There’s not much to add without risking repeating myself. Let me just briefly mention what I consider the triple motive of the perpetrator(s): first, to intimidate the bystander, the perceived enemy; secondly, to make clear that he, the actor, is the strongest, the conquerer, and thirdly, without doubt, there is a religious or superstitious drive, a belief in the supernatural powers of eating the heart of the enemy. Notably the latter motive makes it a ritualistic act, and murder, a despicable crime.
The 2009 report of Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) includes many examples of ritualistic acts committed during the back-to-back civil wars (1989-2003). For reasons only known to herself, President Sirleaf (2006-2018) never implemented the TRC recommendations including the prosecution of the rebel leaders responsible for war crimes and human rights violations, possibly because she was also recommended for a sanction because of her (admitted) support of the NPLF, the rebel organization which started the civil war in 1989. Also President Weah (2018 – present) decided not to start procedures establishing a war crimes court, backtracking on previous statements when still in opposition.
The result is impunity for the perpetrators. Injustice. An insult to the survivors and victims.
Liberians will go to the polls on October 10 to elect a president, vice president and 88 lawmakers. The incumbent president, George Weah, has shown his position when it comes to justice for the victims and survivors. His main challengers are a former Vice President under President Sirleaf, Joseph Boakai, from Lofa County, whose running mate is a political protégé of warlord-turned-senator Prince Johnson – yes, the rebel commander who in 1990 gave his men orders to torture and kill then President Samuel Doe – and Alexander Cummings, who has promised to establish a war crimes tribunal when elected into the highest office.
We’ll closely watch events in Liberia during the coming month(s). (FVDK)
Chopped up with an axe and a heart eaten out: some crimes never die
Published: September 13, 2023 By: Alain Werner – Civitas Maxima
Exactly 30 years ago, in the summer of 1993, a group of rebel soldiers sowed unheard-of terror in the town of Foya, in the small West African country of Liberia, then ravaged by civil war.
Here, 450 kilometers north of the capital Monrovia, a pious man respected by his community had the courage to denounce the rebel group that occupied the premises, ULIMO (United Liberation Movement of Democracy for Liberia). He did so to a humanitarian group, and told them that ULIMO was responsible for the looting of a hospital financed by humanitarian aid.
Once the foreigners had left, the pious man was taken to what was then used as an airstrip and his thorax was cut out by the rebels, his heart extracted and eaten in front of the population. “Try ULIMO, your heart” – which could be translated as “Defy ULIMO, we’ll take your heart” – was one of the slogans used to terrorize the population, a slogan that some civilians who survived that inferno still remember.
The most bloodthirsty of the ULIMO commanders, who opened the pious man’s chest with an axe and spread his killing spree to Foya, was known by the war nickname of “Ugly Boy”, despite his handsome features. The local population, who spoke a different dialect than the ULIMO soldiers, had nicknamed this commander differently among themselves, so as to be able to alert each other to his arrival without being understood by the rebels. They called him “Saah Chuey”, or “the man with the axe” in the Kissi language, as this commander was famous for chopping up civilians with his axe.
“Ugly Boy” was never tried for his ignominious deeds. Indeed, legend has it that he died by popular vindication, having been recognized in Guinea by refugees who had fled Liberia. However, if he were still alive today, “Ugly Boy” would still not have been tried in Liberia.
Indeed, in August we will be celebrating 20 years since the end of the wars in this country, and yet no one has been tried by a court in the country; the government and the United Nations having done nothing for the forgotten victims of Liberia. Despite the fact that a national Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended in 2009 that the main players in the war should be brought to justice, and that at least 250,000 people lost their lives during these bloody conflicts between 1989 and 2003.
However, on Thursday June 1, 2023, the Federal Criminal Court of Appeal in Switzerland convicted a man, Alieu Kosiah, of participating in the axe murder of the Pious Man. Jurisdiction was given in our country because Mr. Kosiah had been resident in Lausanne since the late 1990s. The conviction came exactly 30 years after the events, and was handed down in Bellinzona, seat of the Federal Criminal Court, some 7,000 kilometers from the scene of the crimes, Foya.
Alieu Kosiah had already been convicted in June 2021 by the Criminal Court for multiple acts of war crimes, including having eaten a piece of the pious man’s heart in the company of “Ugly Boy”. At the time, however, he was found not guilty of the axe-murder, the first judges considering that he had not played an active role in this crime.
