A United Nations-backed court in Sierra Leone announced today that it has indicted Liberian President Charles Taylor for war crimes and issued an international warrant for his arrest. “My Office was given an international mandate by the United Nations and the Republic of Sierra Leone to follow the evidence impartially wherever it leads. It has led us unequivocally to Taylor,” David Crane, the Court’s Chief Prosecutor, said in making public the indictment. Mr. Taylor is charged with “bearing the greatest responsibility” for war crimes, crimes against humanity and serious violations of international humanitarian law” in Sierra Leone since 30 November 1996, at the height of that country’s brutal 10-year civil war. Mr. Crane said the indictment had been judicially approved on 7 March but had been sealed, on his request, until now. Reacting to the announcement, Betrand Ramcharan, the Acting UN High Commissioner or Human Rights, expressed solidarity with the Chief Prosecutor and support for the Special Court. In a statement, he recalled the aspirations of the people of Sierra Leone and Liberia for peace and reconciliation, and appealed to all concerned – particularly the Liberian leadership – to act with calm and wisdom and to uphold international human rights and humanitarian law. The Special Court’s announcement came with Mr. Taylor in neighbouring Ghana, where peace talks with rebels are underway. A warrant for his arrest has been served on the Ghanaian authorities and sent to Interpol, Mr. Crane said. The Prosecutor, who said the announcement was timed so attendees at the peace talks would know they are dealing with an indicted war criminal, stressed that the negotiations should still go forward, but must not include Mr. Taylor. “The evidence upon which this indictment was approved raises serious questions about Taylor’s suitability to be a guarantor of any deal, let alone a peace agreement,” he said. By making the indictment public at this time, Mr. Crane said, he intended to send a “clear message” to all factions fighting in Liberia that they must respect international law – commanders are under international obligation to prevent their members from committing crimes against humanity. Citing relevant UN Security Council resolutions, he called on all nations to reinforce their commitments to international peace and security and “to take decisive action to ensure that Taylor is brought to justice.” In March, the Court also indicted Sam Bockarie and another rebel leader, Johnny Paul Koroma, for alleged atrocities – ranging from murder and sexual slavery to forced conscription of children and attacks on UN peacekeepers. Both were connected with President Taylor and the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF). The alleged body of Mr. Bockarie, who was killed last month in Liberia, has been turned over to the tribunal for positive identification, while Mr. Koroma remains at large, purportedly holed up in a small Liberian village. The Special Court, created through an international agreement between the United Nations and Sierra Leone, is mandated to try those who bear “the greatest responsibility” for atrocities committed during the country’s civil war.