Liberian Movie on Maher Massacre Screens at London Festival

The poster of “Maher: Black Rain in Bomi” that is based on the 2002 Maher Massacre/Derick Snyder via New Narratives  

Monrovia – A 2016 Liberian movie based on the Maher Massacre in Bomi County recently screened at a London film festival to draw attention to sexual violence in conflict and to put an end to it. 

Report by James Harding Giahyue, New Narratives Justice Correspondent

“Maher: Black Rain in Bomi” was among 38 films and documentaries screening at the first ever “Fighting Stigma through Film” festival, which took place between November 20 and 25 that was graced by Actress Angelina Jolie and Dr. Denis Mukwege, this year’s Congolese Nobel Peace Prize winner.  

Asked whether the screening of his movie was a motivation, Derick Snyder, who wrote, produced and directed the film, was affirmative. “With the support of international partners, most especially the British Embassy, that already recognizes the film, I will do more,” Snyder said in an emailed statement shortly after his return to Liberia.  

“In 2007, I went in Bomi as a journalist to get the story along with a Denmark TV crew. After the survivor explained the story of what happened in 2002, I said to myself, ‘This story cannot just remain as a story in the media, but could be turned into a feature film that will serve as documentary for our coming generation,’” Snyder recalled. “I really needed the story to be told in a decades to come, and doc-features, is the best way,” he added.     

Jolie applauded Snyder and other filmmakers for their courage to tell the tales of survivors and victims of sexual violence in conflict. “Artists and human rights defenders often take significant risks to tell the truth about crimes committed against defenseless women, children and men during war,” Ms. Jolie said in a statement as per the Forces Network of the British Army.  

“Stigma compounds the suffering of survivors of warzone rape. It is an unbearable injustice on a human level, and it is a major obstacle to achieving justice for victims of these sickening acts of violence,” Jolie added.

Films from Libya, Congo and Uganda also screened at the festival. 

Last Massacre 

Two women walk on the Maher River Bridge in Bomi County, where the massacre was carried out in 2002/ James Giahyue 

Maher Massacre is one of the last massacres of the Liberian civil war (1989-2003). According to the Catholic Justice of the Peace Commission that investigated the killings in 2004, about 150 people were killed by pro-government militiamen under the command of Benjamin Yeaten, former Director of the Special Security Service (now Executive Protection Service) and Roland Duo, former Director of Port Security.  

Both men deny any connection to the killings but are both listed among 98 “most notorious perpetrators” in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission  (TRC) report. The Liberian government recently reopened Yeaten’s indictment for the murder of Isaac Vaye and John Yormie, two former government officials. 

While the deaths of civilians—men, women, children and elderly—have become synonymous to the bridge and the community from which the massacre is named, militiamen carried on mass rape of women, survivors say. 

Snyder’s film captures that. 

After recapturing Bomi, the militiamen pretended to evacuate residents of Tubmanburg—the provincial capital of the western country—from an imminent crossfire as they prepared to combat rebels of the Liberia United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD). People gathered at a place in Tubmanburg and boarded the vehicle the militiamen provided. It was July 18, 2002. They did not know they were being killed. 

By nightfall, survivors say, the militiamen began raping women in their numbers. The militiamen accused the people of harboring the rebels who had retreated after spending months in Bomi. 

The woman whom Snyder and his colleagues from the Denmark TV interviewed is Watta Konneh, who is now 68 years old. 

Kanneh lost 13 members of her family to the massacre but survived alongside her daughters Fatu and Alice, and granddaughter Sianeh. 

Snyder said he has remained in contact with the family. 

Murder and rape during war are war crimes. 

All factions, according to the TRC, committed sexual and gender based violence against women including rape, sexual slavery, forced marriages, and other dehumanizing forms of violations. It in 2009 recommended an extraordinary court for Liberia, but that has yet to happen. 

The United Nations, international human rights groups and local civil society actors have all called for the court but President George Weah has shown no interest so far. 

The London festival was also meant to encourage filmmakers to advocate for justice and accountability through their films as well as promote the prevention of sexual violence. 

Snyder said he was 100 percent in support of the accountability of crimes that were committed during Liberia’s civil war and crime that are being committed today. “Perpetrators need to know that they can’t walk always with impunity,” he said. “My effort in making the film will not be in vain.”  

This story was a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project