First arrest ever for war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the 1st Liberian civil war (1989-1996). Martina Johnson, a former front line Commander of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) of Charles Taylor was arrested and indicted yesterday by a Belgian Judge for her direct implication in alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity including mutilation and mass killing committed in Liberia during the civil war in 1992.
This landmark case marks the very first time an alleged Liberian perpetrator has been criminally charged for crimes under international law committed in Liberia during the first civil war. The investigation and arrest was possible under Belgian law as Martina Johnson lives in Belgium.
Civitas Maxima has been working since 2012 with the Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP) based in Monrovia to document crimes committed during the war and find avenues for criminal accountability. On the basis of that documentation, Luc Walleyn, lawyer in Belgium, wrote and filed a criminal complaint against Martina Johnson on behalf of 3 Liberian victims in 2012.
These Liberian victims implicate Martina Johnson as having participated directly in mutilation and mass killing in late 1992 during the “Operation Octopus”, an infamous military offensive by the NPFL of Charles Taylor on the capital Monrovia that left scores of civilians dead. Many civilians were targeted because of their affiliation to certain ethnic groups including the Mandingos and the Krahns perceived as antithetical to the NPFL’s interests.
Since the end of the civil war in 2003 the Liberian authorities made no effort to investigate and prosecute crimes committed over a decade of civil war, which claimed well over 150 000 lives, most of them civilians.
Hassan Bility, the Liberian-based Director of the GJRP commented: “This is a significant day not only for the victims of the crimes addressed by this arrest, but for the many victims of the war in Liberia, generally.”
He continued, “Despite the explicit recommendations of the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 2009 in favor of criminal accountability, next to nothing has been done. We hope today’s action will serve as a spring board for more criminal prosecutions on behalf of victims who have waited far too long for justice.”
Alain Werner, Director of Civitas Maxima, noted: “Today’s arrest represents a huge step forward for justice for the uncountable victims of Liberian’s vicious wars. While the world, and the Liberian government, may have forgotten the atrocious crimes committed during this period, the victims have not.”