Liberia: Latest Liberia War Crimes Arrest In Europe Sparks Jitters As US Congressman Calls For Implementation Of Truth & Reconciliation Report
Monrovia – The arrest in France last week of Awaliho Soumaworo aka “Kunti K”, a naturalized Dutch citizen over his alleged involvement in crimes against humanity committed during the First Liberian Civil War (1989-1996) while acting as a commander for the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO) is renewing fears amongst former warlords in Liberia’s brutal civil war.
Report by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]
The arrest also comes amid the recent submission of a bill sponsored by US Congressman Daniel M. Donovan(Republican, New York) calling for the full implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendation including the establishment of a war crimes court for Liberia.
Kunti K, who was reportedly picked up last Tuesday in the northeast Paris suburb of Bobigny where he had been hiding out at the home of a friend, is suspected of torture, murder, slavery, the use of child soldiers and cannibalism between 1993 and 1997.
Kunti K., 44, was detained in a joint operation by elite GIGN police and officers from France’s OCLCH agency, which investigates war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. “He had arrived in France in 2016, after leaving the Netherlands and passing through Belgium,” Colonel Eric Emeraux, head of the OCLCH, was quoted by the Agence France Press as saying.
Kunti left Liberia right after former President Charles Taylor won the 1997 elections and surfaced in The Netherlands where he was naturalized as a Dutch citizen. Until his arrest, he had been spending a lot of time in the European belt, mostly near Paris and Portugal.
Paris prosecutors had opened an initial investigation into Kunti K. after victims’ rights group Civitas Maxima filed a criminal complaint on July 23.
Civictas Maxima has been working with the Monrovia – based Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP) since 2012, to document crimes committed during the wars by all warring factions and find avenues for accountability for Liberian victims.
Civitas Maxima and the GJRP have assisted several prosecuting authorities, resulting in six arrests in the last four years for crimes linked to crimes against humanity committed during Liberia’s civil wars in five different countries. Civitas Maxima filed a complaint in July 2018 against Kunti K. for his alleged commission or command of multiple crimes against humanity.
“Victims of these international crimes will not remain silent, they want justice for the wrongs they endured. We stand with the victims and help them access justice mechanisms no matter where, so that these former commanders, like Kunti K. are held accountable” said Alain Werner, director of Civitas Maxima, following Kunti K’s arrest.
Mr. Hassan Bility, director of the GJRP in Monrovia said what both organizations have accomplished in trying to bring perpetrators of war to justice is unprecedented. “To see numerous arrests abroad demonstrates that domestic criminal justice procedures can work to promote accountability for crimes against humanity.”
Bility said Kunti’s arrest comes at such a crucial time. “In Liberia, people are hopeful that the high-ranking commanders, the people who committed the most horrific crimes, will be held accountable. Kunti K.’s arrest, and the previous arrests, show that justice for crimes committed during the civil wars can be achieved. We therefore call on the Liberian legislature to take steps aimed at legislating the necessary laws that will pave the way for the creation of a war crimes court that will address war-time violations of international humanitarian law.”
Despite the wave of arrests so far, action has been slow on the domestic front for the crimes committed during the back-to-back civil wars, which in 14 years claimed over 150 000 lives, most of them civilians.
In the wake of Kunti K.’s arrest coming at a time when the momentum for justice in Liberia has never been stronger.
FrontPageAfrica now takes a look at those who have been brought to book so far and who could be on the horizon as more arrests and indictments are expected to follow, according to Bility, who said a fortnight ago during an international roundtable held in Monrovia that there will be at least four arrests including some high-profile former rebel commanders before December this year with more expected in the coming year.
CHARLES GHANKAY TAYLOR
The former Liberian President is currently serving a 50-year prison sentence in a British prison served as president from 1997 until he was forced into exile in 2003. He was widely held responsible for the country’s devastating civil war during the 1990s and for crimes committed during the civil war in neighbouring Sierra Leone.
The former director of the General Services Agency(GSA) under late President Samuel Kanyon Doe was accused by Doe of embezzled nearly $1 million. He fled to the United States, where he was jailed. He later fled and subsequently appeared in Libya, where he formed the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, a rebel group which invaded Liberia on Christmas Eve 1989.
Taylor’s forces advanced on the capital of Monrovia in 1990, but his bid for power was checked by rival groups. Doe was killed in the fighting by Prince Y. Johnson, head of a breakaway Taylor faction, the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia.
