Thomas Woewiyu dies of COVID-19 whilst awaiting sentencing

Thomas Jucontee Woewiyu, former Minister of Defense and Spokesman of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) during the First Liberian Civil War, died yesterday, April 12, of COVID-19 after a week of treatment at the Bryn Mawr Hospital in Philadelphia, U.S. The news was announced by FrontPage Africa and confirmed by the hospital.

Woewiyu had faced trial in June 2018 in Philadelphia, U.S, and in July 2018 was convicted by a jury who found him guilty of 11 counts of immigration fraud and perjury for lying to the U.S immigration authorities about his role in a rebel movement during the First Liberian Civil War (1989-1996). It was the first ever trial of someone who held a ministerial position with a major rebel faction during Liberia’s Civil Wars.

Woewiyu’s sentencing hearing was first scheduled for October 2018 but was postponed several times during 2018 and 2019. After the last postponement in April 2019, a new date for the hearing was not set, but was expected in 2020. Woewiyu was not in custody awaiting sentencing.

Woewiyu during trial, 2018

Woewiyu’s trial in the U.S. was the very first time victims and witnesses, including child soldiers, were able to take the stand in a criminal court to testify about the horrific crimes committed by the NPFL during the First Liberian Civil War. Civitas Maxima and its Liberian sister organization, the Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP), assisted the U.S. authorities during the investigation and monitored the proceedings.

Many victims were incredibly brave to travel from the other side of the world to testify. Thomas Woewiyu’s trial remains a landmark for Liberian history, it marks one of the first steps of Liberia’s quest for justice and fight against impunity for the crimes committed during the two civil wars. Nevertheless, his death stresses the need for the Liberian Government to move faster and build an accountability system in keeping with international laws: we cannot afford perpetrators to die of natural causes as a way of eluding justice” stated Hassan Bility, an awarded human rights defender and Director of the GJRP.

Thomas Woewiyu will never be sentenced, but he was convicted of criminal offenses directly linked to his role during the first Liberian civil war, and this will never be taken away from the many victims of the NPFL’s vicious crimes” declared Alain Werner, Director of Civitas Maxima.

Historical Context

 

Woewiyu, alongside former President of Liberia and leader of the NPFL Charles Taylor, founded the NPFL and served as the Defense Minister and Spokesman of the faction while it conducted a brutal military campaign across Liberia, including the infamous Operation Octopus against the capital city Monrovia in 1992.

 

According to Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), the NPFL controlled most of the country during the First Civil War (1989-1996) and is responsible for at least 60,000 violations reported to the TRC, consisting of war crimes such as rape, slavery, recruitment of child soldiers, and massacres. During the two Civil Wars, which lasted over 10 years, approximately 250,000 civilians were killed.

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