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Press Release 2003/26  

 5 August 2003

Liberia applies to the International Court of Justice in a dispute with Sierra Leone concerning an international arrest warrant issued by the Special Court for Sierra Leone against the Liberian President

THE HAGUE, 5 August 2003. By an Application filed on 4 August 2003, the Republic of Liberia seeks to bring proceedings before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against Sierra Leone in respect of a dispute concerning the indictment and international arrest warrant of 7 March 2003, issued against Charles Ghankay Taylor, President of the Republic of Liberia, by a decision of the Special Court for Sierra Leone at Freetown.

In its Application, Liberia alleges that "[T]he international arrest warrant . . . against President Charles Ghankay Taylor, violates a fundamental principle of international law providing for immunity from criminal proceedings [in] foreign criminal jurisdictions of an incumbent Head of State as recognized by the jurisprudence of the International Court of Justice." It further maintains that "[a]n arrest warrant of a Head of State issued by a foreign jurisdiction is also inconsistent with the internationally recognised principle that foreign judicial powers or authority may not be exercised on the territory of another State." Liberia contends "that the arrest warrant of Charles Ghankay Taylor violates customary international law and impugns the honour and reputation of the Presidency and its sovereignty". It further alleges that "The Special Court cannot impose legal obligations on States that are not a party to the Agreement between Sierra Leone and the United Nations of 16 January 2002. The Special Court for Sierra Leone is not an organ of the United Nations and is not established as an international criminal court."

Liberia accordingly asks the Court:
"(a) to declare that the issue of the indictment and the arrest warrant of 7 March 2003 and its international circulation, failed to respect the immunity from a criminal jurisdiction and the inviolability of a Head of State which an incumbent President of the Republic of Liberia enjoys under international law;
(b) to order the immediate cancellation and/or withdrawal of the indictment and the arrest warrant; and the communication thereof to all authorities to whom the indictment and the warrant was circulated."

In the Application, Liberia also requests the Court to indicate provisional measures.

With regard to the Court's jurisdiction, Liberia refers to its own declaration of 1952 accepting the Court's jurisdiction as compulsory, and "[w]ith a view to Article 38 (5) of the Rules of the Court, [it] expects the Republic of Sierra Leone to accede for the purpose of this Application to the jurisdiction of the Court pursuant to Article 36 (2) of the Statute of the Court . . .".

Article 38, paragraph 5, of the Rules of Court reads as follows:
"[W]hen the applicant State proposes to found the jurisdiction of the Court upon a consent thereto yet to be given or manifested by the State against which such application is made, the application shall be transmitted to that State. It shall not however be entered in the General List, nor any action be taken in the proceedings, unless and until the State against which such application is made consents to the Court's jurisdiction for the purposes of the case."

In accordance with that Article, a copy of the Application has been transmitted to the Government of Sierra Leone. However, no action will be taken in the proceedings (in particular on the request for provisional measures) unless and until Sierra Leone consents to the Court's jurisdiction in the case.