MONROVIA – A US court has ordered Moses Thomas, the former Armed Forces of Liberia commander found liable for the St. Peter’s Lutheran Church massacre, to pay $US84 million to four victims of the brutal killings that caught the world’s attention in 1990.
By Anthony Stephens, Senior Justice Reporter with New Narratives
An estimated 600 people, including men, women, and babies, were hacked to death in the church, while they sought refuge from Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front for Liberia forces. Thomas, 68, was the commander of the elite Special Anti-Terrorist Unit loyal to then President, Samuel Doe. Last September Judge Petrese B. Tucker of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled that Thomas “intentionally directed an attack on a building dedicated to religion, personally directed an attack on civilians and committed the crime against humanity of persecution.”
Judge Petrese added Thomas, “oversaw the events and only declared an end to the shooting when he understood the occupants of the church to have been all killed.”
In a separate ruling Friday announcing the amount Thomas was ordered to pay the victims Judge Lynne A. Sitarski of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, described Thomas’ acts as “unspeakably brutal” and said that his role overseeing the violence was “beyond egregious”.
“The court’s decision emphasized the importance of ensuring that the United States is not a safe haven for torturers and death squad leaders,” said the Center for Justice and Accountability, the US-based lead justice organization helping the victims bring the case.
CJA collaborated with Liberian justice advocates, Global Justice and Research Project and its Swiss counterpart Civitas Maxima as well as US law firm Debevoise & Plimpton to present nearly 2,000 pieces of evidence to the court in the civil case against Thomas under the U.S. 1992 federal Torture Victim Preventforn Act.
Thomas angrily dismissed the judgment.
“Look Sir, I am having a good Saturday. I don’t want to be bothered with nonsense! Nonsense!” Thomas said in a phone call. “Stupidity! Quote me in any way you want to. Let them go to hell and kiss my a…!”
“I will ship $84 million and put it in a mail and send it to them to pay for nonsense! To hell with their decision and everything!” Taking aim at the judges he said, “You think I have time for corrupt judges who make stupid decision without any evidence?”
Victims have long accepted that they would be unlikely to see any of the $84m, according to CJA. Getting any money from Thomas became even more unlikely when he voluntarily returned to Liberia in 2020. There have been calls from justice activists for the Weah administration to criminally prosecute him for the massacre, but that has yet to happen. But rights activists continue to pressure the administration on the matter.
“Liberia has an opportunity to see that he is prosecuted for his crimes. Liberia must act and ensure the Defendant is fully brought to justice for his actions,” said Ela Matthews, CJA’s Senior Staff Attorney.
The Weah administration has not prosecuted anyone accused of war crimes or crimes against humanity. President Weah, who openly backed calls for the court before he became president, has backtracked on the matter—a move that has angered campaigners for the court. Justice organizations have seen some warlords convicted in the US including Mohammed Jabateh, known as “Jungle Jabbah” and Thomas Woewiyu, for immigration fraud. Alieu Kosiah, another Liberian war criminal was found guilty of war crimes in Liberia by a Swiss court in 2020—the first Liberian rebel commander to be directly found guilty for his role in any of Liberia’s two civil wars. In April a Finnish court acquitted Gibril Massaquoi, a former commander with Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front, of charges he committed crimes in Liberia on behalf of Charles Taylor’s NPFL. Prosecutors are appealing the verdict.
This story was a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project.