Liberia: War Survivors Angry Boley Not Jailed in America
By James Harding Giahyue, New Narratives Senior Justice Correspondent
Sasstown District, Grand Kru County – Vincent Toe, 41, was only a lad when he witnessed rebels with the Liberia Peace Council (LPC) kill his aunty and eight other people in a town called Behtu. The rebels accused them of practicing witchcraft. “They cut off her head in front of me,” Toe says of his aunt Jlegbe Nimely, who was 44 at the time. “They beat me and left me, because—I think—I was small.”
Toe says he also witnessed LPC rebels kill Wiah Bloteh, a fisherman seeking refuge in another town called Sleyon under the same accusation. “They cut off his private part. I could not stand it, so I ran away.”
The LPC killed 25 people in the Sasstown area for being alleged witches and wizards in November 1994, according to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Report. Toe says he witnessed a lot of the LPC rebels’ witch-hunt here.
The TRC blamed Jerry Gban, a former major in the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), who was a general in the LPC, for the Sasstown Massacre. Toe remembers Gban and one “General Las Order”. Gban, on the list of the TRC’s “most notorious perpetrators”, is recommended to face a war crimes court. The Report also recommends Dr. George Boley, who led the LPC, face the court.
Boley won a seat for Grand Gedeh County District #2 at the National Legislature, clinching 18.3 percent of the votes in a 13-man race in the 2017 elections. That was five years after he was deported to Liberia from the U.S. after he became the first person in the country to be charged under a then-new U.S. law that criminalized the recruitment of child soldiers. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) referenced the TRC report finding that Boley’s men carried out “extrajudicial killings”, including the Sasstown Massacre.
Toe says he was angry when he heard that Boley was elected a representative for Grand Gedeh County.
“They (Americans) supposed to put him in jail, because he killed a lot of people and made properties to go away from us,” Toe says.
Boley formed the LPC in 1993. Made up predominantly of Krahns, it collaborated with the AFL and ULIMO. The group ravaged towns and villages from southeastern to the west-central Liberia, vying for rubber and timber.
The TRC found that the LPC committed the third most atrocities in the Liberian Civil War (1989-2003) with 16,708 or 10 percent of the total 163,615 crimes it recorded. Only the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) and Liberia United for Reconciliation and the Democracy (LURD) committed more with 63,843 crimes 39 percent and 18,797 crimes or 12 percent, respectively.
Many of his victims expected Boley to face the same fate as Mohammed Jabbateh and Tom Woewiyu who were convicted in a Philadelphia court of lying to U.S. immigration authorities about their war record. Jabbateh has been jailed for 30 years. Woewiyu faces 75 years when he is sentenced in April. But prosecutors in Boley’s case chose to deport him even though they knew he was unlikely to face any prosecution under the government of then-President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who had shelved most of the TRC recommendations.
Boley’s deportation angered many international human rights advocates, particularly when he threatened some of those who had testified against him. His election to the legislature was an embarrassment to US law enforcement.
For victims Boley’s election has meant they have to see him in a seat of power something they find hard to forgive.
“So long that they found it out in America that he was one of the rebel leader [of LPC], they supposed to hold him there,” says Augustine Alison a survivor living in Greenville, Sinoe County. “They never supposed to deport him. They are the cause [for him to be a lawmaker in Liberia].”
Alison, 55, says he and his family fled Greenville to the Ivory Coast via Maryland, crossing the Cavalla River when LPC captured the southeast in 1993. They survived the Kablakar Massacre, recorded by the TRC, he says. While in exile, he heard news of the killing of his uncle Gray D. Alison, a former minister of defense, who had been jailed by the Samuel K. Doe government. The TRC found Alison was killed by the NPFL. The Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL) killed Watta Alison, his uncle’s wife, according to the TRC. A video available online shows Johnson, then leader of the INPFL, interrogate Mrs. Allison over Johnson’s allegation against her husband. At one point he reaches to slap her.
Alison did not return to Liberia until 2007 via a United Nations repatriation program. He and his wife had six children in the Ivory Coast. The TRC recorded that forced displacement such as Alison and his family faced was the most common crime committed during the war.
“I feel bad about it, because we who should be getting the money we cannot get it,” says Alison, who is taken ill with hypertension. The same people who killed our people [are] eating it.”
One difference between Boley’s case and Jabbateh’s is that by 2010 the Monrovia-based Global Justice and Research Project was not established. GJRP was only established in 2012, the same year Boley was deported. Since then, the group has been working with the Switzerland-based Civitas Maxima in prosecuting alleged Liberian war criminals in Europe and America, including Jabbateh and Thomas Woewiyu, the former NPFL spokesman who is awaiting sentencing in America.
Boley makes it two the number of former leaders of warring factions in the National Legislature. Prince Johnson, the former INPFL leader, has been a senator for Nimba County for three consecutive terms since 2005. Both men are part of large number of current and former government officials the TRC recommends to face the court, including Senator Sando Johnson of Bomi County, Kai Farley, Superintendent of Grand Gedeh County and Adolphus Dolo, former Senator of Nimba County.
Adama Dempster of Human Rights Advocacy Platform of Liberia says setting up the court requires the support of these same government officials, he says makes it a difficult situation.
“The thing is there is no political will,” Dempster says. “It is difficult to get political will to prosecute past crimes because the people who should are listed in the TRC report,” he says. “No one would love to shoot themselves in the legs”.
Survivors are firm, however, and relish an opportunity to testify against Boley and others.
“So after giving the people such treatment, today you are in power enjoying the amenity of the people,” says Alex Summerville, 46, a survivor in the Pleebo Sodoken District of Maryland. He lost six relatives in Grand Kru when the LPC attacked the county in 1993. “I feel that is unfair. George Boley…needs to be tried,” Summerville says.
“If they call me I will go,” says Rev. Nelson Fukah, 70, a survivor in Greenville. Fukah says his 76-year-old father and 73-year-old mother died after being beaten by LPC rebels in 1994 in Chichon Town in the Kpanyan District. He says the rebels killed 18 people, excluding his aging parents and burned down the town. They were accused of being NPFL supporters.
“I am able to go to court and testify what his forces did to the citizens [of Grand Kru],” says Toe, the Sasstown Massacre survivor.
The story was produced in collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project. Funding was provided by the International Women in Media Foundation. The funder had no say in the story’s content.