Liberia: Tom Woewiyu Goes To Court; Faces Up To 110 Years in Prison
PHILADELPHIA, USA – U.S. prosecutors will begin their case against Jucontee Thomas Woewiyu, a Liberian ex-warlord the U.S. has charged for lying to immigration authorities about his participation and leadership in the Liberian civil war in the 1990s here today. Woewiyu will become only the second Liberian to face trial over war crimes committed in Liberia’s civil war.
Report by Jackson Kanneh, [email protected]
Prosecutors are expected to tie Woewiyu’s role in the civil conflict to heinous crimes, including torture and the recruitment of child soldiers. They will also tell the court that Woewiyu was in charge of rebels who murdered five American nuns in Monrovia from the Order Adorers of the Blood of Christ. The murders brought global condemnation from the international community. Woewiyu will be the first person to face justice over the nun’s murders. The trial is expected to run for three weeks.
The sister’s order welcomed news that Woewiyu would be held to account.
“The Adorers of the Blood of Christ have a long history with the people of Liberia, having served there as missionaries from the 1970s until our sisters’ murders in 1992,” said Sister Barbara Hudock, ASC, U.S. Regional Leader of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ in an email.
“The blood of our sisters was shed with that of countless Liberians killed in the country’s civil war. Earlier this year, we sent two more missionaries to Liberia. Our hearts are with the people of Liberia and their quest for justice and for bringing a better life to the Liberian people. If this case brings some justice to Liberians who suffered many war crimes during the civil war, we support efforts to bring about that justice.”
Woewiyu was federally indicted in May 2014 on charges of lying on his immigration application for U.S. citizenship, the same time he launched his bid for senator in Liberia. He faces 16 counts of immigration fraud and could face 110 years jail and $4m fine if convicted.
The U.S. charges that Woewiyu, a founding member of a 1990 violent guerilla group led by convicted war criminal and former president Charles Taylor, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), was the group’s Minister of Defense when they attacked the Liberian capital Monrovia in 1992 in an assault named “Operation Octopus”.
Woewiyu served in the early 1990s under Taylor, whose own defector government conducted a “particularly heinous and brutal military campaign” that included civilian executions, the torture of opponents, the conscription of boys to become child soldiers, and forcing girls into prostitution,” the indictment said.
On May 13, 2014, Federal police arrested and charged Woewiyu, now 71, of Collingdale, Pennsylvania, with lying on his application for U.S. citizenship by not disclosing his alleged affiliation with a violent political group in Liberia. Woewiyu is charged with seven counts of perjury, two counts of fraudulently attempting to obtain citizenship, four counts of fraud in immigration documents, and three counts of false statements in relation to naturalization.
Prosecutors will tell Federal Judge Anita Brody that during Woewiyu’s tenure as NPFL Minister of Defense, “the NPFL conducted a particularly heinous and brutal military campaign. It was characterized by the torture of perceived adversaries; the execution of civilians; the killing of ECOMOG peacekeepers; the rape and forced sexual slavery of girls and women; the conscription of child soldiers (known as “Small Boys”) who often served as guards at countless checkpoints decorated with human heads, skulls and intestines; the murder of humanitarian aid workers; and cannibalism.”
Attorney L. C. Wright is the lead government prosecutor on the case, as he was on last year’s trial of Mohammed Jabbateh, a commander of ULIMO K rebel group who sought asylum in the US. Jabbateh was given 30 years jail in one of the longest sentences ever given for immigration fraud in the U.S.. Wright and his co-prosecutor Nelson S. Thayer have made several trips to Liberia to interview witnesses.
After Jabbateh’s conviction Wright told Front Page Africa he was confident about the Woewiyu trial.
“Everything is possible as far as what we do to prepare for the trial,” said Attorney Wright. He called the case “involved and complex” because of “the age of the case and evidence are some 30 years old.”
“For Liberians, this trial shows the ongoing momentum for the pursuit of justice and the nearing end of impunity in the country. After the Jabbateh trial last year, it is very meaningful for Liberians to see our Quest for Justice continuing in a trial of someone from another rebel group.”
Trials of Agnes Taylor, Charles Taylor’s ex-wife, and two other accused Liberian war criminals will take place in Europe in the coming year.
News of Woewiyu’s arrest by US authorities sent shockwaves in Liberian communities across the US.
Charles Taylor is serving a 50-year sentence in a British prison for having encouraged rebels in Sierra Leone to mutilate rape and murder victims in Sierra Leone’s civil war during the 1990s. He was convicted in a special tribunal set up for to try top level perpetrators in Sierra’s Leone’s war.
This story was produced in collaboration with New Narratives. Funding came from Civitas Maxima. The donor had no say in the story’s content.