It has been nearly 20 years since the absence of hostilities and end to active combat in the Liberian theatre of operations. Two successive democratic governments have been inaugurated amidst three successful general and presidential elections. Yet, Liberia’s peace is still considered fragile by many. This paper argues that the current realities exist in Liberia and it remains fragile because of the lack of a comprehensive end to the Liberian crisis. In other words nearly 20 years after the guns fell silent and democratic institutions initiated, Liberians still feel a collective pause, “waiting to exhale” to get on with the business of economic development and peace. This is primarily because those who bear the greatest responsibilities of the 14 years of bloody civil war have not yet been held accountable, save and except, Charles Ghankay Taylor, whose accountability came about as a result of western barter to end the Sierra Leone civil war.
On August 18, 2003, the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed, in Accra, Ghana which formally ended the civil war. It was created following the signing of a ceasefire agreement on June 17, 2003, Liberia and its regional and International Partners an “intensive back-door negotiations”, which put in place the Truth and Reconciliation Commission process as a means of fully documenting and holding those accountable for the carnage and egregious human rights violation. With more than 3 years of work and millions of pages of documentation, the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission represents the most authoritative source of investigation and documentation of impunity in Liberia. In December 2008, the Commission released a report recommending the establishment of an Extraordinary Criminal Tribunal for Liberia and listed individuals, corporations, and institutions recommended for further investigation and prosecution, among other recommendations. Moreover, it is the only body of work which has been unanimously endorsed by the International Community.
This is especially the case with Liberia and its longtime and principally recognized historically ally,the United States of America. Accordingly, in 2018, the US Congress adopted HR 1055 – to affirm strong United States-Liberia ties and support for democratic principles, and call for the full implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations, including the establishment of an Extraordinary Criminal Tribunal for Liberia. Yet, the Government of Liberia has not fully implemented the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Agreement to date, including the establishment of an Extraordinary Criminal Tribunal. However, through a series of efforts to undermine and obfuscate these process major actors domestically and internationally, knowingly and unknowingly, have sought to frustrate lasting and permanent peace initiatives in Liberia to bring meaningful closure to the Liberian civil war.
One is not unmindful or unaware that following the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement, some of the protagonists in the civil war, and many responsible for impunity sought to reinvent and or reassert themselves in the body politics of Liberia to ostensibly protect them from socio-economic and political accountability of past wrongs. What is more glaring is that many Liberian see the conflict as an “ethnic divide” and are reluctant to hold their own responsible for such impunity. Tribal warlords are seen as folk heroes and any attempt to hold them accountable is seen as legal assault on a whole ethnic group. The institutionalization of this mindset in the body politics of Liberia has created a culture which protects those who bear the greatest responsibilities.
Moreover, political compromises on the domestic and international front have served to undermine the implementation of the TRC recommendation, as individuals who have vested interests are protected at the expense of lasting peace and the general populace; this is sadly to say the least. Our politics now reflect the very nuture of our society. A society were warlords and those that perpetuated henious crimes against our people are shielding themselves through elected positions. We as a people must move now then ever before to abort this abuse of political power and influence, by demanding the establishment of an extraordinary criminal tribunal to make all those that have decimated our people and unlashed mayhem against our people to account for their crimes. If this is not done, Liberia will continue to be seen as a criminal state, where abusers and murderers can ascend to state power by using blood money or loots at the expense of the soul and integrity of the Nation
It is clear that those who were in command and control have eluded justice thus far. Except for Charles Ghankay Taylor, the principal actors who financed and directed the Liberian Civil War have not been called to account for their actions. There will be no closure for Liberia until these individuals can be brought to book. These individuals cannot be brought to book under any ad hoc system of justice, being well financed and politically connected.
Ad Hoc Justice
As a result of the failure of the TRC recommendation to be fully implemented, several jurisdictions have sprung up during the years, to single out and prosecute various actors within their borders using domestic and a hybrid of international laws. The case of Charles McArthur Emmanuel, also known as Chuckie Taylor, the son of former President Charles McArthur Taylor, who used his citizenship and patronage to abuse his role as commander of the notorious Anti- Terrorist Unit (ATU). Acting with complete impunity, the ATU under “Chuckie Taylor” quickly gained a reputation for its brutality and use of a variety of torture methods that he Chuckie Taylor either supervised or carried out himself. In 2006, Chuckie Taylor was arrested in Florida for attempting to enter the United States of America under a feigned passport.
