Liberia: French Authorities Charge Alleged Liberian Warlord

Saturday Tuah was a commander for the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). Credit: Tuah’s Facebook page

MONROVIA, Liberia — French authorities have charged Saturday Tuah, an alleged Liberian warlord with crimes against humanity. Tuah allegedly committed the crimes as a commander for the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), in Liberia’s first civil war between 1989-1996. Although Tuah was initially arrested, he’s been temporarily released.

Tuah will make appearances to the authorities when the need arises. Believed to be in his late 50s, Tuah is barred from travelling out of France during this period. His indictment has been celebrated by justice advocates.

“It should serve as a warning for warlords the government that justice does not forget, no matter how long it may take,” said Hassan Bility, Director of the Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP), by WhatsApp. Bility’s organization collaborates with CIVITAS Maxima (CM), its Swiss partners to document crimes of alleged perpetrators during the wars and ensure their prosecutions. “This is a further encouragement and victory for justice workers, victims, and advocates. This, however, is not the end. We’ve got a long way to go.”

Hassan Bility, Director of the Global Justice, and Research Project (GJRP), in a handshake with Beth Van Schaack, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice. Credit: Bility

Headed at the time by Charles Taylor, the former Liberian President convicted and sentenced to 50-year in prison by the then UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone for aiding and abetting the war in that country, the NPFL was “responsible for more than three times the number of reported violations,” according to Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission(TRC). The report said the NPFL committed 6,3843, or 39% of all violations during the war. Although Tuah is not named in the TRC report, ex-commissioners of the body have repeatedly insisted that their investigations did not cover every alleged crime and perpetrator of the wars.

Tuah’s indictment comes nearly a year after a French court convicted and sentencedKunti Kamara, a battlefront commander of the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (Ulimo), to life imprisonment. But Kamara appealed the court’s ruling. Hearings into his appeal are expected to be held from March 4-29, 2024. The case will be relitigated before a different court and jury.

Tuah is the latest person to be indicted for his alleged role in any of Liberia’s two civil wars, which officially ended 20 years ago, claiming about 250,000 lives. In June US Immigration and Customs officials arrested and deported to Liberia, Varfley Dolleh, 56, a former Ulimo executive.

Liberia does not have any criminal mechanism in place to prosecute individuals of grave human rights violations during the wars. The GJRP and CM have collaborated with jurisdictional authorities in the US and Europe to investigate and prosecute alleged warlords. Tuah’s case is the eleventh the two organizations have collaborated to work on, according to a release.

The US trials have been about criminal immigration fraud and perjury. The European trials in countries in Switzerland, Finland, and France, have been held under the legal principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows countries to investigate and prosecute alleged perpetrators of international crimes, irrespective of their nationalities or the nationalities of their alleged victims and where the crimes, including murder, rape and torture among others allegedly took place. Bility hailed American and European authorities for their uncompromising stance for accountability for past crimes in Liberia. He said such a move inspired and reenergized them to work harder for justice for victims of the wars. 

“Our job is to make sure violations of international humanitarian laws during the two Liberian Civil wars, that short-circuited the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, are accounted for. We wish to make it clear that there will be no hiding place for these warlords, not even in Liberia in the long run because the TRC’s Recommendations are inevitable.”

This story is a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project.