Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Liberia: Arrest of warlord underscores the need for prosecutions of serious crimes

Source: Human Rights Watch (HRW) - The arrest of a former Liberian warlord in the United States underscores the need for prosecutions of serious crimes committed during Liberia's civil wars, Human Rights Watch said today. George Boley, whose arrest was announced today, is the former leader of the Liberian Peace Council, one of several armed factions implicated in heinous abuses during 14 years of armed conflict that ended in 2003.

Human Rights Watch's research in Liberia found that the Liberian Peace Council was responsible for torture, rape, extrajudicial executions, arbitrary detention, and forcible recruitment. Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recently identified Boley as one of eight leaders of warring factions during Liberia's conflicts who should be prosecuted for serious crimes.

"Boley's forces were implicated in rape, torture, and killings during Liberia's wars," said Elise Keppler, International Justice Program senior counsel at Human Rights Watch. "Whether in the United States or Liberia, he should be criminally investigated for these horrific offenses."

Boley faces proceedings to remove him from the United States on the basis of invalid immigration documents and involvement in extrajudicial killings overseas. It is unclear, though, whether the abuses in which Boley is implicated can be prosecuted in the United States under federal laws prohibiting torture and war crimes committed abroad. In 2008, the United States tried and convicted Charles "Chuckie" Taylor, Jr., the son of former Liberian president Charles Taylor, in the first US case for torture committed abroad.

Liberia currently lacks credible justice mechanisms to prosecute serious crimes committed during its internal conflicts between 1989 and 2003. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, in its final report in December 2009, highlighted problems in the Liberian justice system and called for the establishment of a hybrid international-national tribunal with Liberian and foreign judges to try past crimes.

"Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission has called for a new court that can bring justice for atrocities committed during Liberia's conflicts," Keppler said. "This arrest underscores the need for the Liberian government to act without delay to enable fair, credible trials of past crimes."

Human Rights Watch supports a hybrid tribunal for Liberia with a majority of internationally appointed judges, but has concerns about some elements of the commission's proposal. These issues should be addressed to ensure prosecutions in accordance with international fair trial standards, Human Rights Watch said.

Boley has lived in the United States for various periods since 1970, and in 2006, he was arrested for visa fraud, but the charges were dismissed.

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