The appeal judges decided otherwise and sentenced Alieu Kosiah for complicity in the murder of the pious man, an act qualified as a war crime and a crime against humanity. During the reading of the verdict, the President of the Court, Olivier Thormann, explained that, according to the Court, Alieu Kosiah had handed the pious man over to “Ugly Boy” to be taken to the Foya airstrip, knowing full well what would happen next.
This appeal judgment marks Swiss legal history, as it is the very first conviction in our country for crimes against humanity. It now opens the way for prosecutions in Switzerland for such crimes, even if committed before 2011 and the entry into force of the new provisions of the penal code.
As a lawyer and Director of Civitas Maxima, since 2014 I have represented several Liberian victims in this case alongside Me Romain Wavre, including a friend of the pious man who was present at the scene and witnessed his ordeal, having himself been a victim of ULIMO crimes.
Our clients and other victims have shown exceptional resilience, dignity and courage. Most of them came to Switzerland three times to testify throughout the proceedings, and overcame the obstacles posed by the Ebola epidemic in 2014-2015 and the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020-2021 to finally obtain justice.
War crimes and crimes against humanity are unique in that they “never die”. Indeed, because they concern the international community as a whole, these offences are not extinguished by a statute of limitations after a certain number of years, as is the case for most ordinary crimes. Prosecutions for war crimes and crimes against humanity are thus theoretically possible as long as the person accused of committing them is alive and evidence exists, theoretically even if the victims are all dead. Just as the forgotten victims of Liberia obtained justice in Switzerland in 2023 for crimes committed so far away in 1993, victims of international crimes committed during current or recent armed conflicts must never lose hope. Even if we must do everything to ensure that they obtain justice before 2053 for the crimes they have suffered.
The article first appeared in French on Heidi News on the 16th of July, 2023.
The unrest in Liberia continues and even gets to a higher, organized, level. On Tuesday, October 5, a civil society organization, Citizens United Against Ritual Killing (CURK), staged a peaceful protest against the alleged wave of ritual murders across the country. The Liberian National Police continues to downplay the allegations though it admitted that at least one ritual murder had taken place.
A worrying trend is the arrest of a Facebook user, Jethro Harris, who was accused of ‘inciting disorder and chaos’ because of a post about an alleged ritual murder. Harris’ arrest comes in the aftermath of accusations by government officials that members of opposition parties are responsible for spreading ‘fake news’.
Ritual murders, which are a violation of the right to live and to live without fear, have thus become another threat: an attack on the freedom of speech, the freedom of expression. Hence the arrest of Jethro Harris, a supporter of the Alternative National Congress – one of a coalition of four political parties opposing the ruling CDC, Congress for Democratic Change – has added another dimension to the politicization of the phenomenon of ritual murders in Liberia: a battlefield between ruling and opposition political parties (webmaster FVDK).
Citizens protest against mysterious death
Published: October 6, 2021 By: Lincoln G. Peters – The New Dawn, Liberia
Several residents of Monrovia under the banner Citizens United Against Ritualistic Killing (CURK) staged a peaceful protest Tuesday 5 October 2021 against the alarming wave of alleged ritualistic killings across the country.
According to the group, the current increase in the wave of ritualistic killings across the country is alarming, adding that there is no safety and protection for citizens in the country.
The Liberian National Police says reports of increase ritualistic killings here are fake news being propagated by the opposition.
But speaking in an interview with journalists at the protest scene in Bassa Community in Monrovia, the group’s spokesperson and chairman of the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) Solidarity Brigade Byron Brown said their peaceful protest was meant to call the attention of the world to the alarming wave of alleged ritualistic killings across the country.
“The Government of President [George Manneh] Weah continues to show little or no interest in finding [a] solution to the problem and fear that is in citizens,” Byron Brown alleged.
Contrary to Brown’s allegation, the Liberian Government is blaming members of the opposition parties here for spreading fake news surrounding reports of ritualistic killings in the country.
Reports of killing for the past weeks have taken the country by storm, followed by social media posts that petrified the public with gruesome photos and testimonies of killings taking place in the country.
But in their reaction, the Liberian authorities say two ladies and a man launched podcasts on Facebook in which they explained they were seized from different locations, taken to woods, and escaped death at the hands of their captors.
