Woewiyu’s Trial Beginning: The Momentum for Justice in West Africa
Liberian Rebel Faction’s Defense Minister & Spokesman Faces Trial in the United States
Jucontee Thomas Woewiyu faces justice beginning this Monday June 11th, 2018, in Philadelphia. This marks the first-ever trial of someone who held a ministerial position with a major rebel faction during Liberia’s Civil Wars.
Woewiyu with Charles Taylor founded the NPFL, which during Liberia’s 1st Civil War (1989- 1996) conducted heinous and brutal military campaigns. Woewiyu served as the faction’s defense minister and spokesman and allegedly was involved in the planning of some of the most horrific attacks on civilians, including “Operation Octopus” in 1992. The operation led to the violent attempted seizure of Monrovia which resulted in the murder of thousands of combatants and civilians; including the executions of five American nuns.
According to Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the NPFL controlled most of the country and is responsible for over 60,000 reported violations consisting of war crimes such as rape, slavery, conscription of child soldiers, and massacres. During the 14 years of civil wars in Liberia approximately 250,000 civilians were killed as a result of the multiple fighting factions. Today, Liberia still lacks accountability and victims still crave justice.
Hassan Bility, an awarded human rights defender and the Director of Liberia’s Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP), which works to ensure that Liberian victims have access to justice, says: “For Liberians, this trial shows the ongoing momentum for the pursuit of justice and the nearing end of impunity in the country. After the Jabbateh trial last year, it is very meaningful for Liberians to see our Quest for Justice continuing in a trial of someone from another rebel group.”
Woewiyu omitted his affiliation with violent rebel factions and political associations advocating for violent and forceful government overthrow when applying for U.S. citizenship in 2006. He also denied persecuting any person because of race, religion, or national origin which is proven to be one of the motivations of NPFL killings.
Woewiyu’s trial is the very first time that witnesses will be able to testify in criminal court about crimes committed by the NPFL. It follows the conviction and historic 30-year sentence given to Mohammed “Jungle Jabbah” Jabbateh, front line commander of ULIMO – another rebel group guilty of atrocities such as cannibalism – in Philadelphia for lying to immigration authorities about the crimes he committed during Liberia’s 1st Civil War.
Woewiyu’s trial will take place at the James A. Byrne United States Courthouse, 601 Market Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. If found guilty, he faces a maximum sentence of 110 years in prison and a maximum fine of $4 million.
Alain Werner, Director of Geneva-based Civitas Maxima, has worked on several ground breaking international prosecutions of alleged war criminals and says today: “This case demonstrates that justice movements will find access to legal avenues in creative ways and that, perpetrators will be held accountable. This trial is extremely significant to both the U.S. and Liberia. It’s a step towards global justice.”
Civitas Maxima, and the Global Justice and Research Project are with the victims, fighting impunity. Together, they created and implemented the Liberian Quest for Justice campaign, which plays a key role in providing independent reporting from the U.S. courtroom and through multiple artistic tools seeks to raise awareness of the victims’ fight for justice.
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