The son of the former President of Liberia was convicted under U.S. extraterritorial torture statute, which makes it a crime for U.S. citizens, or an individual present in the U.S., to participate in torture abroad, regardless of the nationality of the victim. Chuckie Taylor was sentenced to 99 years in prison in the United States of America.In the case of Agnes Reeves Taylor, the ex-wife of the ex-rebel leader of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), she was arrested and later released for lack of evidence under British laws.
She later returned to Liberia. Jucontee Thomas Woewiyu, also known as Tom Woewiyu, was former Defense Minister and Spokesman for the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). He was convicted for lying or found guilty of perjury for false information on American immigration application form by omitting his role and authority within the rebel faction, and died while under house arrest awaiting sentencing. Also, he was deemed responsible for over 60,000 violations consisting of war crimes such as rape, slavery, conscription of child soldiers, and massacres, from 1989 to 1996. Mohammed Jabateh, was one of Kromah’s ULIMO commanders who fought under the nom de guerre “General Jungle Jabbah” or “Jungle Jabbah”, was convicted under US Immigration Law and is currently serving a 30 year sentence for lying about his participation in the Liberian civil war. During the height of the civil war, from 1992 through 1995, General Jungle Jabbah led ULIMO’s Zebra Battalion at the frontlines of the conflict in the Northwestern region of Liberia. Under General Jabbah’s command, fighters brutalized prisoners of war and civilian alike, and perpetrated heinous crimes such as murder, rape, torture, ritual cannibalism and human enslavement.
The case of NPFL ex-rebel Commander Martina Johnson, she oversaw the infamous Operation Octopus in October 1992, which claimed the lives of hundreds of civilians and members of foreign humanitarian organizations. General Johnson is suspected of having herself killed, tortured and maimed several people at a notorious NPFL checkpoint at Dry Rice Market on the outskirts of the city of Monrovia. General Johnson is awaiting trial in Belgian.
Five American nuns were killed during the infamous Operation Octopus. These nuns were members of the “Adorers of the Blood of Christ” Catholic Religious Order based in St. Louis in the USA – who were serving as missionaries in Liberia, and were also carrying out humanitarian works.
General Martina Johnson and one Christopher Vambo, aka General Mosquito, are suspected of being involved in catholic nuns’ deaths. The case of a Philadelphia resident Moses Thomas, a former Colonel in the Anti- Terrorist Unit (ATU) and Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), was charged under the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA) and the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) in a private law suit. Colonel Thomas is suspected of instigating the infamous 1990 Lutheran Church Massacre, widely considered one of the most heinous acts of violentand desecration of a church sanctuary in Liberia’s 14 years of armed conflict. A Federal Judge in Philadelphia is expected to rule any day. Thomas continues to be free. The case of the former rebel commander Alieu Kosiah, he was arrested after a civil rights group presented the Swiss Attorney General with evidence of his involvement in war crimes, including the deliberate killing of civilians, sexual violence, abuse of corpses and act of cannibalism. The crimes allegedly took place while he was fighting with Alhaji Kromah’s United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy rebel group against Charles Ghankay Taylor’s troops in the remote Northern Liberia in the 1990’s. On November 10, 2014, Swiss authorities arrested General Kosiah in connection with accusations that he was involved in mass killings in parts of Northern Liberia from 1993 to 1995.
Most recently Finnish Courts had put on trial Massaquoi Gibril. A Swiss Civitas Maxima and its Liberian sister organization, Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP) have allegedly investigated and garnered evidences to convince Finnish prosecutors that Massaquoi is guilty of war crimes. The court has even traveled to Liberia, with uncertain participation by the government of Liberia, to gather evidences in the matter. Massaquoi is being charged and tried on multiple counts of human rights violation in Liberia and as part of the civil war in next door Sierra Leone.