But Byron insisted that since the ascendancy of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) to the leadership of the country, there have been uncontrollable waves of alleged mysterious disappearances, kidnapping, and ritualistic deaths in the country.
“These things have [a] negative impact on the country and economy. This action today is void of politics and we are doing this to save our country and open it up to international investment and economic progress,” Brown claimed.
He denounced as disingenuous to the country and its people, Liberia National Police (LNP Inspector General Col. Patrick T. Suede’s claim that there is only one ritualistic death in the country, alleging instead that are ten reported ritualistic deaths across the country.
“We are going to our Legislature, the United States Embassy near Monrovia and we will petition them to call their attention to what is happening in the country that [the] government continues to give deaf ears to,” Brown continued.
“We are living in total fear in our country. Our peace and security are not sure. We are standing up for what we believe will liberate our country and secure international investors’ confidence to help our economy grow,” he added.
Byron noted that peaceful protest is expected to last for a week until the Government of Liberia can respond to their plight and assure their security and protection in the country.
The Monrovia City Court on Monday, October 4,2021 jailed Jethro S. K. Harris, a stalwart of the Alternative Nation Congress (ANC) for allegedly spreading ‘False Public Alarm’ through his Facebook post.
On Monday, September 27, 2021, Defendant Jethro Harris posted a photo of the late Ms. Rolisa N. Gbeintor, a Liberian and alumnae of the Lenn Miller High School in Sinkor, Monrovia along with a graphic, claiming that it was the body of the late Gbeintor with parts extracted from her body.
Harris was arrested last week in Nimba County while on a tour with fellow partisans and political leader, Alexander B. Cummings. According to the police charge sheet, defendant Harris was invited for questioning but did not show up.
“Investigation established that Ms. Gbeintor got sick for a protracted period and subsequently died, that defendant Harris willingly, purposely and intentionally did the post so as to buttress falsehood already being circulated by some persons to be identified that the country is unsafe,” the LNP said.
“In view of the foregoing, the investigation herewith charges Harris with the commission of the crime ‘False Public Alarms in Violation of chapter 17, section 17.4 of the revised penal law pending trial by the court of competent jurisdiction,” the police said. “In cognizance of article 12 (b) of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia, defendant Jethro was arrested and subsequently informed of his Miranda rights.”
The police added that the post by defendant Harris does not have any Iota of truth and was intended to instigate citizens and persons residing in the country against the National Security apparatus, create economic hardships, and stall the movement of peaceful people. The police also said Harris’s post creates the impression that “investors closing down their business and leaving the country.”
The police believe that Article 15 (a) of the 1986 Constitution provides that every person shall have the right to freedom of expression but also reminds citizens they are fully responsible for abuse thereof.
Of late, reported cases of ritual killings and survivors’ stories have been on the rise. In Caldwell, for instance, a lifeless body of a lady was discovered with body parts extracted, same as with, to create, the Soul Clinic community. The victim this time around was a male.
But for police authorities, pictures and videos about ritualistic incidents are not a representation of what is unfolding in the country. The police added that they were posted to instill fear in the citizens and to tarnish the image of the country and raise false national security alerts. Police then warned those involved in orchestrating a negative image about the country to desist or face the full weight of the law. The arrest of Jethro is reportedly the first by the police days after warning against the spread of fake news about an issue that has to do with a mysterious death.
For the ANC, Harris committed no crime and broke no law or violates the Penal code of Liberia. Rather, his Facebook post is a protected speech under the Liberian Constitution (Article 15) and under Constitutional Law.
“Sections 12.33 and 17.4 of the Penal Code do not fit into Jethro’s post. He did not falsely post about an IMPENDING bombing or other crime as required by 17.4; neither did he report to any law enforcement official as required by 12.33. He simply posted on his Facebook page,” argued ANC Secretary General Aloysius Toe.
Toe added Jethro’s post was a recreation of an alleged gruesome act of ritualistic killing, even if false and untrue, that has been making rounds on social media; and may have reasonably believed that what he came across on social media, coupled with massive public outcry about ritualistic killings, and thus recreated on his Facebook page, was intended only to draw public attention.
“He alleged that an act had already been committed, he didn’t say the act was impending (about to happen) as required by Section 17.4 of the Penal Code. The charges against him are bogus and politically motivated,” the ANC said. “This is a CDC government clamp down on the opposition, using a rather professional police force to carry on partisan policing.”
