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US nails another Liberian war actor

A U.S. Court has ordered Col. Moses Thomas, a former Liberian soldier who supervised the massacre of unarmed civilians at the Lutheran Church in the 1990s, to pay US$84m to four unanimous survivors.

The Court in Pennsylvania orders that each of the survivors be paid US$6 million in compensatory damages and US$15 million in punitive damages.

The United States-based Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) says the case was brought in 2018 by four survivors of the massacre – Jane W, John X, John Y, and John Z – against Moses Thomas, a former commander of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL). 

The magistrate judge in determining this award last week made clear the egregiousness and brutality of the Massacre. 

The court’s ruling on damages follows a September 2021 decision holding Col. Thomas responsible for the war crimes, crimes against humanity, extrajudicial killing, attempted extrajudicial killing, and torture that took place during the Massacre. 

The Lutheran Church Massacre is one of the deadliest attacks on civilians during the Liberian Civil Wars from 1989 to 2003.

Now imprisoned former President Charles Ghankay Taylor’s rebel forces were fighting government troops at the time of the Massacre in the outskirts of Monrovia.

The killings were blamed on the army of slain President Samuel Doe.

Col. Thomas, formerly a resident of Pennsylvania, has now returned to Liberia, according to the CJA. 

The U.S. Court’s decision emphasized the importance of ensuring that the United States is not a safe haven for torturers and death squad leaders.

It also pointed out that Col. Thomas had lived freely in the U.S. for approximately 19 years before fleeing back to Liberia less than two years after this case was brought. 

The decision also expressly recognizes that even though this was one of the worst single episodes of the Liberian Civil Wars, Thomas has never been criminally prosecuted for leading the attack.

Following the Court’s decision, the CJA said despite recommendations from Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) over a decade ago calling for an investigation, Liberia has taken no steps to hold a single perpetrator of the Massacre accountable.

What is now left to be seen is how the US court intends to get Liberian authorities to collaborate with it in ensuring that the amount it has awarded to the four victims is paid.

But with the milestone decision made by the U.S. Court, the CJA has suggested that Liberia has an opportunity to see that Col. Thomas is prosecuted for his crimes, urging Liberia to act and ensure the defendant is fully brought to justice for his actions.

The survivors, represented by CJA and Debevoise & Plimpton LLP with support from the Global Justice and Research Project, submitted nearly 2,000 pages of evidence.

They had argued that Col. Thomas commanded an elite special forces unit in the massacre of 600 civilians in a Red Cross shelter at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Monrovia, Liberia during the country’s first civil war in July 1990. 

Liberia’s brutal civil conflict is estimated to have left over 200,000 victims dead, destroyed properties worth millions of dollars, displayed many others and sent some into exile.

Two successive civil wars in the West African state also immensely broke down almost every system, infrastructure and affected human capital development for decades.

The scars of the civil wars are still fresh nearly two decades after a ceasefire agreement was signed in Accra, Ghana, and three peaceful elections held here subsequently.

War-affected youth remain at the disadvantaged level of society to date in Liberia, with a lot of them who were never properly rehabilitated, still finding comfort in illicit drug abuse and other acts of criminality.

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