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War Time Photos Helping to Bring Perpetrators of Liberia’s War to Justice

War Time Photos Helping to Bring Perpetrators of Liberia’s War to Justice

Monrovia – A picture it is often said, tells a thousand words, it ventures into areas where the vague speculations about the most horrifying experiences become mute at the mere imagery of actions long forgotten.


Report by Rodney D. Sieh, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


“Photography, or to best put it, photojournalism whether motion or still, has made a tremendous impact in terms of aiding investigators and foreign governments in the arrest and effective prosecution of  former rebel commanders and warlords guilty of perpetrating war crimes during Liberia's bloody  civil wars. 

Certainly, without the use of photographs in most of the proceedings as seen, it could have been far more difficult for investigators of hideous crimes to prosecute these cases for such cases require more than eyewitnesses and only photography can fill that vacuum” – James Fausekoi, Veteran Liberian Photojournalist

James Fausekoi should know

The veteran Liberian photojournalist agrees that for alleged perpetrators of Liberia’s bloody civil war, images in recent months appear to be playing a major role in bringing many former warlords and their associates to book.

Photos Making Impact

Says Fausekoi, who previously worked for both The Inquirer and The Daily Observer prior to exile in the United States, says: “Photography, or to best put it, photojournalism whether motion or still, has made a tremendous impact in terms of aiding investigators and foreign governments in the arrest and effective  prosecution of  former rebel commanders and warlords guilty of perpetrating war crimes during Liberia's bloody  civil wars.” 

British authorities are urging witnesses to incidents during the first Liberian civil war between 1989 and 1992 - in particular events occurring in Nimba County and Bong County during that period, to contact the Met's War Crimes Team by emailing: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

In the past few years, several key figures from various warring factions have been apprehended on foreign soil.

Martina Johnson, the feared female commander of Charles Taylor's rebel group had settled in Belgium and had gone under the radar for a long time until she was picked up in September 2014 and booked for war crimes allegedly committed during Liberia's civil war.

Until her arrest, very few would have imagined that the tall, lanky woman, sporting a yellow pants and a pink Girt Dancing T-Shirt in a now iconic photo on the social medium Facebook was the same one dangling an AK-47 rifle on a bullet-ridden Monrovia street at the height of the civil war.

Until his deportation to Monrovia, George S. Boley, the former leaders of the Liberia Peace Council rebel group had settled in upstate New York with his family, far removed from the haunted memories of war. 

But photographs of him at the height of the civil war with gun-totting lads played a crucial role in bringing him to book.

In 2006, Charles McArthur Emmanuel, also known as Chuckie Taylor, the son of former President Charles Ghankay Taylor was placed under house arrest at the Miami International Airport after flying from his mother’s hometown, Trinidad to Miami,Florida when he was picked up.

He carried a passport that he received after falsifying his father's name on the application.

He was accused by the Domestic Section of the United States Department of Justice of participating in torture in Liberia.

Chuckie’s trial was the first case where a U.S. citizen was prosecuted under a 1994 law that prohibits American citizens from participating in torture outside of the United States. He has been incarcerated in a Miami prison since 2007.

Chuckie had left the dog days of his father’s war behind and living quietly in Trinidad where few had any knowledge that he had led the dreaded Anti-Terrorist Unit of his father’s government.  

Had it not been for Jusu Sulaiman, a Sierra Leonean refugee who fell prey to Chuckie’s wrath while en route to Freetown on April 22, 1999, perhaps Chuckie would still be a free man.

It was Jusu’s testimony in the case of United States v. Belfast that highlighted the saga.  Jusu explained his encounter with an angry defendant, Roy Belfast Jr., (a k a Charles Taylor Jr., a k a Chucky),  at the border, which proved to be the key piece of evidence that nailed the former President’s son.

Like Chuckie, Martina Johnson’s arrest was also based on a complaint.

In Martina’s case, a complaint was filed on behalf of three victims of an offensive in 1992 known as Operation Octopus.

Swiss Group on Trail of Perpetrators

Civitas Maxima, a Geneva-based legal advocacy organisation which helped bring the case against Ms Johnson, is the same organization that was instrumental in making a case against Agnes Taylor, the former wife of President Taylor.

The group has been working with Liberian non-government organisation Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP) to document the alleged crimes.

Martina is accused of participating directly in the National Patriotic Front's Operation Octopus, in which many civilians were brutally killed because they were members of ethnic groups, such as the Mandingos and the Krahns, Civitas Maxima said in a statement. 

The Small Boys Unit, made up of child soldiers, took part in the assault - and was one of the rebels' most feared battalions.

Belgium's universal jurisdiction law allows the country's judges to prosecute human rights offences committed anywhere in the world.