Armed factions fought a brutal civil war in which more than 150,000 people were killed and more than half of the population became refugees. Although the NPFL never took the capital, it controlled the countryside and its rich natural resources. The fighting also spilled over into neighbouring Sierra Leone, and at one point the Economic Community of West African States(ECOWAS) attempted to intervene with peacekeeping troops. A 1996 peace pact led to elections on July 19, 1997. Critics accused Taylor of unfair tactics, including giving handouts to the largely impoverished and illiterate electorate, but he won the election with 75 percent of the votes.
Taylor did not complete his term in office and struggled to maintain his grip on power as rival warring factions encircled the capital Monrovia. The country was subsequently gripped again by civil war, and Taylor, accused of gross human rights violations, was indicted by a UN-sponsored war-crimes tribunal (the Special Court for Sierra Leone) in 2003.
Following widespread international condemnation, Taylor agreed to go into exile in Nigeria. In March 2006, however, the Liberian government requested Taylor’s extradition, and Nigeria announced that it would comply with the order. Taylor subsequently attempted to flee Nigeria but was quickly captured. Charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes committed during Sierra Leone’s civil war, he was later sent to The Hague, where he was to be tried before the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
Taylor’s trial came to a close in March 2011 as the judges adjourned to consider a verdict, which was not expected for several months. The verdict, which was issued on April 26, 2012, found Taylor guilty on all 11 counts of bearing responsibility for the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by rebel forces during Sierra Leone’s civil war, because he had aided and abetted the perpetrators; he was not, however, found guilty of having ordered or having instigated the crimes. Taylor’s sentence, which was handed down on May 30, 2012, was for 50 years in prison—effectively a life sentence for the then 64-year-old. Taylor filed an appeal, but on September 26, 2013, it was rejected, and his verdict and sentencing were upheld.
CHARLES MCARTHER EMMANUEL AKA ‘CHUCKY TAYLOR’
The son of former President Taylor became the commander of the infamously violent Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU), commonly known in Liberia as the “Demon Forces”. He is currently serving a 97-year sentence back in Florida for his role in human rights violations carried out by the ATU.
Chucky was arrested in 2006 at the Miami International Airport after flying from Trinidad to Miami; he carried a passport that he received after falsifying his father’s name on the application. The Domestic Section of the United States Department of Justice accused Emmanuel of participating in torture in Liberia. Emmanuel’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. Chucky has been incarcerated in a Miami prison since 2007.
JUCONTEE THOMAS WOEWIYU
Also known as Thomas Smith, the former Defense minister of Taylor’s NPFL was arrested and accused of lying on his U.S. citizenship application about his ties to Taylor. He was tried on multiple charges related to immigration fraud, perjury and false statements about naturalization.
U.S. prosecutors alleged when Woewiyu applied for citizenship in 2006, he lied about his role in those civil war atrocities. He allegedly checked “no” when asked if he had any political affiliations or had ever joined in an attempted coup. Woewiyu served under Taylor in the 1990s, and earlier helped start the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, which mounted a violent campaign to depose Taylor’s predecessor, Samuel Doe, the indictment said. He served as the party’s defense minister, and later as Taylor’s labor minister and as president pro tempore of the senate.
He was recently found guilty for committing immigration fraud based on the denial of his senior role in the NPFL and his commission of war crimes.
During the three-Week trial, witnesses and victims, including child soldiers, testified in court to the most horrific crimes committed by the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) during Liberia’s 1st Civil War (1989-1996).
UPDATE: Mr. Woewiyu is expected to be sentenced later this month.
AGNES REEVES TAYLOR
The former wife of former President Taylor is currently in a British prison awaiting trail. She has been charged with torture for her alleged involvement with atrocities committed by Taylor’s NPFL. Each charge was brought under section 134(1) of Britain’s Criminal Justice Act 1988. She was also charged with planning to carry out torture between 23 December 1989 and 1 January 1991 under section 1(1) of the Criminal Law Act 1977. The former Coventry University lecturer, Agnes Reeves, 53, was arrested by the Metropolitan Police’s war crimes unit on June 1, 2017 and now faces one count of conspiracy to commit torture under the Criminal Law Act 1977 and seven counts of torture.
UPDATE: Agnes’ trial should have commenced in October 2018 but has been pushed to sometime in 2019. Last December she was denied bail.
