By Festus Poquie
“Devastating,” was the word that made its way out of the mouth of Hassan Bility, the executive director of the rights group seeking the prosecution of alleged Liberian war criminals when a judge in the United Kingdom dropped charges against Agnese Reeves Taylor the 58-year-old ex-wife of warlord and former President Charles Taylor.
Reeves Taylor, who has spent much of her time since the early 1990s in the UK and lectured at Coventry University, was arrested at her home in East London by the Metropolitan Police in June 2017 based on information supplied by the Swiss NGO Civitas Maxima and the Liberia-based Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP).
The 57-year-old now academic is known in the Charles Taylor war ecosystem as the “mother of the Revolution,” a violent military escapade that resulted in the deaths of an estimated 250,000 people.
Among the eight charges brought against Ms. Taylor were the torture of a child, who was allegedly tied to a tree and forced to witness several shootings, and complicity in rapes committed by members of Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia. The incidents reportedly occurred between 1989 and 1991.
But she managed to survive from what would have been the end of a career and the end of a good life. Her lawyers lodged an appeal and it proved successful. Charges were dropped in December 2019 due to a lack of evidence that her then-husband’s forces had been exercising governmental authority in the areas where the crimes were reportedly committed.
The appeal at the Supreme Court over looked into her status as a “person acting in an official capacity,” a requisite to try a defendant for torture under international humanitarian law.
“This is a devastating development for us and the victims,” said Hassan Bility, executive director of the GJRP after the judge ruled against his case
“We wanted both the accused and the victims to have a chance to go through a judicial process.”
Four years later Bility and comrades in crimes are facing the cost of their advocacy to give justice to victims of one of Africa’s deadest conflicts.
Swiss human rights advocate Alain Werner and his Geneva-based Civitas Maxima along with Bility is on trial in Monrovia in a case Agnese is seeking $15 million United States dollars in damages.
The activists’ quest for the case to be squashed on jurisdictional grounds has failed.
Ms. Taylor lawyers are pushing for S$5 million as punitive damages and US$10 million as general damages for alleged negligent investigation and malicious prosecution. Agnese insists Werner and Bility facilitated false testimonies against her.
“The complaint is false and misleading and has absolutely no bearing on Werner and his organization,” lawyers representing the rights groups said.
“Civitas Maxima did not initiate a criminal prosecution against Taylor. It cannot be held in action for malicious prosecution nor can it be held for slander.”
Agnese Wants to Stand Trial
The ex-wife of jailed former President Charles Taylor who pride herself as the mother of his bloody rebel war wants to be put on trial in Liberian courts for crimes she’s alleged to have committed.
Now in the country, Ms. Reeves Taylor is demanding her accusers and alleged victims to meet her in open court.
“I submit myself to the Liberian judicial system to examine these lies and determine their plausibility. It is essential that the truth be told,” she said in a 2020 emailed statement.
“I urge the Liberian judiciary to seize this opportunity for justice and fully review the matter that subjugated me to
solitary confinement, bringing mental and physical humiliation to my person on foreign soil.
“I came to Liberia to face my so-called accusers in an environment where they claim these crimes occurred.
What her accusers say?
“I was accused of personally committing 7 counts of torture and one count of conspiracy to commit torture between January -July 1990 in Nimba and Bong counties. Knowing that I have never been a subject of any criminal investigation nor a person of interest in Liberia’s Truth & Reconciliation (TRC) deliberations as evidenced in its final consolidated report, I was utterly shocked, bewildered and dismayed by this sinister action.
“In examining the allegations, it was crystal clear that they were malicious and mercenary with a clear ploy, designed to destroy not just my integrity and standing in society, but to destroy my life and career. All kinds of lies and falsehood, were concocted by individuals I have never met in my life. These individuals were recruited in the most part from the refugee camps in Guinea and provided a written script to regurgitate.
“One of the most heinous of these lies was that I was the commander of Gborplay from January 1990 and thereby held 80 oddwomen in a house as comfort women for NPFL fighters. Now for those who are Liberians and understand the cultural dimension of the people of Nimba during the civil war know that this was not possible nor plausible as the men there had their wives with them in many instances but more importantly did not engage in sexual intercourse before battles because it was believed that this would lead to their death. They would never have done this then. I also was not in Gborplay at the relevant times as alleged. Many people here can attest to that.
“Apart from that, the description of Gborplay given by the seven women who claimed to be a part of the 80 odd Koniaka women did not in any way resemble reality. It so happens that a recording made by CNN journalist at the relevant time in 1990 June 1st did not look anything like these women described. These women claimed to have been held in a round white village house opposite where Charles Taylor and I lived. They also claimed that we lived in a round white house.
“Interestingly, there was no such house then or now and the house that Charles Taylor lived in was square and blue with a very high thatch fence around it. The house is still in Gborplay to date. They obviously colluded and lied as orchestrated by GJRP. Seven persons could not make the same mistake after nearly 30years. They were obviously lying.
“Another issue here is that these women in their interviews with the Metropolitan Police of the UK stated that they were born in Guinea and grew up in Guinea yet the GJRP obtained Liberian birth Certificates and Passports claiming they were born in Liberia. The UK police reimbursed them for the documents. What do we call this?
“Another repugnant allegation told by a man claiming to have been my driver was that I divided women up at Gbailah checkpoint to be used as comfort women for the fighters. He claims that there was a woman who refused because she was a pastor’s wife and I killed her two children as punishment.
“When I asked who the pastor was, what church he belonged to and why this was never reported during the TRC process or in any objective source, the British police shrugged their shoulders saying they did not know. This was firstly based on hearsay by this individual and a figment of his vicious imagination. I do not know this liar nor did he ever serve as a driver for me at any time. Interestingly during the time he claimed to have been my driver, I was not even in the country nor did I have a car in Liberia.
“I was also accused of personally directing a massacre of members of the Mandingo ethnic group in parts of Liberia that I had never visited in my life and even citing towns and villages in Guinea as Liberian towns. I have never had any issues with any person of any ethnic group in Liberia.
“One individual claim that I was amongst the first group that started the fighting in Butuo. As it stands no account anywhere corroborates my ever being in Butuo. I have never been to Butuo in my life. He claims that I was selling in the market and credit money from his mother and killed her because she asked for her money and took him to be my son. He claims to have lived with me until 1994. Again this is preposterous as I never met this person, their mother nor could I have had him living with him at any point and I was not in Liberia in 1994.
“There were also wild claims that I was the 2nd in command to Charles Taylor, the Commander of the Wild Geese, the Commander of SBU, the Commander of the WACs, the Commander of a group I have never heard of called Wives Force and the Commander of another group called Wise Brigade. I was also said to be the Minister of Health, the Commander of border patrol and the Commander of the Parker Paint checkpoint where I supposedly killed 200 persons every day. Now it is obvious that these are monstrous, nefarious lies.
“I was supposed to have massacred all the nurses and doctors at Harbel Duside Hospital in firestone in 1990 even though there is no such account anywhere and the hospital was operational up until I left Liberia in 1992.
“I was supposed to have also killed the Superintendent of Margibi County, Hon Amos Gbon who is still alive and well living in the US or at least was up to 2008. I was supposed to have been called Massa Musu and known for killing Koniaka people in Liberia etc. I had n idea what the phrase or name Massa Musu meant. The lies were ridiculous.
“I am also supposed to have come to Liberia in 2012 where they claimed to have met me and spoke to me at my house in Topulu Road (No such place exists) where I supposedly threatened witnesses with murder should they testify against me. Now it is quite clear that I have not been to Liberia since 2001 as there was a the travel ban imposed then and neither were there any charges against me then.