Until she was picked up by the Metropolitan Police Service in London and charged last week with torture for her alleged involvement with atrocities committed by her former husband’s rebel group, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), during the first Liberian Civil War, Dr. Agnes Taylor was living a quiet life as a lecturer at the London School of Commerce, Coventry.

As many who had forgotten that she was the self-proclaimed “Mother of the Revolution” during the dark days of her husband’s reign in his stronghold of Gbarnga, her iconic photograph in which she is dressed in military wears on the warfront of her former husband’s war, was a painful reminder of what was, even as debates ricochet against the backdrop of her now subtle, quiet life in London.

The former first lady, was charged last Friday with two charges relating to claims that between December 23, 1989, and January 1, 1991, she "intentionally inflicted severe pain or suffering on an individual in the performance or purported performance of her official duties" in the central Liberian city of Gbarnga.

Litany of Charges on Agnes

Another count relates to the same period and the same allegation, but this time in Gborplay, on the border with Ivory Coast.

The fourth count claims that between the same period, Taylor "agreed with others" on a course of action that "would necessarily amount to or involve the commission of the offence of torture".

The charges read:

- Agnes Reeves Taylor within the jurisdiction of the Central Criminal Court between the 23rd day of December 1989 and the 1st day of January 1991, in Liberia you agreed with others unknown that a course of conduct would be pursued which, if the agreement was carried out in accordance with those intentions would necessarily amount to or involve the commission of the offence of torture. Contrary to section 1(1) of the Criminal Law Act 1977;

- Agnes Reeves Taylor within the jurisdiction of the Central Criminal Court between the 23rd day of December 1989 and the 1st day of January 1991, as a public official or person acting in an official capacity together with others unknown at Gbarnga, Liberia, intentionally inflicted severe pain or suffering on an individual in the performance or purported performance of her official duties. Contrary to Section 134(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 1988;

- Agnes Reeves Taylor within the jurisdiction of the Central Criminal Court between the 23rd day of December 1989 and the 1st day of January 1991, as a public official or person acting in an official capacity together with others unknown at Gbarnga, Liberia, intentionally inflicted severe pain or suffering on an individual in the performance or purported performance of her official duties. Contrary to Section 134(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 1988;

- Agnes Reeves Taylor between the 23rd day of December 1989 and the 1st day of January 1991, as a public official or person acting in an official capacity together with persons unknown at Gborplay, Liberia, intentionally inflicted severe pain or suffering on an individual in the performance or purported performance of her official duties. Contrary to Section 134(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.

Her former husband, who served as President from 1997 to 2003, is currently serving a 50-year sentence in a British jail for his role in the civil war.

British authorities are urging witnesses to incidents during the first Liberian civil war between 1989 and 1992 - in particular events occurring in Nimba County and Bong County during that period, to contact the Met's War Crimes Team by emailing: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Mohammed Jabateh, who is slated to go on trial in October, was living quietly in East Lansdowne, Pennsylvania before he was arrested and accused of committing or ordering such atrocities as the public raping and sexual enslavement of women and murdering children.

US prosecutors, in an indictment charged that the 49-year-old was a Liberian war criminal known as “Jungle Jabbah.”

He faces fraud and perjury charges stemming from his immigration to the United States in the late 1990s.

Book, Images Nail Jabateh

Jabateh, according to prosecutors, was a high-ranking officer of the United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO) and then its splinter group ULIMO-K during the civil war of the early to mid 1990s.

According to the indictment, Jabbateh allegedly “personally committed or ordered ULIMO troops under his command” to commit murder of civilian noncombatants, sexual enslavement of women, public raping of women, maiming of civilian noncombatants, torturing of civilian noncombatants, the enslavement of civilian noncombatants, the conscription of child soldiers, the execution of prisoners of war, the desecration and mutilation of corpses, and the killing of individuals because of race, religion, nationality, ethnic origin, or political opinion.

Besides photo images, prosecutors are also relying on a 2004 Duke University Press book Brothers and Strangers: Black Zion, Black Slavery, 1914–1940, and reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer, in which journalist Keith Richburg recalled an encounter with Jungle Jabbah in Liberia in 1992: The battalion commander Captain Jungle Jabbah, was dressed in an Operation Desert Storm T-shirt and gold-rimmed sunglasses.

His deputy commander, distinguishable mostly by his tennis shoes and thick dreadlocks, identified himself as Captain Pepper-and-Salt — “because I will peppa’ the enemy,” he explained, waving his AK-47.

Like Jabateh, Alieu Kosiah, was a former commander in the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO).