The ANC Secretary General added Jethro was only targeted and falsely arrested and falsely imprisoned because of his association with the opposition community, and in particular, Alexander B. Cummings.
“Police IG Patrick Sudue knows and should have reason to know that he’s proceeding wrongly and illegally by ordering the false arrest, and false imprisonment of Harris. There will be legal consequences. But Jethro Harris is spending 3 nights in a filthy police cell on bogus charges without investigation simply because of his root with an opposition political party. “
The ANC’s standard-bearer, Alexander B. Cummings, who has been making efforts to get Harris released, alleged that the entire case has been politicized. “This is a misdemeanor and the police sent a whole container of people to Nimba County to arrest this young man for exercising his right to free speech,” Mr. Cummings said.
Cummings, accompanied by his lawyer, had gone to the Monrovia City Court to bail out defendant Harris, only to be informed that Harris had been taken to the Monrovia Central Prison at South Beach.
“Today we showed up with his bond to have him bailed. He was taken to South Beach prison.” ANC political leader said. “This is a minor misdemeanor. It’s a bailable offense, but it has been politicized. We politicize the rule of law and we wonder why we are not getting investors.”
Mr. Cummings vowed to follow the court procedures. “We are a party of rule of law and we will follow the rules. If the judge doesn’t do the right thing, we will go to the Supreme court,” he said.
Recently there have been several mysterious killings in and around Monrovia, including two women and an elderly man. Police Inspector General, Patrick Sudue, said people were posting these pictures to instill fear among citizens and present the country as though it is unsafe.
“People are portraying the gloomy image of the country as though it is not safe,” he said. LNP have earlier warned that people caught posting dead pictures on social media to cause fear among the citizenry without investigating will be arrested.
Opposition Alternative National Congress’ Youth Official lands in jail for ‘Inciting’ Facebook post
Published: October 6, 2021 By: Joyclyn Weah – Front Page Africa, Liberia
MONROVIA – A stalwart of the Youth League of the opposition Alternative National Congress (ANC), Jethro Saylah Kangar Harris, has been jailed for allegedly circulating false content on social media.
Suspect Jethro Harris was forwarded to the Monrovia City Court on Monday for onward prosecution after being charged by the Liberia National Police (LNP) with the commission of the crime of false public alarms in violation of chapter 17, section 17.4 of the revised Penal Law of Liberia.
On Saturday, the police claimed that suspect Harris posted on his Facebook page, a picture of a young lady he identified as Rolisa N. Gbeintor, a Liberian and alumnae of the Len Miller High School in Sinkor, Monrovia. He placed a corpse that appeared to have gone under post mortem examinations alongside the picture, claiming it was Rolisa’s body and that she has been killed and body parts extracted for ritualistic purposes.
On his Facebook page, he reportedly wrote:
I’m in tears tonight.
It’s so painful how the young people of Liberia are dying mysteriously…
This is the late Rolisa N. Gbeintor, an alumnae of the Len Millar High School…
She was murdered and parts of her body were extracted.
His post immediately caught the attention of the LNP and they launched an investigation to establish its veracity.
Harris was on invited by the LNP for questioning but did not turn out; stating that he was in Ganta, Nimba County. A team of LNP officers headed by assistant commissioner Alphonso A. Paypay, headed to Nimba County on Friday, October 1, and arrested Suspect Harris for “spreading false information to the Liberian public and the world at-large; thus committing the crime false public alarm.”
The police charge sheet claimed that Harris’ post which is established to be unfounded, is also intended to create economic hardship and the likelihood of investors closing down their businesses and leaving the country.
The post, the police maintained, is intended to stall movement of peaceful residents. The document noted that the suspect ‘willingly, purposely and intentionally’ did the Facebook post so as to buttress falsehood already being circulated by some unidentified people that the country is unsafe.
The Police wrote in their charge sheet that the post, which do not have any iota of truth is also intended to put some of citizens and persons residing within Liberia’s borders against the national security apparatus, scare away investors and some people intended to travel to Liberia.
The ANC has condemned the Police action against its partisan, and said it is in gross violation of his constitutional rights.
