Coronavirus Slows Calls for the Establishment of War Crimes Court in Liberia


Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County – Calls for the establishment of a war crimes court in Liberia has slowed since the first confirmed case of coronavirus in March this year. The Government and people of Liberia have been engulfed in the fight to raid the country of the pandemic that have killed more than half a million around the world. This has placed other concerns of Liberians on a lower scale of preference for the leaders.

Report By Moses Geply, Contributing Writer

Adama Dempster, one of many human rights advocates that set up the Secretariat for the Establishment of War Crimes Court in Liberia, says the coronavirus pandemic has stalled all the gains made for the establishment of war crimes court in Liberia.

“Covid-19 has slowed everything down, but we are still committed to fight against impunity in Liberia,” he said.

Like Dempster, one person hoping for the prosecution of war criminals is 67-year-old Woe Gbokolo. He is keen on telling the dreadful killing of his friend by a rebel during the civil war.

Oldman Gbokolo struggles to move his leg with a stick. The heavy rain is not making it any better for him to find a seat. Gboloko says he is worried that what happened to his former workmate and best friend, Mr. Cooper Boley (no relations to George Boley) will not be told.

“I want talk about his death because I am old now. And with this new coronavirus sickness, nobody knows what will happen. Look at me; I am fighting to even work,” he said.

Gboloko and Boley worked in the same department at a Swedish-Liberian company called LAMCO. The war separated them because they were both from rival tribes. Gbokolo was Mano and Boley was Krahn. Boley left Nimba County to seek refuge, leaving behind his property.

“Since the time that man killed him, I have not seen his wife or his children. I hope they are alive and well. None of his relatives came here to ask for his property,” said Oldman Gbokolo.

Mr. Boley was killed in 2000 by a man who was loyal to Prince Johnson. Although Johnson’s Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL) was defunct by the year 2000, there were remnants of his forces who were still loyal to him.

According to Oldman Gbokola, the man claimed people told him that Boley was a volunteer solider with the Armed Forces of Liberia.

For many years Gbokolo had not spoken about that tragic incident because he was afraid.

“The TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission) people came here but I have always been afraid to tell this story because we hear all kinds of bad bad things  happened to people who talked (testified),” he said.

It has been 17 years since the war ended in Liberia. Over 200,000 people lost their lives in perhaps one of the most brutal wars in recent African history. Justice for those who lost their lives like Boley seems farfetched.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, human rights advocates, politicians, and victims pushing for the establishment of the war crimes court faced threats on their lives.

Representative Rustonlyn Dennis is one of those people. The female politician, who represent a district of Montserrado County at Liberia’s Legislature, has been leading the charge at the House of Representatives.

She has been rallying lawmakers to approve a law that will see the establishment of a special tribunal to prosecute those who bear the greatest responsibilities for what happened during the civil wars.

Even as powerful as she is, she told the UK Guardian Newspaper that her life is in danger from people claiming to be speaking on behalf of ex-warlord Prince Johnson, who is now a Senator of Nimba County.

“Since then, there has been this unknown or unlicensed black vehicle that is always tailing me,” Representative Dennis said, adding that she was threatened in a phone call.

She said the caller threatened her, saying “I will get to you, and those who sent you will regret [it].”

Meanwhile, at the home of oldman Gbokolo in Nimba County, he is still struggling to recount the horrible killing of his friend.

During an interview with a visiting reporter, he narrates the details of the incident as he shakes his head and weep the tears from his eyes. He tries to rest his arm on the balcony behind him as he carefully narrates the final ordeal of his dear friend.  

“Mr. Boley was Krahn but he was a good man. He only came here in Ganta to check on his property. But, by that time (2000) the (tribal) killing (s) was still happening,” explains Gbokolo.

Meanwhile, Prince Johnson has shown no remorse for the atrocity he of his men carried out during the civil war. Senator Johnson threatened that there will be reaction from people of Nimba County whenever calls to prosecute war criminals are renewed in Liberia.

“Go grab Prince Johnson, you won’t be able to even come close,” Johnson told his Monrovia congregation recently. “You won’t even catch me because the resistance you will receive from young guys will be maximum, uncontrollable and ungovernable.”

Senator Johnson has vowed to mobilize young men from Nimba to take up arms and join him in the forests to resist the court as he threaten to vehemently fight the world crimes court.

Because of this threat from Johnson and other warlords’ over the years, many people have been afraid to testify about murders during the war.

Prince Johnson is at the top the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report’s “Most Notorious Perpetrators list” and is widely expected to be the first person to face a war crimes court for his role in Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia and later, as the head of his breakaway Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia. 

Many believe that Liberia’s current President, George Weah did not participate in the war. Hence, he should be the one to lead the country in putting an end to impunity.

However, upon his return from the UN General Assembly last year, Weah said that he had merely informed the UN about the many calls for a court.

“I have never one day called for the war-crimes court,” he said. “Why should we focus on the war crimes court now, when we did not focus on it 12 years ago?”

To win the 2017 election, Weah significantly relied on the support of Prince Johnson, who was involved in the killing of the brutal former military ruler Samuel Doe on camera.

Many pundits say fear of upsetting Johnson and his many supporters, seems to be a reason influencing President Weah’s decision to ignore the establishment of the court.