect, when it persuaded Mr. Taylor to resign and granted him asylum. That decision prompted a plethora of criticism both within Nigeria and internationally. The government of the country maintained that it had the moral and even legal obligation to grant asylum to Mr. Taylor and despite the criticism, it continued to harbour the man indicted by an 'international court' - The Special Court for Sierra Leone.

In November 2005 a domestic court in Nigeria held in a preliminary ruling that it had the jurisdiction to review the grant of asylum to the former Liberian President. Finally, in March 2006 Nigeria eventually handed Mr. Taylor over to Liberia who immediately transferred him to the Special Court.
The purpose of this study is to consider the international and domestic legal issues that arose as a result of the decision to house Taylor and shield him from justice from 2003 to 2006. It attempts to address the question of Nigeria's obligations towards both the international community and its citizens. It argues that though Nigeria's asylum offer to Mr. Taylor was a breach of its international legal obligations (under international humanitarian law), the effect of the breach (if any) is assuaged by such factors as the country's obligations to maintain international peace and to ensure stability in Liberia (these being part of the core purposes of the United Nations). It also argues that the decision to give refuge to Mr. Taylor was not to sustain impunity, as there is no time bar for the prosecution of those accused of international crimes, but to make certain the sub-region is stabilised first before Mr. Taylor could be prosecuted. It concludes that Nigeria was not obligated to hand Taylor over to the Special Court, thereby handing him over to Liberia, when it felt the sub-region was stable enough to handle his trial without erupting into the violence it had exerted so much to stop.

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