Liberia’s war crimes court campaigner Hassan Bility is being dragged in the mud, as some Liberians linked him to membership with one of the country’s warring factions United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy or ULIMO, but he denies.
Two times consecutively, callers on local radio talk show in Monrovia have accused Bility of being a member of the disbanded rebel movement which had its base in Lofa County, northern region of Liberia. ULIMO was fiercely commanded by retired professor Alhaji G.V. Kromah.
Both Bility and Kromah are ethnic Mandingoes. The tribe waged a counterattack against Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) rebels in the early 90s after a break-away faction of Taylor’s rebels – INPFL commanded by now Senator Prince Yormie Johnson captured President Samuel Kanyon Doe in September 1990 at the Freeport of Monrovia, subsequently tortured and mutilated him to death.
Earlier, a caller had dialed from Lofa, home of most ethnic Mandingoes in Liberia while Mr. Bility was guest on a live talk show here and charged that the war crimes court campaigner has been member of the disbanded rebel group.
Bility confirmed he is an ethnic Mandingo, but denied ever associating or being a member of any warring faction. “ I think the caller that just called needs to watch his words”, he cautioned.
However, on Thursday, 10 October while on another talk show hosted by OK Fm Bility was again confronted with the same allegation by a caller.
This time around, he categorically clarified that being member of a rebellious group is not an international crime.“Let me tell you what constitutes war crimes: If you killed babies, raped women and pillaged state resources”, he explains.
A Liberian journalist and former newspaper editor, Bility was arrested in Monrovia, in June 2002 and held incommunicado for almost six months as what the government of Charles Taylor called an “unlawful combatant” and “prisoner of war”. During his detention he was interrogated even, he says, by Taylor himself, and tortured repeatedly after the Taylor regime accused him of being in communication with LURD rebels, another rebel movement commanded by another ethnic Mandingo, Sekou Damate Conneh.
Following mounting calls from international media and rights groups, he was released subsequently and fled to exile.Bility is currently director of the Global Justice and Research Project in Liberia, seeking justice for victims of atrocities and abuses committed during the country’s 14 years Civil War.
This is a charge he is likely to confront time to time amid serious opposition here from mainly government officials, as he leads effort to establish a war crimes court for Liberia that would prosecute actors responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity during the Liberian Civil War from December 24, 1989 to September 2003.
ULIMO was organized in May 1991 by Krahn refugees and soldiers loyal to slain President Doe. It was initially led by a deputy minister from the Doe regime, Raleigh Seekie.After fighting alongside the Sierra Leonean army against the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) ULIMO forces entered western Liberia in September 1991 and scored significant gains in areas held by Taylor’s NPFL in Lofa Bridge – diamond mining areas between Lofa and Bomi counties.
From its outset, ULIMO was beset with internal divisions and the group effectively broke into two separate militias in 1994: ULIMO-J, an ethnic Krahn faction led by General Roosevelt Johnson, and ULIMO-K, a Mandingo-based faction led by Alhaji G.V. Kromah.
ULIMO-J was poorly ruled, which led to leadership struggles and general discontent among its fighters. It had approximately 8,000 combatants, but ULIMO-K was relatively united under Kromah, in contrast to the fractious nature of the ULIMO-J. It had approximately 12,000 combatants, predominantly ethnic Mandingoes. The group, both before and after its breakup, committed serious violations of human rights.
-Story by Jonathan Browne