Ex-Liberian President Charles Taylor has asked to serve his 50-year sentence for war crimes in Rwanda, rather than the UK.
In a letter sent to the court that convicted him, he says it would be easier – and less expensive – for his family to visit him in Africa. He also said he feared being attacked in a British prison.
Taylor was convicted of aiding rebels who committed atrocities in Sierra Leone during its civil war. Last week, a UK minister confirmed that Taylor would be transferred to a British prison.
He was convicted by the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL), but his trial was held in The Hague in case it sparked renewed unrest in West Africa. The Netherlands only agreed to host the trial if he was imprisoned elsewhere.
In a letter seen by the BBC, Taylor wrote:
“My position is that serving my sentence in Rwanda, in my home continent of Africa, would be substantially more humane not only on my own account, but also on account of the impact on my family.”
He noted that the court’s statutes said access for prisoners’ relatives should be taken into account when deciding where they should serve their sentence.
He said that it would be cheaper and easier to travel to Rwanda – and that Liberian nationals could obtain visas at the airport, unlike in the UK.
Taylor, 65, was convicted on 11 crimes including terrorism, rape, murder and the use of child soldiers by rebel groups in neighbouring Sierra Leone during the 1991-2002 conflict, in which some 50,000 people died.
He was found to have supplied weapons to the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in exchange for so-called blood diamonds. The rebels were notorious for hacking off the limbs of civilians to terrorise the population.
Taylor has always insisted he is innocent and his only contact with the rebels was to urge them to stop fighting. He is the first former head of state convicted by an international war crimes court since World War II.
In his three-page letter, dated 10 October, Taylor continued: “My name is now associated with horrendous atrocities. Prison inmates, whether from the region or not, are likely to be inclined to inflict their own brand of justice by attacking me.”
He pointed out that “a significant number of individuals from Sierra Leonean background are in detention in prisons in the UK” and noted that in 2011, Bosnian war criminal Radislav Krstic was attacked in a British jail by three Muslim men, apparently in revenge for his role in the Bosnian conflict.
Taylor argued that the UK authorities “may also simply be unaware of the groups that might be particularly motivated to attack me in prison”. “In short, incarceration in the United Kingdom will likely – and very soon – lead to me being seriously injured or killed.”
Some other people convicted by the SCSL are already serving their sentences in Rwanda. Last week, UK Justice Minister Jeremy Wright noted that the British offer to host Taylor had enabled his trial to proceed in The Hague.
He told parliament: “The conviction of Charles Taylor is a landmark moment for international justice.” “It clearly demonstrates that those who commit atrocities will be held to account and that no matter their position they will not enjoy impunity.”
Taylor’s appeal against his conviction was rejected last month and he remains in The Hague, awaiting transfer.