16 May 2014

Liberia: Who Will Testify Against Woewiyu? Ex-TRC Commish, Others in Mix

Photo: Front Page Africa
Jucontee Thomas Woewiyu.

Monrovia — The arrest of former President Charles Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) Defense Minister is reeling repercussions in Liberia as hands have allegedly begun to swing in favor of testimony in the case.

A former commissioner on the erstwhile Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia, John Stewart and others are allegedly on the lineup of those who would be testifying against the former head of Taylor's wartime military and a man who later became Minister of Labour and President Pro tempore. But when contacted by FrontPageAfrica, one of those mentioned, Stewart was quick to shoot down what still seems to be speculation that he would testify against a man his commission once investigated.

"No, I won't be testifying. I don't know how you got your information. Nobody has contacted me," Stewart told FrontPageAfrica on Thursday.

"I don't know the kind of activities Tom Woewiyu was involved in, besides from what we've read in the papers and heard on the news. He did not come to the TRC, he did not testify, so there's little I'll be able to say; other than the fact that he was associated with the NPFL. This was all public knowledge."

Even though Stewart remains tightlipped on his involvement if any into the Woewiyu's trial testimony, the former TRC Commissioner believes someone has to answer for atrocities committed during the Liberian bloody intermittent civil wars.

"Our report recommended prosecution, lustration and all of that. I studied the report that documented prosecution and lustration and I still stand by that. I think the question of impunity has to be dealt with," he said.

"The TRC identified 27 different kinds of violations in its investigation. The violations ranged from amputation to rape, murder, forceful displacement and forced displacement accounts for the highest proportion of violations under the TRC report."

Woewiyu's former ally former President Taylor who is now in Scotland Yard in England serving a 50-year jail term for war crimes and crimes against humanity, for his role in the war in neighboring Sierra Leone launched the rebellion in 1989 against the regime of the late Samuel Doe. Doe previously led the bloody military coup that ousted and assassinated President William R. Tolbert.

Woewiyu and others contributed to the rebellion that led to the death of over 250,000 persons and brought Taylor to power in 1997.

But earlier in 1994, as a result of ideological dissent, Woewiyu broke away from Taylor, creating his own movement styled the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, Central Revolutionary Council (NPFL-CRC).

Woewiyu, who had earlier declared his intention to run for the Senate midterm elections this October and Sam Dokie led the movement, but he (Woewiyu) later made multiple accusations of war crimes against Taylor, accusing Taylor of the murder Jackson Fiah Doe.

Stewart said the NPFL played a huge role in the war that brought Liberia to its knees politically and economically, shaking the 1847 state to its core. But he said testifying against Woewiyu is something he has not decided on. "You know the TRC held hearings and the NPFL emerged as the largest violator; they were the largest faction operating throughout the country," he said.

"If he is being held on his involvement with the NPFL, I can't tell you much about that because I was not involved with the NPFL. I don't know the extent of the activities to which he was involved. I know that he wrote a letter to Mrs. Sirleaf at one point and this TRC thing; the letter was published."

Tom refuses to appear before the TRC

During the TRC process when those who were perceived to bear the greatest responsibility for the war were brought face to face with victims of the conflict Woewiyu for whatever reasons refused to appear before the TRC, but stayed in the United States of America where he is now indicted. Stewart assumes the former Taylor guy was unable to come because his request was probably not met by the Jerome Verdier commission.

"I heard that he had asked the TRC to provide him a ticket to come to Liberia to appear before it," said Stewart on Thursday. Apparently gauging the political intricacies surrounding any calls for the establishment of a war crimes court to try those who bear the greatest responsibility for the Liberian conflict, the TRC made it clear that efforts to bring people to justice would not materialize.

The commission stated that during public hearings conducted around the country, victims recounted the cold-heartedness and lack of sense of remorse that those who perpetrated the war displayed since the cessation of hostilities. "It was not surprising therefore that during hearings victims made resounding calls for justice," stated the TRC.

"But responding adequately to such calls is indeed fraught with difficulties. While the TRC has made concrete and substantive accountability recommendations, no court system, whether old or new, will be able to effectively prosecute the thousands of known perpetrators and alleged perpetrators, not including the unknown thousands whose identities are yet to be determined."

The Indictment

The US court is accusing Woewiyu, 68, of lying on his 2009 application for U.S. citizenship when he said he had never engaged in political persecution or tried to overthrow a sitting government. But his record with the NPFL and the subsequent TRC recommendations show otherwise.

The former Taylor strongman briefly appeared in Federal Court in Philadelphia on Tuesday, but ABC reports that his arraignment and detention hearings were postponed until Friday to give him time to meet with his lawyers. The accused did not enter a plea to the charges, which include perjury and immigration fraud.

Woewiyu has lived in the U.S. for almost 40 years and the indictment recounts that he helped start the NPFL which mounted a violent campaign to depose Taylor's predecessor Doe.

"The NPFL, it's alleged at least, was involved in atrocities, and he was their defense minister," U.S. Attorney Linwood C. Wright said Tuesday. "The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Liberia has alleged that he is a war criminal."

In the U.S., Woewiyu has settled in Collingdale, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia, and invested in real estate, according to his immigration lawyer, Raymond Basso. He has a son serving in the U.S. military, Basso said. The indictment also links Woewiyu to his NPFL's campaign to execute political opponents, force girls into sex slavery and conscript boys to become child soldiers.

The investigation is being conducted by several agencies, including homeland security investigators from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and an ICE center focused on human rights violators and war crimes. ICE says it's arrested more than 290 people for human rights violations since fiscal year 2004.

FrontPageAfrica has learnt several other possible witnesses who might be needed to testify in connection with the Woewiyu case may fail to appear fearing that they too could be caught in the dragnet.

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