He was arrested in November 2014 in Switzerland, suspected of crimes committed in Liberia between 1993 and 1995, especially killings targeting civilians in the Lofa district of northwest Liberia.

Kosiah is accused of "ordering his troops to kill civilians, ordering rape and acts aimed at terrorizing the local population and reducing them to slavery," in Liberia's northern Lofa.

Swiss authorities had reportedly ordered a criminal investigation into Kosiah who was living quietly in Switzerland.

The ULIMO group was set up to fight a rebel unit headed by warlord-turned-President Charles Taylor, who is currently serving a 50-year jail sentence for aiding and abetting rebels who committed atrocities in neighboring diamond-rich Sierra Leone.

Like the case against Dr. Taylor, Jabateh and Chuckie Taylor, Kosiah’s arrest was also based on a complaint. Seven victims had filed a suit against Kosiah in Switzerland.

The defense association Civitas Maxima said he was arrested in Bern and placed in detention.

While no photographs were involved in the case of Mr. Jucontee Thomas Woewiyu, who served as defense minister of Taylor’s NPFL, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested him at Newark Airport on his return from Liberia and charged him with lying by failing to disclose his alleged affiliation with a “violent political group in Liberia”.

Woewiyu had been living in the United States, and returned to Liberia to contest a senatorial seat for Grand Bassa County prior to his arrest.

For many of key perpetrators of violence during the civil war, coming to terms with the reality of recent developments aimed at curbing impunity appears to be a difficult pill to swallow.

While some are pressing to let bygones be bygones, families and friends of victims are welcoming the developments as a long-delayed implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) which operated between 2006 and 2009 and tasked with investigating gross human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law as well as other abuses, including economic crimes, committed between January 1979 and October 14, 2003.

The Commission also had the power to investigate crimes committed prior to 1979 upon applications from individuals or groups.

Interestingly, many of those who are now being brought to book through images of war, were part of The Commission’s final report which recommended that 49 people, including the current President, be banned from political office for their role in the conflict.

The recommendations included the names of over 100 people recommended for prosecution for international crimes.

The report also recommended the establishment of an extraordinary tribunal and a domestic criminal court to prosecute those responsible for atrocities and crimes during the war, the creation of a Reparations Trust Fund, and the promotion of women’s and children’s rights in response to the widespread use of sexual violence and child soldiers.

One of those on the list is Prince Johnson, the leader of the erstwhile Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia responsible for the capture and killing of Samuel Doe.

PYJ Caught on Video

Johnson, who boasted during his appearance before the TRC that he exhumed the body of slain President Doe and cremated it before throwing into the St. Paul River, denies killing innocent people but various images and video captured him killing some innocent Liberians and foreign nationals.

One of those now coming full circle involves the alleged murder of Hladini devi dasi originally named Linda Jury from Michigan, United States.

She was one of the renowned devotees of Hare Krishna. The incident allegedly occurred on October 3, 1990.

This week, FrontPage Africa reported based on a tip from US investigators in Liberia, who are said to be  gathering evidence and taking testimonies from eye witnesses for an indictment that would lead to his arrest.

Johnson is also subject of a video making the rounds on social media on which he is seen interrogating Mrs. Wata Allison, the late wife of the late Defense Minister Gray D. Allison.

On the video Johnson says:

PYJ: “You don’t know me”

Wata Allison: Mr. Johnson, to my holy communion, to my family and children, I took nine months, I do not know anything. It’s just a plot to kill Gray that all those people plotted to kill Gray.

PYJ: You believe!

Wata: I was not here

PYJ: But you heard it?

Wata: But I was sick. I’m trying to say I was not here.

PYJ: Give me my pistol. The man walked to the University campus and killed students with his bodyguards and you still say you don’t know?

Photos Can Fill Vacuum

Johnson, now a Senator from Nimba County demanded an unseen person in the video to bring his pistol, before slapping the late Mrs. Allison, who reportedly died shortly after the interrogation.

Since the release of the TRC report, however, Liberia has been dragging its feet on implementing the findings. But several international war crimes organizations have not.

Organizations like Civitas Maxima that have been involved in all of the arrests so far, have previously expressed skepticism about Liberia’s readiness to bring perpetrators of war to book.

For photojournalist Gregory Stemn, whose photographs have played a key role in nailing down perpetrators and aiding investigators, the atrocities caught on camera are coming home to roost for the perpetrators of war.

“These images of war are really playing a major role and more arrests are on the horizon.

Fausekoi agrees: “Certainly, without the use of photographs in most of the proceedings as seen, it could have been far more difficult for investigators of hideous crimes to prosecute these cases for such cases require more than   eyewitnesses and only photography can fill that vacuum.”

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