Advocates See a Big Year for Justice as Liberians face trial in U.S. and Europe over Civil War

MONROVIA – The year 2018 will go down as the biggest year yet for criminal accountability of war crimes and crimes committed in during the Liberian civil war (1989-2003). But advocates for a Liberian war crimes court say 2019 will be even busier, with two cases in the United States and four in Europe—one each in Great Britain, France, Belgium and Switzerland. Two big cases will have major developments in coming weeks.

This story first appeared on FrontPageAfricaOnline as part of a collaboration for the West Africa Justice Reporting Project.

“It will be a year of acceleration of efforts to bring war criminal to justice,” said Hassan Bility, the Executive Director of the Global Justice and Research Project that works with the Switzerland-based Civitas Maxima in prosecuting alleged Liberia war criminals.  “This year will be busy because now it will be done a little bit aggressively, professionally in line with all the ethics,” Bility said in an interview with FrontPage Africa on Monday.

Thomas Woewiyu

Thomas Woewiyu, a former Minister of Defense and spokesman of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), will be the first to make news this year. He was found guilty of 11 counts of immigration fraud over his role in the civil war by a U.S. court in Philadelpha in July 2018. His sentencing was first scheduled for October 15, 2018, but it was rescheduled November 26, 2018 and then moved to February 20, 2019.   He faces 75 years imprisonment in the United States.

Moses Thomas 

Moses Thomas became the first person to face justice over the Lutheran Church Massacre when the U.S.-based Center for Justice Accountability (CJA) sued him in a Philadelphia court on behalf of four Liberians who cannot be named due to fears of reprisal back home. The 1990 massacre, which left 600 people dead and hundreds more maimed, drew international attention to the exploding conflict. Thomas, then commander of President Samuel Doe’s Special Anti Terrorist Unit (SATU) of the Armed Forces of Liberia, denies the charges against him.

His lawyers have asked the court to throw out the case, but in a victory for victims, a judge ruled last month that the case will go forward.

Though Thomas faces charges of extrajudicial killings, torture, war crimes and crimes against humanity, the case against him is a civil lawsuit, meaning he will pay damages to victims, and not serve a jail term. (Tom Woewiyu and Mohammed Jabbateh, tried in Philadelphia in 2017 were convicted of criminal immigration fraud for lying to US immigration authorities.) The statute of limitations has prevented authorities from charging Moses with a crime. He is in the US on Temporary Protected Status. No date has been set for the resumption of his case.

Martina Johnson, Kunti K, and Alieu Kosiah 

Also, no date has been set for the trials of Martina Johnson in Belgium, Kunti K. in France and Alieu Kosiah in Switzerland.

Johnson, a former artillery commander for the NPFL, was arrested in Ghent in 2014. She is accused of committed several crimes, including war crimes and torture. She is under house arrest and has been unwell. No date has been set for her trial.

Kosiah, a former ULIMO commander, was arrested in Switzerland in November 2014. He faces several charges, including torture and crimes against humanity. No date has been set for his trial.

And Kunti K. a former ULIMO commander and now naturalized Dutch citizen, was on September 4, 2018 arrested in Paris, France. He faces several charges including cannibalism, crimes against humanity and inscription of child-soldier. No date has been set for his trial.

Bility said he was had confidence in the judiciary of the countries that were trying these Liberians.

“European and North American jurisdictions have very good legal system,” he said in the interview.  “All of these things we expect to go to court. We also expect and believe that the accused individuals will have their day in court, will have free fair and transparent trial.”