Africa

Liberia: How Col. Larry Borteh Was Killed; Other Atrocities and Perpetrators

A team of investigators from the International Justice Group (IJG) says a former member of Liberia’s erstwhile People’s Redemption Council (PRC) military junta which, in 1980, overthrew the civilian Administration of William R. Tolbert Jr.,was killed in 1990 by forces under the command of former rebel commander and leader of the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia Prince Y. Johnson.

Colonel Larry Borteh - File Photo

Colonel Larry Borteh

According to IJG international investigators citing witnesses and family members who they interviewed in Liberia, Colonel Larry Borteh, just prior to his death, was residing at the once prestigious Hotel African in the western outskirts of the capital Monrovia. General Johnson, upon hearing that Colonel Borteh was at Hotel Africa, requested to see him. The area was under the control of Johnson and his INPFL forces.

Johnson is now a senator representing the northeast political sub-division of Nimba County in Liberia.

Colonel Borteh fell out of favor with coup leader Samuel Doe in 1984 following accusations that he and 2 other former PRC members Nicholas Podier and Jerry Friday were plotting against him, Doe. Borteh remained largely in private life after until the onset of the civil war which started in December, 1989.

The former PRC junta member left the hotel accompanied by several INPFL rebels and traveled to the Cotton Tree-Caldwell junction which is a main thoroughfare that leads to central Monrovia but also branches off to the township of Caldwell where Johnson and his rebel outfit had carved out their military base. Form there, Johnson and his rebels would launch frequent deadly attacks on government forces and the main rebel National Patriotic Front (NPFL) led by now jailed former President Charles Taylor. Johnson and his forces also regularly terrorized and indiscriminately killed unarmed and innocent civilians and some of his own forces. Johnson and his INPFL forces looted food and goods from the main seaport known as the Freeport of Monrovia. The port was situated in territory which he controlled on Bushrod Island, west of Monrovia.

Senator Prince Y. Johnson

Former INPFL Rebel Commander Senator Prince Y. Johnson

When Colonel Borteh arrived at the Cotton Tree- Caldwell junction, he was immediately arrested by INPFL forces under the command of one Anthony Sonkarley. He was ordered tied up and weighted down with stones after which he was taken to the nearby Stockton Creek into which he was thrown. Colonel Borteh died from apparent drowning at the hands of the INPFL forces under the control of Johnson. The incident occurred in August, 1990 just before the arrival in Monrovia of the ECOWAS Peace Monitoring Group known as ECOMOG.

It is unclear why Colonel Borteh was singled out and killed by Johnson forces.

Atrocities and Perpetrators

Several individuals have been identified as alleged war criminals responsible for committing heinous crimes against civilians during the war. Some of those named by IJG sources include Major George Dweh, Lt. Bobby Kpoto, Major Nezee Barway and Lt. Col. Michael Tailey The accused were all part of Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) loyal to slain Liberian President Samuel K. Doe and were fingered by investigators for the killing of Doris Toweh Gballah, Mr. and Mrs. Johnny Nah and family, former government Minister Johnny Kpor and the entire Cassell in Monrovia. Others allegedly killed include Mr. and Ms. Samuel D. Greene, John Bright, student activist Wuo Garbe Tappia, Tonia Richardson, Benedict Garlawulo, Robert Quiah, Robert Phillips and Wewe Debar.

The AFL death squads, comprising the named perpetrators allegedly killed Martha Bernard and her sister. One Naomi Gooding and six other women who were taking refuge in the Sinkor suburb were also killed.The victims were all picked from various parts of Monrovia by by death squads.

According to our source, Lt. Colonel Tailey, loyal to former President Doe, was a notorious death squad commander who led government troops to the Lutheran Church compound in the suburb of Sinkor where hundreds of defenseless civilians from the Gio, Mano and other ethnic groups, fleeing targeted violence were taking refuge.

Lt. Col Michael Taily

Lt Col Michael Tailey

Witnesses and survivors said over 600 men, women and children were killed in that massacre although the government at the time denied any involvement and blamed advancing rebels for the attack on the church compound. According to survivors, forces who carried out the Lutheran Church massacre were from the same Krahn ethnic group as then President Doe.

Tailey was subsequently killed in mysterious circumstances on orders of AFL commanders after he was detained on the military base of the AFL known as the Barclay Training Center Barracks in central Monrovia.

Another perpetrator is a former police officer Paul Tuazama who was dismissed from the Liberian National Police (LNP) following the failed coup in 1985 led by another former PRC member and army commander General Thomas G. Quiwonkpa. Investigators say Tuazama operated an NPFL death squad which operated on Duport Road in the Paynesville area, north of the capital Monrovia and allegedly carried a massacre of civilians in that area and in Kakata, which is about 34 miles from the capital Monrovia.

Tuazama currently works at the Liberian judiciary at the Temple of Justice, just a stone throw away from the seat of country’s Legislature and the official offices of President George M.Weah on Capitol Hill.

Local and international pressure is mounting on the Weah Administration to establish a war crimes tribunal and bring to book for prosecution all those identified in the country’s TRC Final Report as responsible for the commission alleged war and economic crimes.

In its Final Report and under the heading,“Statute Establishing the Extraordinary of Liberia” General Part, Article 1 Establishment and Competence, the TRC recommends that,

1. In order to implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of the Republic of Liberia (TRC) to establish an “Extraordinary Criminal Court for Liberia”, an internationalized domestic court, to combat a culture of impunity, secure justice for victims and ensure that Liberia adheres too, respects and protects prevailing international human rights and humanitarian law standards, an Extraordinary Criminal Court (hereinafter “Court”) is hereby established.

2. The Court shall have all the necessary power and jurisdiction to prosecute persons referred to it by the TRC for gross violations of human rights (GVHR), serious humanitarian law violations (SVLV) and egregious domestic crimes (EDC) as enumerated by this Statute.

3. The seat of the court shall in Monrovia, Liberia.

i. The Court may establish alternative sites to conduct hearings as it deems necessary.

Article 2

Organs of he Court

The Court shall be composed for the following organs

i. Appeals Division

ii. Trial Division

iii. The Office of the Prosecutor and

iv. The Registry

About 98 notorious perpetrators and heads of rebels factions in Liberia were named in the TRC report and recommendation for prosecution for gross human rights violations and war crimes.

Another 54 individuals and entities were recommended for further investigation.

Individuals named by the TRC Final Report are presumed innocent until guilt has been established beyond a reasonable doubt by the final verdict of the court.

Liberia President George M. Weah

Liberia President George M. Weah

The Weah Administration has refused to publicly state its official position on the establishment of the Court but has signaled through some of its officials that this is not a priority for Government. Local and international rights and advocacy groups and non-governmental organizations say they are prepared to turn up public awareness and pressure on the Liberian government in order to ensure justice is served. A U.S. Republican Representative Mr. Daniel M. Donovan Jr. last week introduced a Congressional resolution which calls for the establishment of a war crimes court in Liberia. The Weah Administration has yet to officially respond to this move.

Diplomatic sources say that additional pressure such as cut in foreign aid to Liberia, a travel ban and sanctions against Liberian government officials will be applied to force the West African nation’s compliance with implementation of recommendations of the TRC.

By Emmanuel Abalo 

West African Journal Magazine