Article 15 (A) of the Constitution of Liberia provides that every person shall have the right to freedom of expression. However, it adds that they should be held responsible for the abuse of such freedom.
The ANC political leader, Mr. Alexandra Cummings, swam by party executives and supporters, stormed the courtyard but were prevented from securing the release of the suspect, even though the crime he is charged with, is a billable offense.
Speaking to reporters minutes after suspect Harris was taken to the South Beach by heavily guarded armed police officers, Mr. Cummings said that a bond to have their partisan release was made available, but the judge insisted on taking the defendant to jailed.
Cummings termed as unfortunate and unfair, the government’s action against his partisan, noting that government is not being helpful and cooperative by punishing suspect Harris for a social media post.
He further indicated that the judiciary should not be politicized.
“We got to give the judges the freedom to interpret the laws. This is not how we want to run our Judiciary and not how we want to run the country and for the manner of misdemeanor this whole thing is being politicized.” According to him, ANC is an opposition party of law, and as such they will follow the law and ensure that Harris is released.
Monrovia – The Assistant Secretary General of the opposition Alternative National Congress (ANC), jailed at the Monrovia Central Prison over alleged false public alarm and false statement, was freed on bail on Wednesday amid intense pressure from his party and the campus-based Vanguard Students Unification Party.
Jethro Harris, who had spent four days in prison over a Facebook post in which he alarmed about the ritualistic killing of his ‘friend’, was charged in violation of section 17.4 of the revised Panel Code of Liberia.
His lawyers Atty. Lafayette Gould, Atty. Aloysius Toe and Cllr. Findley Karngar call the charges frivolous. The three lawyers had filed Summary Proceedings against Magistrate Joma Jallah for reportedly refusing to approve their client’s appearance bond after Circuit Judge Roosevelt Willie had heard the petition and ordered Magistrate Jallah to approve the bond in keeping with law.
However, more than 24 hours after said mandate, the magistrate later released the defendant to his lawyers Wednesday on bail.
Following his release, Cllr. Toe told journalists that Harris was imprisoned for standing against injustice, adding that said his client is now a free man and will remain free.
However, he noted that the legal battle surrounding Harris’s allegation is expected to take place Friday, noting that no amount it intimidation will make those who are speaking against ills in the country keep silent.
“No no amount of witch-hunt, attempt and decision and no amount of scare tactic will make us to keep silent, neither will the ANC be scare to stand up for a cause,” Cllr. Toe says.
He described the action of Defendant Harris as a “passive resistance”, which he believes is in the right direction.“If any of you will have a sad experience of going to jail because you believe in what is right, and on the account you are arrested, tell other people to stand up for the same thing and let them be arrested, Cllr. Toe says.
On numerous occasions Liberian leaders have publicly denounced the ritual murders that take place in the country. We can mention President William Tolbert (1971-1980), Gyude Bryant (Chair of the Transitional Government after the Second Civil War, 2003-2006) and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (2006-2018). The fact that the presidents Samuel Doe and Charles Taylor were not so outspoken on this subject, certainly not in public, has special reasons……..
The article below on Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s warning and reaction does not constitute the first and only time that she denounced the phenomenon of ritualistic killings in her country. More on it at a later stage. (Webmaster FVDK)
Published: November 20, 2015 By: The Guardian
Liberia’s president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, vowed on Thursday to crack down on those responsible for a rise in ritual killings in the West African country as it seeks to emerge from the shadow of an Ebola epidemic.
In some areas of central Africa, body parts are prized for their supernatural powers and are used in black magic ceremonies. Local media have reported at least 10 related murders in Liberia in the past few months. (Italics added by the webmaster, FVDK).
Johnson Sirleaf said in a speech: “We are witnessing the rise in what appears to be ritualistic killings and armed robbery in the country, thus threatening our security.”
“I am instructing the security forces to rigorously enforce the law to the letter and bring this ugly situation under immediate control.”
It is not yet clear why ritual killings are rising and Johnson Sirleaf offered no explanation. Some residents have speculated that presidential hopefuls seeking to replace Johnson Sirleaf when her final term expires in 2017 are using black magic to boost their chances.
Liberia was declared Ebola-free for the second time in September after reporting more than 4,800 deaths but its economy is struggling to recover.
Johnson Sirleaf said in the same speech she would seek to boost power supply and access to electricity and build additional infrastructure in the last two years of her term.