MOHAMMED JABBATEH AKA JUNGLE JABBAH
The former rebel commander was arrested in April 2016 in Philadelphia where he has been living since the late 1990s. He was charged with gaining US asylum by lying about his role as the rebel commander in the civil war. “Jungle Jabbah” allegedly committed civil war atrocities including murder and conscripting child soldiers, according to US officials.
Jabbateh, 51, was indicted on two counts of fraud in immigration documents and two counts of perjury. He was also accused of committing or ordering troops to commit murder and torture, public rape, enslave civilian non-combatants, and other crimes motivated by race, religion, nationality, ethnic origin or political opinion.
UPDATE: In April 2018, “Jungle Jabbah” was sentenced to 30 years in prison. One witness told the court how he had ordered the heart of a captive to be cooked for his fighters. Around 250,000 people were killed in Liberia’s brutal 14-year civil war. Jabbah’s trial marked the first time in history that victims of the first Liberian Civil War were able to tell their stories of horrific crimes that they and their loved ones endured in a criminal court.
In January, 2015, the former commander of the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO), a rebel group that fought against Charles Taylor was arrested in Switzerland for Alleged War Crimes.
Kosiah reportedly ordered massacres of civilians, rapes and other atrocities in northern Liberia during the nation’s first civil war from 1989 to 1996. Kosiah had been living in Bern, in western Switzerland, since 1997. He was also accused of involvement in mass killings in parts of Liberia’s Lofa County from 1993 to 1995, when he was a commander of ULIMO, a faction that later split along ethnic lines.
UPDATE: Kosiah remains in custody since a Swiss judge ordered that he be remanded in custody. Under Switzerland’s universal jurisdiction law, Swiss courts have jurisdiction over the international crimes perpetrated by individuals on Swiss territory, irrespective of where the crimes were committed and regardless of the nationality of the victims or of the perpetrators. Kosiah is the very first former ULIMO member to be arrested and charged with international crimes committed during the Liberian civil war. His trial is due to commence later this year.
On Sept. 17, 2014, authorities in Belgium arrested the purported leader of Operation Octopus in the city of Ghent. Johnson is suspected of participating in and even leading one of the most deadly attacks during the civil war putting her in the midst of crimes against humanity committed during the period. Johnson was one of Charles Taylor’s very few female personal guards.
Several victims of the civil war have implicated Johnson as having participated directly in mutilation and mass killing in late 1992 during the “Operation Octopus”, an infamous military offensive by the NPFL of Charles Taylor on the capital Monrovia that left scores of civilians dead. Many civilians were targeted because of their affiliation to certain ethnic groups including the Mandingos and the Krahns perceived as
antithetical to the NPFL’s interests.
UPDATE: Johnson was first placed in pre-trial detention but poor health has reportedly prompted her to be put under house arrest and has to wear an electronic bracelet whilst awaiting her court date which is set to take place some time this year.
As part of a Belgian investigation into a complaint filed in 2011 by five Sierra Leonean citizens, Michel Desaedeeler, who held both Belgian and US citizenship, was arrested at the Malaga airport in Spain in August 2015. he was suspected to have been complicit in the enslavement of diamond mine workers and profiteered from ‘blood diamonds’ during Sierra Leone’s bloody civil war, which lasted from 1991 to 2002, that claimed 50,000 lives and displaced two million people.
He was arrested in August 2015 based on allegations that he had committed the war crimes of inhuman and degrading treatment and pillage as well as the crime against humanity of enslavement through his participation in the “blood diamond” trade in Sierra Leone. Desaedeleer allegedly engaged in trade with former Liberian President Charles Taylor and the rebel group RUF (Revolutionary United Front) in Sierra Leone.
UPDATE: Desaedeeler’s trial was scheduled to take place in the near future in Brussels and it would have been the first trial in history to deal with international crimes allegedly committed in furtherance of natural resource trade. Desaedeeler died in a Belgian jail in September 2016 before he could be formally charged.
One of the principal figures of the tragic Lutheran Church massacre, Thomas was living peacefully in in Delaware County where he found refuge after fleeing civil war in Liberia, until a lawsuit brought by an international human rights organization claimed he gained passage into the U.S. by pretending he was trying to escape brutal atrocities that the suit alleges he himself directed.
During the massacre on July 29, 1990, government forces opposed to rebel insurgent Charles Taylor stormed a church operating as a Red Cross shelter and slaughtered an estimated 600 men, women, and children with swords, knives, and guns. Known as the Lutheran Church Massacre, it was part of an Armed Forces of Liberia campaign targeting ethnic minorities suspected of loyalty to Taylor’s rebel army as Taylor sought to overthrow then-leader Samuel Doe.