While on the surface this move appears laudable, it creates a false sense of impressions that justice and accountable has finally come to Liberia to put an end to impunity. In fact, we have observed witnesses demanded hundreds of thousands, and in some cases millions of Euros for testimony, political asylum and other immune rations in exchange for testimony. Without the full participation of the Liberian people, whose interest seem like a side show, you may have a trial that many are using as an opportunity for self- aggrandizement or jurisdictional superiority. Justice for the Liberian people has taken what some may classify as a neocolonial twist, where the benefits of justice are derived in foreign capitals and Liberians are mere spectators at best or pawns or worse. There is not widespread appreciation that these trials will serve to bring closure to the civil war and lasting and permanent peace to Liberia, unless the Extraordinary Criminal Tribunal is set up and trials are held in Liberia for Liberians to witness manifest justice, and to bring to closure the civil war.
The accusation of Massaquoi Gibril and others by the Center for Justice and Accountability and Global Justice and Research Project are creating and sending signals of justice to an Ad Hoc Justice process by these NGO’s including their donors, whereas the United States Congress Resolution HR: 1055, has called for the full implementation of the TRC recommendation with the establishment of an Extraordinary Criminal Tribunal for Liberia.
In order for true and lasting peace to return to Liberia, we must have a process where justice is not only seen to be done but justice must be done, and embraced by the Liberian people to horn home the point that no more will impunity go unpunished. The establishment of the Extraordinary Criminal Tribunal should serve as sufficient deterrentto ensure that no place will be a haven for war mongers and war lord, especially not the nation state of Liberia.
The TRC recommendations as endorsed by the United States Congress provide the only real solution to ensuring comprehensive peace as envisioned by Liberians and their International Partners when the guns fell silent after the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in Accra, Ghana in 2003 nearly 20 years ago. Moreover, the TRC has been universally embraced by the Liberian people. They see it as a fair and just adjudication mechanism which will lead to national healing and closure for the many victims. The international community, rather than engage in ad hoc processes, ought to assist and fully fund the implementation of the TRC recommendations both its physical and legal infrastructure. Liberia is not different from Rwanda or South Africa or any other country which has to heal through a system of accountability. Liberia is not a step child. Its people have already identified the route to closure on this menace. To circumvent it with all of these ad hoc proceedings, and what one legal scholar called “bounty hunting proceedings”, is to destroy the meaning of justice by giving aid and comfort to the perpetrators. Hence, these proceedings will only lead to miscarriage of justice, all to the detriment and injury of the victims.
The full implementation of the TRC recommendation has to begin with the establishment of a war crimes court for Liberia and with the complete backing and assistance of the International Community. The legal framework needs to be established under Liberian law. The physical and security infrastructure needs to be developed to hold individuals charged and to incarcerate them if found guilty. Thus, the Supreme Court of Liberia must have appellate jurisdiction consistent with the 1986 Constitution of Liberia.
There must bevictims’ compensations component. Hundreds of thousands of Liberian Youth had their lives upended and today have reached adulthood with little or no skills and scarred by the scourge of the 14 years of senseless civil war. There must be proper rehabilitation mechanisms to reintegrate them fully into society and not just its fringes. The social fabric of Liberia is affected by the “Zogo” culture. The exposure to drugs and guns is now being made manifest in the capital cities of many counties of Liberia.This is a direct result of the 14 years of senseless civil crisis.
A mechanism under the TRC as clearly laid out in HR 1055 appears to be the only International Partnership that will bring closure to the Liberian civil war for the Liberian people. All other efforts currently under way will and are designed to alleviate the liberal conscience of certain western countries. Justice must come to Liberia with the Extraordinary Criminal Tribunal to deal with the issue of impunity and nothing less. The everyday cry of the ordinary Liberians is Justice must not be further delayed nor perceived to be denied.
Jonathan T. Massaquoi is a Counsellor-At-Law of the Supreme Court Bar of Liberia and a Partner at the International Law Group, LLC. Lansdawn At Fort Norris, 12 Broad Street, 2nd Floor Monrovia, Liberia
By: Cllr. Jonathan T. Massaquoi