The ECOWAS Community Court of Justice February 16 began hearing a case filed by a non-governmental organisation and three Liberians over the killing of about 600 persons at a Lutheran Church in the country’s capital 33 years ago during the country’s civil war.
The public interest suit was filed by Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP), who were joined by Charles Sunwabe, Dorothy Sunwabe-Vokerl and Nelay Sunwabe on behalf of themselves and members of their families, who were victims of the massacre at St Peter’s Lutheran Church in Monrovia on the 29 and 30 July 1990.
In suit no ECW/CCJ/APP/48/22, filed on 4th October 2022, the applicants who were represented by their Counsel Oludayo Fagbemi, Gaye Sowe, Edmund Foley (Institute for Human Rights & Development in Africa, The Gambia), an NGO – Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) and Debevoise & Plimpton LLP as agents, alleged that the government of Liberia failed to discharge its obligation to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators and provide redress for the victims.
In the initiating application, the applicants said that this failure of the State was a breach of their fundamental human rights.
They claimed that the perpetrators, the Armed Forces targeted two ethnic groups who sought shelter/refuge at a civilian centre run by the Red Cross at this place of worship and massacred the 600 persons, including members of the Sunwabe family who were perceived to be rebel sympathisers.
They told the court that the Republic of Liberia which experienced/fought two civil wars between 1989 and 2003, set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia (the TRC) that indicted several groups including the Armed Forces of Liberia who were identified as a “significant violator” responsible for the Lutheran Church Massacre, one of the deadliest civilian massacres in Liberia.
They alleged that though the TRC was set up to investigate gross human rights violations and make recommendations including prosecutions which were to be implemented by the government, the government of Liberia has not taken effective steps to implement the recommendations.
They, therefore, urged the Court to declare the government liable for the violations; order Liberia to conduct official, effective and independent investigations into the massacre and prosecute the perpetrators as a deterrent to future generations. They also asked the Court to order the government to pay 1,500,000 USD as compensation to the Sunwabe family.
The Respondent, Government of Liberia represented by its legal counsels Councilors Bobby W. Livingstone and Lafayette B. Gould, Sr, twice filed for an extension of time to file its defence, the first, on 9th November 2022, and subsequently on 9th January 2023.
The third and fourth Applicants – Dorothy Sunwabe-Voker and Nelay T. Sunwabe have also filed their sworn statements.
The case will be heard by Justices Edward Amoako Asante (presiding), Gberi-Be Ouattara and Dupe Atoki.
Press Release by ECOWAS Communication Unit in Abuja