Jailed former Liberian president, Charles Taylor, is suing Britain for denying him his right to a family life. James Slack reports.
London - An African warlord guilty of crimes against humanity is suing Britain for denying him his right to a family life.
Charles Taylor, who apparently ate the hearts of his enemies, is serving 50 years in a Durham jail.
The UK agreed to imprison him after he was convicted at the Hague of a horrifying campaign of rape, murder and terrorism that cost tens of thousands of lives in Sierra Leone.
But this week the 66-year-old lodged legal papers claiming his detention in Britain denied his human rights.
He says his wife and 15 children – some of them criminals too – should not have to travel from Africa to visit him. Taylor also claims he fears being attacked in Frankland jail.
The former Liberian president fuelled a civil war in neighbouring Sierra Leone to seize its “blood diamonds”, some of which he gave to Naomi Campbell when he met the supermodel at a dinner in honour of Nelson Mandela in 1997.
The British government will be forced to spend tens of thousands of pounds contesting the case and flying Taylor to the Netherlands for his appeal.
Whitehall officials described his claim as the “ultimate perversion of the concept of human rights”.
One said: “This is simply disgusting. He is a war criminal. He doesn’t get to choose where he serves his sentence. As for his right to a family life – what a sick joke.”
Tory MP Dominic Raab said: “It shows the corruption of human rights that such a brutal warlord convicted of crimes against humanity, including terrorism, rape and conscripting child soldiers, thinks he can claim jail violates his right to family life.
“If he’s successful, it would turn British human rights laws into a laughing stock around the world.”
Taylor’s case will be heard by Judge Philip Waki at the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone, which has £1 million (R18m) funding from the Foreign Office.
The former despot has already appointed two lawyers in England. The fees are likely to be picked up by the court.
The case is the latest appalling example of criminals claiming they have a right to a family life, which is enshrined in law by a series of treaties, conventions and other international obligations. Convicts normally cite these rules to stay in Britain whereas Taylor wants to be transferred to Rwanda.
His wife, Victoria Addison Taylor, claimed his incarceration among “common British prisoners” was humiliating.
She said: “They took him to this prison where high (risk) criminals, terrorists and other common British criminals are kept and he is being classified as a high-risk prisoner.
“He is going through humiliation and you cannot treat a former head of state that way.”
Taylor was convicted in April 2012 of 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
He aided murderous rebels in Sierra Leone’s 11-year civil war that ended in 2002 and cost about 250 000 lives.
Taylor’s trial was held at the Hague in case it sparked renewed unrest in west Africa.
In order to help bring him to justice, the government of Tony Blair agreed that he would serve any term of imprisonment in the UK – with the taxpayer picking up the bill.
Since the end of last year, he has been imprisoned in HMP Frankland at a cost of about £50 000 a year. But, despite his crimes, he claims to have a human right to be near his family, who remain in Africa. In a letter sent to the Dutch court, he says it would be easier – and less expensive – for his family to visit him in Africa.
Taylor said: “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 argues that the court’s statutes said access for prisoners’ relatives should be taken into account when deciding where they should serve their sentence.
Taylor complains: “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.”
Taylor’s lawyers argue 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.
He claims the UK authorities “may also simply be unaware of the groups that might be particularly motivated to attack me in prison”. He adds: “In short, incarceration in the United Kingdom will likely – and very soon – lead to me being seriously injured or killed.”
Taylor, who has already lost an appeal against his conviction, is expected to demand the right to attend the hearing.
The Ministry of Justice, which is proud of the UK’s role in bringing him to justice, will contest his claims.
Pivotal to the original case against him was the evidence of Campbell and actress Mia Farrow, who provided a clear link between Taylor and blood diamonds he received in payment for arms.
London-born Campbell admitted being given a pouch of uncut gems by the president’s men after the dinner in South Africa. Taylor is thought to have acquired from the rebels diamonds worth as much as £1 billion.
Taylor supported rebels responsible for widespread atrocities in Sierra Leone, where people were killed and mutilated.
He supplied weapons to the murderous Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in the West African country in exchange for so-called “blood diamonds”.
He was an alleged cannibal who ate the hearts and livers of his enemies.
Helped by his teenage son, “Chuckie”, many of his victims were tortured and raped before being cooked and eaten by Taylor’s troops.
The RUF left tens of thousands of people maimed for life after ordering drug-crazed fighters to hack off the limbs of civilians with machetes.
In April 2012, he was sentenced to 50 years in jail for his role in crimes against humanity, including acts of terrorism, murder, rape, sexual slavery, use of child soldiers and pillage.
Taylor is thought to have acquired diamonds from the rebels worth as much as £950m.
He came to prominence as a warlord during Liberia’s civil war and was elected president in 1997.