LIBERIA: War Crimes Violators In Trouble As Prosecutors Dragnet Swells

Latest news on the international networks have revealed that the United States Government through its Federal Bureau of Investigations(FBI) has started to pursue more than 2,000 war crimes violations cases on individuals from across the world  including Liberia for possible arrest and prosecution.

The institution pressing forward is the Bureau’s International Human Rights Unit (IHRU), which the report says, works closely with partner intelligence agencies and the Department of State to identify subjects and gather leads.

The Liberian civil war can be roughly divided into two main epochs. The first ran from 1989 to 1990 and saw fighting largely between the AFL under former President Samuel Doe on the one hand, and rebel militia under the leadership of the NPFL and its various splinter and opposition groups.

The second period was from 2000 to 2003 during which Charles Taylor, having ‘won’ disputed elections in 1997, converted his former rebel force into a ragtag army, and fought for control of territory and the survival of his government against the newly formed LURD and MODEL.

During both periods, all parties to the conflict adopted a deliberate policy  of  targeting unarmed civilians who were killed, raped, tortured and sexually violated on a routine bases. Liberia’s warring factions seriously violated international human rights and humanitarian law and that those responsible ought to be held accountable for their actions.

Liberia owes a duty under both international humanitarian and human rights law to investigate and prosecute the heinous crimes, including torture, rape and extra-judicial killings of innocent civilians, committed in that country by the warring parties in the course of 14 years of brutal conflict.  Assuming that Liberia owes a duty to punish the grave crimes committed on its territory, the article then evaluates the options for prosecution, starting with the possible use of Liberian Courts.

Liberian Courts are unable, even if willing, to render credible justice that protects the due process rights of the accused given the collapse of legal institutions and the paucity of financial, human and material resources in post -conflict Liberia.

According to Human Rights Watch, both government of Liberia and Liberian rebel forces are responsible for violations of international humanitarian law amounting to war crimes and other serious human rights abuses.

Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) troops and rebel groups such as the defunct National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) and its splinter groups including the disbanded Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL), and erstwhile United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO), Lofa Defense Force (LDF) deliberately targeted civilians and committed large-scale torture, extra-judicial killings, rape, looting and destruction of civilian property without military necessity or justification, conscription of civilians especially children, and other gross human rights violations.

This cycle of violence and intimidation of civilians continued after Charles Taylor, leader of the obsolete NPFL, was elected president in 1997 following disputed multi-party elections. Indeed a fresh wave of fighting broke out with the advent in 2000 of a group calling itself Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) which vowed to oust Taylor from power by force of arms. LURD later gave birth to another splinter group – the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODE) in 2003.

Recently, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for the first time announced that it is involved in the process of pursuing alleged violators of human rights during civil crises. “The FBI seeks information from diaspora members, refugees, and asylum seekers here in the U.S. with knowledge of human rights violations committed abroad.

“Agents in the unit then coordinate the FBI’s approach in the field—whether it’s collecting intelligence, developing sources, or just meeting leaders in diaspora communities to make them aware that the FBI is seeking tips on the whereabouts of suspected war criminals and human rights violators.”

Thomas Bishop, head of the IHRU says the bureau is asking Diaspora communities to step up to the plate and come forward.

“If you know somebody or if you have heard of somebody who has done those things, let us know and then we’ll go from there,’” said Thomas Bishop, head of the IHRU. “I think in a lot of these communities, people know someone who was involved with something—or they hear about somebody being involved—but they may not know what to do with it. All we need is a tip so we can see if there’s anything to it.”

According to report followed by this paper, the FBI website has had an expanding role investigating human rights crimes since 1988, when Congress added genocide to the U.S. criminal code. “Torture was included in the code in 1994 and war crimes in 1996.

Also there are reliable reports that Switzerland’s attorney general has extended, until September, the detention of AlieuKosiah, a Liberian held on war crimes, because criminal proceedings against him are still continuing.

Nathalie Guth of the attorney general’s office however told Nordic Africa News in a recent email that “We can confirm, at this stage, that the criminal proceedings are still ongoing with the accused in preventive detention.”

This is the second time that Kosiah’s custody has been extended. The first was in February. He was arrested in November last year after seven Liberians made a criminal complaint against him, alleging that he committed war crimes when he served as a commander for a  Liberian warring faction during the country’s civil war.

