Held to account? Past attempts to hold leaders accountable for Liberian civil war atrocities

Hundreds of thousands of Liberians died in the brutal back-to-back, multifactioned conflicts that roiled the West African nation between 1989 and 2003. Yet, despite documented atrocities on many sides including the conscription of child soldiers, murders, torture, enslavement, and rapes, only one person has ever been convicted on criminal charges tied to war crimes committed during the conflicts. Recently, though, authorities in several nations — though notably not Liberia — have charged some of the wartime leaders, many of whom are awaiting trials.

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Former Liberian President Charles Taylor (CREDIT: Associated Press)

CHARLES TAYLOR: The former president of Liberia, whose brutal and authoritarian tactics in office culminated in the second Liberian Civil War (1999-2003), was convicted of charges including terror, murder, and rape in 2012 by the United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone holding hearings in the Hague. The case made him the first former head of state convicted by an international tribunal since the Nuremberg trials in Germany after World War II. However, Taylor’s charges stemmed from atrocities committed during a civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone. He has never been held criminally responsible for conduct he oversaw during his own nation’s internal conflicts. He is serving a 50-year sentence in  the United Kingdom.


CHARLES McARTHER EMMANUEL, a.k.a. CHUCKIE TAYLOR: With his conviction in a Miami federal court in 2008, the son of former Liberian President Charles Taylor is the only person held criminally responsible for war crimes committed during the civil wars. He was born in the U.S., and his case was the first use of a 1994 American law allowing for the prosecution of U.S. citizens for acts of torture committed abroad. He is serving a 97-year sentence in a prison in Virginia.

GEORGE BOLEY: The former leader of the violent Liberian Peace Council (LPC) became in 2012 the first person ever deported from the United States for his recruitment of child soldiers. Boley was working as a public school administrator outside of Rochester, N.Y., when he was arrested in 2010. Throughout his deportation proceedings he denied any involvement in human-rights violations.


ISAAC KANNAH: Arrested in Philadelphia earlier this year, Kannah is charged with perjury from testimony he gave at Boley’s immigration hearing. He denied the LPC was involved in human-rights abuses or the recruitment of child soldiers. Prosecutors say Kannah was an LPC member himself, who coordinated a 1994 attack against a rival rebel faction. He is currently awaiting trial in a federal court in Rochester.

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Jucontee Thomas Woewiyu (Courtesy photo)

MOHAMMED “JUNGLE JABBAH” JABATEH: Federal authorities have accused the East Lansdowne father and business owner of lying two decades ago on immigration paperwork he used to enter the country. Prosecutors say he failed to disclose his role as a violent rebel commander with the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO), which committed atrocities including murder, rape, torture, and the recruitment of child soldiers during Liberia’s first civil war. His trial is set to begin in Philadelphia on Monday.

JUCONTEE THOMAS WOEWIYU: Homeland Security Investigations agents arrested the 71-year-old Collingdale resident in 2014 on charges that he lied on his immigration paperwork allowing him into the United States. Prosecutors maintain that Woewiyu served as the U.S. spokesman for Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia during the second civil war. He is awaiting trial in a Philadelphia federal court.


ALIEU KOSIAH: A former ULIMO rebel commander arrested in 2014 in Switzerland, where he had become a permanent legal resident, on charges of directing and participating in systematic killings, rapes, and murders during Liberia’s first civil war. He is awaiting trial.

MARTINA JOHNSON: Belgian authorities arrested Johnson in 2012, alleging she was a commander in Charles Taylor’s NPFL during a 1992 campaign in which civilians were brutally killed because of their association with rival ethnic groups. She is awaiting trial.

AGNES REEVES TAYLOR: The ex-wife of Charles Taylor was arrested in London in June on charges tied to four torture offenses allegedly committed between 1989 and 1991. She is awaiting trial.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the court that convicted former Liberian President Charles Taylor. It was the Special Court for Sierra Leone.