Four survivors are bringing a claim for damages against one of the men they believe was responsible, reports Elizabeth Blunt who was a BBC correspondent in Liberia at the time.
UPDATE: Thomas maintains his innocence as he awaits the commencement of the case. “I don’t want to give any credence to the allegation,” he said. “No-one in my unit had anything to do with the attack on the church,” he told the BBC after being served court papers.
WHO’S NEXT? Yeaten? PYJ?
The recent wave of arrests appears to be triggering fears amongst principal players of the brutal civil war. Former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf faced similar pressures which forced her into dealing former President Taylor over for war crimes trial.
During her tenure, Sirleaf made a number of quarterly reports to the Legislature on progress in implementation of the recommendations of the TRC, often times, highlighting the importance of the TRC report, calling it “essential for achieving justice, reconciliation and continued economic, social and political rehabilitation of Liberia.”
Nevertheless, authorities in the country have been less than anxious to push for the implementation of the report.
To date, several leading international human rights organizations have frowned on government’s failure to act on the report.
The United Nations has also stressed the importance of the implementation of the TRC report, as mandated by the TRC Act.
Today, a lot of former warlords are in government while others are still in exile.
One of them, Senator Prince Y. Johnson has been vocal against the establishment of a war crimes court in Liberia.
Senator Johnson who is responsible for the assassination of former President Samuel K. Doe at the Freeport of Monrovia in 1990 is also accused of wanton, indiscriminate killings and a host of other atrocities during the civil war in Liberia. He said recently that President Weah will never give the county up to a war crimes court. “… If you touch George Weah, you’ve touched us. He has got our backing and we, too, got his backing; so, your war crimes court is fiasco,” he told the congregation at his church recently.
As a result Africa’s oldest republic, which was devastated by two civil wars which killed around 250,000 people between 1989 and 2003 is far from duplicating efforts in South Africa and next-door Sierra Leone.
The fate of Benjamin Yeaten, another former militia leader and mercenary during the Taylor presidency was one of Taylor’s most trusted and loyal followers. He rose to the de facto leader of all of Taylor’s armed forces and the second most powerful figure in the government during the second Liberian civil war. After the fall of Taylor’s regime, he managed to Togo where he has been since. Reports that he has been building a guerrilla army in recent years have not been proven although recently a report surfaced that he was recently arrested for killing a Burkinabe migrant worker near the border with Benin.
Several former Armed Forces of Liberia and NPFL commanders residing in the United States of America are also said to be on the radar as authorities in the US, working with other international organizations zoom in.
TRC Chair: Latest Arrests a Wake-up Call
Cllr. Jerome Verdier, head of the erstwhile TRC told FrontPageAfrica Sunday that Kunti’s arrest should be a wake-up call for the likes of Prince Johnson and Yeaten. “t is part of continued efforts in renunciation of impunity and to ensure that there is no safe haven for war crimes suspects. That they will have no where to hide from justice. The arrests will continue and more indictments will be issued for Liberian War Crimes suspects, without exceptions, leading up to the establishment of an Extraordinary War Crimes Tribunal for Liberia.”
Cllr. Verdier slammed what he described as fear mongering and terroristic threats from some war lords, declaring that they will not reverse the tides of the times. “Liberia is a free society of justice, law and order.We want greater freedoms to be achieved and guaranteed. No former war lord can threaten the peace and security of Liberia at this time because he is a candidate for war crimes prosecution. Everyone should bear his own cross and the people of Liberia know better not to follow murderers and war criminals because they don’t approve the mass killings of innocent people-women and children included. And they did not authorized or sanctioned the commission of war crimes in their names.”
The TRC chair added that no one has the capacity or space to bring war back to Liberia in this space and time.
“The Liberian people will resist and they have the full backing of the international community to live in peace and security in a non threatening environment. Honorable Prince Johnson is a feckless Senator, fear monger and terrorist. masquerading as a preacher of the Gospel who is yet to assume responsibility for his war time misdeeds and crimes. I know President Weah to be a compassionate person and I pray The President will soon come to realize the harsh reality that the midnight alleged deal with the devil to shield Liberian war crimes suspects cannot stand the light of Day and must be abandoned. Furthermore, Liberia is a member of the international community and under customary international laws and norms, which provides that all crimes