The complainants, some of whom are represented by Alain Werner, a Swiss lawyer and director of Cavitas Maxima, said Kosiah carried out the crimes between 1993 and 1995 in Lofa County in northern Liberia.

The former President (Charles Ghankay Taylor) was found guilty in Leidschendam on April 26, 2012 by the Special Court for Sierra Leone which unanimously ruled that he was guilty of all 11 counts of "aiding and abetting" war crimes and crimes against humanity. He is currently serving a serving a 50-year sentence after his appeal was rejected, with the court ruling that his guilt had been proved beyond doubt.

The son of the former President was sentenced in January 2009, to 97 years in prison in a landmark torture case stemming out of a U.S. investigation into arms trafficking in Liberia. ''Chuckie'' was convicted in October of leading a campaign of torture against people opposed to his father's rule. Although he wasn't charged with killing any of them, his indictment alleged that he killed at least one of the seven victims.

George Boley, 64, the former leader of the Liberian Peace Council (LPC) who committed human rights abuses during the civil war in the 1990s, was deported to Liberia from the U.S. in March 2012, capping an effort by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to investigate the case and win the former warlord's removal from the United States.

Former Liberian rebel leader George Boley according to a US judge said evidence that the ex-Liberian Peace Council leader had been involved in killings and recruited children was grounds for his removal. Mr. Boley, who has been in custody for two years, denies the accusations. Around a quarter of a million people died during Liberia's 1989-2003 conflict, the New Vision noted.

In 1995, Mr. Boley joined other warlords, including Charles Taylor, to lead an interim council for about a year. After presidential elections in 1997, the conflict resumed. Witnesses told the  Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that in 1995 Liberian Peace Council fighters massacred 27 villagers "ordering them to lie down before they slit their throats with cutlasses and raping the women before they killed them", Ice said in a statement.

"Various organizations have reported that the LPC engaged in serious human rights abuses against the civilian population. The 1995 United States Department of State report on Human Rights Practices in Liberia documented credible reports that Boley authorized the extra-judicial executions of seven of his soldiers on 14 November 1995," it said.

Martina Johnson, the NPFL frontline Commander was picked up in Belgium for her alleged role in wartime atrocities.   A former commander of the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO), a rebel group that fought against Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front for Liberia (NPFL) in Liberia's first civil war was arrested November 2014 for his alleged implication in war crimes committed between 1993 and 1995 in Lofa County, Liberia.

A Swiss judge decided on 13 November 2014 that Mr. Kosiah will remain in detention for at least three months. It marked the very first time a former ULIMO member has been charged with international crimes committed during Liberia’s civil.

 If you have any information about perpetrators of genocide, war crimes, or other related mass atrocities, please submit it to us at tips.fbi.gov or contact your local FBI office, domestically or internationally,” reads a statement posted on the bureau’s website on July 10, 2015.

The most recent addition, in 2008, was the recruitment of child soldiers—an offense exemplified at the time by fugitive Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony, who famously recruited children into his notorious Lord’s Resistance Army.”

The report recommended that some 21 people be investigated and prosecuted for economic crimes along with 19 corporations, institutions, and state actors.  Another 52 people were recommended for public sanction and being barred from holding public office again while 54 other individuals and entities were recommended for further investigation.

An additional 36 people were identified as perpetrators, but the TRC recommended that they should not be prosecuted because they "cooperated with the TRC process, admitted to the crimes committed and spoke truthfully before the Commission and expressed remorse for their prior actions during the war," the reported noted.

Despite the TRC recommendations, Liberia has appeared reluctant to implement the findings or at least tackle the next phase of the process in which the legal system was expected to conduct its own investigations into the actions of those people listed by the TRC's report.

According to TRC Act, the president must report to the Legislature on the implementation of the TRC's recommendations three months after the delivery of the report, and thereafter every three months.  If the TRC's recommendations are not being followed, the president must show cause to the Legislature why this is not the case.

That process has since been stalled. But new interest from both the U.S. and the Netherlands is reopening the ugly chapter of Liberia’s painful but rugged past in hopes of curbing impunity.

International stakeholders agree that dealing with the crimes committed by various warring factions of the civil war remains probably one of the biggest challenges facing post-war Liberia.

But with both the legislature and the executive branch of government dragging its feet, the quest for justice for many who lost their lives during the course of the war appear to be on the verge of getting back on the burner with some suggestions that donors may likely begin tying extradition and cooperation requests to donor funding.

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