Human Rights Lawyer, Cllr. Tiawon Gongloe, Assures Justice for Victims of Liberia’s Civil War
Monrovia – Making a presentation this week at a one-day workshop on transitional Justice Organized by Civitas Maxima, a Geneva-based organization which has been making headways in bringing justice to victims of war crimes, Veteran Human rights lawyer and former Solicitor General Cllr. Tiawon Gongloe said, justice is on the way for the scores of victims who lost their lives during the civil war.
Report by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]
Cllr. Gongloe recalled that on March 29, 2006, when former President Charles Taylor was brought to Liberia after his capture, he told the world press at the Roberts International Airport, that the arrest of Charles Taylor was the beginning of the end of impunity in Liberia.
“Following the trial and conviction of Mr. Taylor, we have begun to see the world arresting and putting on trial, some notorious perpetrators of world crimes during the fourteen-year civil conflict in Liberia.”
In recent years, Civictas has spearheaded the arrests of several alleged war criminals.
Among them: Martina Johnson, a former artillery commander of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) of Charles Taylor, was arrested in September 2014 in Gent, Belgium, and charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity. She was later released while she is awaiting trial
Alieu Kosiah, Liberian citizen and former commander of the United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO) was arrested and charged for war crimes in Switzerland in November 2014 and his arrest was made public in January 2015; Agnes Taylor, ex-wife for former President Taylor, who was arrested in June 2017 by the Metropolitan Police Service in London, She has since been charged with torture for her alleged involvement with atrocities committed by Charles Taylor’s rebel group, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), during the first Liberian Civil War.
Mohammed Jabbateh, aka Jungle Jabbah, was arrested in Pennsylvania, U.S.A. On 2 October 2017, the U.S. Government’s immigration fraud case against the Liberian citizen, Pennsylvania resident, and alleged war criminal began in Philadelphia. Jabbateh was charged with two counts of fraud in immigration documents and two counts of perjury for having lied to authorities about his war time activities. He was a ULIMO commander, then later ULIMO-K post-faction split, during the First Liberian Civil War and responsible for commanding atrocious wartime crimes including murder, conscription of child soldiers, and cannibalism.
A jury convicted Jabbateh on 18 December 2017. On 19 April 2018, Jabbateh was sentenced to 30 years in prison, the maximum possible sentence for his charges. This sentence is also one of the longest sentences for immigration fraud in U.S. history. Civitas Maxima and the Global Justice and Research Project collaborated with the U.S. authorities on the investigation since 2014.
This trial was the first ever trial against a ULIMO commander and the first time that victims testified in a criminal trial about crimes committed during the First Liberian Civil War. Our team of lawyers produced daily legal monitoring summarizing the trial proceeding.
The group was also involved in the arrest and trial of Jucontee Thomas Woewiyu, who founded the NPFL with Charles Taylor and served as Spokesman and Defence Minister until political dissonance led him to create and lead the NPFL-CRC during Liberia’s First Civil War (1989-1996).
In May 2014, Thomas Woewiyu was arrested at the Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, U.S.A, upon his return from a trip to Liberia. Woewiyu was charged with 2 counts of fraudulently attempting to obtain citizenship, 4 counts of fraud in immigration documents, 3 counts of false statements in relation to naturalization, and 7 counts of perjury.
This trial was the first time ever that somebody who held a ministerial position during the First Liberian Civil War faced justice and the first time that the atrocities of the NPFL – the most violent rebel faction active from 1989-1996 – were documented in a courtroom.
For Cllr. Gongloe, the arrest and trial in the United States of America and Europe, of some of the notorious perpetrators of war crimes in Liberia have clearly shown that the world has clear and cogent evidence on those who committed atrocities in Liberia. “The quality of evidence produced during the trial of Jungle Jarbah and Tom Woewiyu, should be a clear signal to those who committed war crimes and have not been brought to justice that justice is on the way and it will make no mistake when it arrives in Liberia. The best that the suspects of war crimes can do for themselves is to begin to seek the services of the best lawyers that they can retain to represent them during their expected trials for war crimes.”
The noted lawyer said, it is important to note that in the advocacy for war crimes court in Liberia, the reference is not being made to men and women in arms who killed other men and women in arms on the opposite side. “If an armed combatant kills even ten thousand men and women in arms, he has committed no war crime. But if that same person kills or even inflict wound on one civilian during a war, he has committed a war crime.”
Cllr. Gongloe averred that there are many Liberians who fought in the Liberian civil conflict without committing war crimes. “Some combatants even went out their ways to help Liberians with food and to protect them from other combatants. Just because a person fought for any of the warring faction in Liberia does not make a person a war criminal.”
Taking a jab at Senator Prince Y. Johnson’s recent outburst against the establishment of a war crimes court in Liberia, Cllr. Gongloe said: “Today, we live in peace guided by the rule of law; therefore, only criminals should live in fear and not law-abiding citizens. Liberians must rely on the rule of law in order to shift the burden of fear to the war criminals. This will only happen when more Liberians call for bringing to justice those who committed war crimes during the Liberian civil conflict. The Late Arch-Bishop Micheal Kpakala Francis repeatedly told us, “There cannot be genuine peace without justice” All Liberians, including those who fought in the Liberian conflict, must call for war crimes.”
He is meanwhile urging President Weah to do the right thing. “We especially call upon our president, whom by all known accounts did not participate in the Liberian civil conflict to take the lead in the efforts to establish a war crimes tribunal in Liberia in order to bring to justice those who committed crimes against humanity during the Liberian civil conflict. We call upon the law-makers to take every step in the interest of the people whom they represent, to establish a war crimes tribunal in Liberia.”
Cllr. Gongloe said, until, Liberians muster the courage to examine the immediate past history of this country and hold accountable those who committed atrocities in the Liberian civil conflict, Liberia will not enjoy genuine peace, reconciliation, unity and sustained national development and prosperity. Let’s act today to create a better Liberia tomorrow for our children’s children.”