Liberia: U.S. Judge Rules Lutheran Massacre Case Will Go Ahead

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MONROVIA – An American court has ruled that Moses Thomas, the senior officer who allegedly ordered the Lutheran Church Massacre, will face trial in Philadelphia. A civil suit brought by the Center for Justice and Accountability on behalf of four anonymous survivors of the massacre alleges Thomas gave the command for the killings when he was head of an elite troupe of the Armed Forces of Liberia known as the Special Anti-Terrorist Unit. Six hundred men women and children were killed in the massacre in July 1990.  

Report by Tecee Boley, New Narratives Justice correspondent

Thomas is expected to face prosecution for claims of extrajudicial killings, torture, crimes against humanity and war crimes brought against him in February of this year. The trial date has yet to be set. 

The case was halted when lawyers representing Thomas filed a motion to dismiss the case against him stating the case was barred by a 10-year statute of limitations. But the court ruled that under two other statues [ The Torture Victim Protection Act and Alien Tort Statute] he can be judged.

Although a date for trial is yet to be announced, the ruling is a victory for the Center for Justice and Accountability, and the home-based Global Justices Research Project who filed the suit on behalf of the victims and other campaigners.

“Our goal is to see justice and accountability for our clients and for all of the victims and survivors of the Liberian civil wars,” said CJA Senior Staff Attorney Nushin Sarkarati in a press release. “That the trial of Moses Thomas will move forward in Philadelphia is an important step. We hope this case can also help pave the way for prosecutions in Liberia.”

Hassan Bility, director of Global Justice and Research Project(GJRP) said the case was one more sign that justice needs to be brought home to the Liberian people with a War Crimes Court. 

“Fifteen years have passed since the fighting ended yet victims continue to live side by side with perpetrators responsible for the rape or death of loved ones,” Bility said. “This situation cannot continue as is. Trust in government and real democracy can only be built on the backbone of justice. It is time for all war crimes perpetrators, regardless of what tribes they belong to or what their status is today, to face their past in a court of law. President Weah must act to establish that court of law here in Liberia.”

Thomas is one of several Liberians being tried outside of the country for crimes allegedly committed during the Liberian civil war. In the United States, a federal jury convicted 51-year-old Mohammed Jabateh also known as “Jungle Jabbah” for lying to U.S. authorities about war crimes he committed. Isaac Kannah, 52, pleaded guilty to perjury charges for concealing his own wartime actions while serving as a character witness in the George Boley case in New York. He agreed to be deported earlier this year. Jucontee Thomas Woewiyu, 71, was convicted by another federal jury in Philadelphia for perjury and criminal immigration fraud. He faces up to 75 years when he is sentenced in February. 

Since his indictment, Moses Thomas has maintained his innocence on the charges brought against him in the US civil court. He claims to have been in the church on that fateful day, but says he was aiding victims who had been hurt instead of inflicting the wounds.

The case against Thomas is a civil case and he will face no jail time if convicted. However, he will be required to pay up to $4m in damages. He will likely be deported. 

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

VACANCY ANNOUNCEMENT

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