Philadelphia is a flashpoint for Liberian human rights advocates
By Darryl C. Murphy|
The recent federal convictions of suspected Liberian war criminals Mohammed “Jungle Jabbah” Jabbateh and Jucontee Thomas Woewiyu in Philadelphia is fueling the demand for a war crimes court in Liberia.
Liberians around the world are still seeking justice for the 14-year long civil war that ended in 2003, which claimed more than 200,000 lives. Crimes such as murder, rape, conscripting child soldiers, and torture have gone unchecked by the Liberian government.
Former Liberian journalist Al-Jerome Anastas Chede is a member of the Coalition for Justice In Liberia, a justice advocacy group in the United States. He left Liberia in 1997 after allegedly being targeted by the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, the ruling regime headed by former president Charles Taylor.
He left the country in 1997 and now lives in Minnesota. Chede said survivors of the war have a responsibility to innocent people who lost their lives.
“There’s nothing wrong with crying for justice,” he said. “For any true civilization to thrive, there must be a strong foundation of justice.”
The Liberian government formed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the years after the civil war to identify those who committed human rights offenses and bring them to justice. The commission compiled a list of alleged war criminals, but the government hasn’t taken action.
Some of the names listed even hold political office.
“Up to now, people whose parents were killed or people who lost their loved ones are still moving around in a country traumatized, seeing the very people that were responsible for the death and destruction of their family members roaming the streets freely,” Chede said.
In the meantime, justice is found outside of Liberia, with Europe and the U.S. leading the charge in Liberian war crimes prosecutions.
The U.S. doesn’t have jurisdiction over Liberian war crimes, but immigration fraud and federal civil suits provide a pathway to justice for Liberians in America.
Both Jabbateh and Woewiyu faced long sentences for lying on their U.S. applications to hide their alleged violent past. Jabbateh, of Delaware County, was sentenced to 30 years in prison in April. Woewiyu, of Delaware County, is scheduled to be sentenced in October.
Assistant U.S. attorney Linwood Wright led the prosecution in both convictions. Philadelphia’s large Liberian population is causing speculation that there are more cases in the pipeline. Wright and his team could not comment on that, but he says his office is committed to pursuing war criminals via immigration fraud charges.
“If there are people who were involved in the conflict who have made false statements when they, in fact, were trying to gain immigration benefits and we know about it, then those are the sorts of things we’ll pursue based on the evidence.”