Liberia: Justice Campaigner Dismisses TRC Claim by Family of Agnes Reeves Taylor

Hassan Bility speaks on Agnes Reeves Taylor Trial at the launch of a booklet on war crimes court in Liberia

Monrovia– Hassan Bility of Global Justice Research Program (GJRP) has dismissed claim by the family of Agnes Reeves Taylor that she could not have committed the crimes she’s accused of, because her name is not in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) report.  

Report by Mae Azango, New Narratives Justice Correspondent 

GJRP collaborates with the Switzerland-based Civitas Maxima in the prosecution of Liberians in Europe and America, including ex-ULIMO generals Kunti Kamara in France and Alieu Kosiah in Switzerland, and Reeves Taylor in London.  

Addressing a recent press conference at the launch of a booklet containing questions and answers on the establishment of a war crimes court for Liberia Secretariat for the Establishment of War Crimes Court in Liberia, (SEWACCOL)—of which Bility is a member—Bility said the TRC recommendations should not be used as a yardstick to determine who gets prosecuted or not. He was responding to accusation by the family of Reeves Taylor that he had something personal against the ex-wife of former President Charles Taylor.   

“People have to understand that the United Kingdom has one of the best judicial systems in the world; so I do not believe the United Kingdom will arrest an individual without evidence as is being reported in Liberia. Nobody should believe that, because the United Kingdom’s jurisprudence is much older than the United States of America [and many other countries in the world],” said Bility, who urged Reeves Taylor’s family to raise their argument in the court, not in the media.

Bility added the TRC report did not include the names of all those who allegedly committed crimes during the Liberian Civil War (1989-2003) or all of the human rights abuses that occurred during the war. He cited an example with Kunti Kamara, the ex-ULIMO general is has been charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity in France in September last year.

“The TRC recommendation does not say that only [the people it listed] should be prosecuted,” he said. “It leaves room for prosecution of other people who could be investigated in the future. Furthermore, the TRC is a lead to tell us what to go into. “The TRC could not have captured everyone,” he said, cautioning Liberians not to think that all wartime crimes will be prosecuted when the court is set up.  

Bility then called on the public to stop blaming him for the prosecution of Liberians in foreign countries. “Why should someone believe that I have such power to sit in Liberia and order the United Kingdom and the US to arrest someone and put them in prison?” He asked rhetorically, referencing other prosecutions GJRP has been involved in in Philadelphia, USA, including Mohammed Jabbateh’s and Thomas Woewiyu’s. “The law is the law; no one is going to blame me for doing my job,” he added.

In June 2017, Reeves-Taylor, 53, was arrested and charged by Britain’s Metropolitan Police with conspiracy to torture and infliction of severe pain or suffering in the performance of official duties. She allegedly committed the crimes between1989 and 1991 in Gbarnga, Bong and Gborplay, Nimba.

Her trial was due to start on February 25, but was for a second time rescheduled to June after it was initially rescheduled from January. Experts say that her trial could start in September. She has been denied bail and is currently in detention in London.

Reeves Taylor’s lawyer is Courtney Griffiths, the man who defended her former husband in his trial at the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague. Taylor is serving a 50-year sentence for is role in the war in Sierra Leone. She married Taylor in 1984.

On the booklet whose launch Bility spoke, SEWACCOL in a statement read by Adama Dempster said that the 10-page booklet on war crimes in Liberia “is a response to knowledge gaps [showed] by citizens, including journalists, officials of government, members of the Legislature … and alleged perpetrator …about accountability issues for past crimes in Liberia.” Dempster said plans were underway to produce a simpler version of the booklet to circulate in communities across the country so that people can make informed decisions and debate on the court.  

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