Liberia: Senator Prince Johnson Could Face War Crimes Court After Elections
Nimba County Senator Prince Yormie Johnson, who is now the biggest political ally of the Unity Party, delivered the vote-rich county to the UP in the October 10 Elections.
However, leaked WhatsApp screenshots, allegedly originating from the Unity Party Executive Leadership Chatroom, indicate that the party has intentions of parting ways with him and turning him over for prosecution for war crimes immediately following the election. The leaked chat also included a list of prospective cabinet members should the UP win the election.
The Unity Party has described the screenshots as fake and a propaganda against the party.
The campaign spokesman of the party, Mo Ali, in a statement following the release of the screenshots, stated that “Yesterday we saw a list circulating on social media and other news outlets claiming that it is a proposed cabinet list from the UP. Such a list is fake, misleading, and it’s a propaganda ploy from the opponent intended to cause mistrust among our people. The purported chatroom from which the fake list was generated is also fake.”
The statement added, “At the moment, the UP Alliance Campaign and her supporters are focused on Rescuing Liberia. We are not going to rest until we do so. Those fake propagandas will not distract us in our attempt to lift Liberia from its current failed state.”
In the leaked chat, a concern was raised about why no strategic position has been allotted to Sen. Johnson’s Movement for Democratic Reconstruction. Patrick Honnah responded, “Although some Nimbaians will get offended, we must act in the interest of our safety.”
Jake Kabakole opined in the chat: “The history of Prince Johnson is well known. We have used him to deliver Nimba, although the percentage is low, our anticipations cannot let him lose. We have agreed as prospective cabinets and Amb. Boakai to deal with Prince Johnson’s agenda within 100 days in our administration. This will be our way of appraisal to the US government and the international community who are angry with us for keeping PJY around to support us.”
Jake Kabakole continues: “We will indict him for war crimes and turn him over to the ICJ for the allegations he faces for killing over 250k Liberians. Once we don’t have Prince Johnson, we are safe. The Nimbaians are fools to believe that we will allow our son and President to sleep in bed with a murderer. We have no choice but to preserve our government and people.”
Robert Kpadeh, who appears in the chat as Sage Moncio, and Amos Tweh stated in the chat they had a different opinion on the suggestions regarding Prince Johnson.
Before endorsing Ambassador Boakai, Senator Johnson played a crucial role in securing Nimba County’s support for President George Weah in the 2017 runoff election. However, in 2022, Nimba County shifted its allegiance. This change coincided with Senator Johnson’s sanctions by the U.S. Department of Treasury due to corruption and involvement in “pay-for-play” schemes.
The former warlord criticized President Weah, contending that he failed to fulfill his electoral promises. Specifically, President Weah had pledged that numerous Nimbaians would assume key positions in his cabinet, with Senator Johnson expecting to handpick some of those cabinet members.
In May 2021, Montserrado County Senator Abraham Darius Dillon, who is now on the same team – The Rescue Team – with Sen. Prince Johnson, stressed the need for the establishment of a war and economic crimes court during discussions surrounding the mismanagement of stimulus package funds during the outbreak of the COVID-19.
In his argument, Dillon said the War and Economic Crimes Court would be the only remedy to put in measures for people who manage public funds. “If we sincerely want to bring to check public officials who mismanage public funds, we need to establish a war and economic crimes court,” Sen. Dillon said.
Senator Dillon’s recommendation triggered rage from Senator Johnson who staged a walkout from session, terming Senator Dillon’s suggestions as “an attack on his character.” “Every time Sen. Dillon sees me, it is when he talks about war crimes court,” Sen. Johnson said. “What happened during the civil war was a revenge for our people who were killed in Nimba. Nimba County was declared an enemy of the state; what did you expect us to do?”
Sen. Johnson’s alliance with the governing Coalition for Democratic Change at the time shielded him from the many calls for his prosecution by human rights groups and advocates of war crimes. In his first speech to the UN General Assembly in 2018, Weah said that he favored “dialogue as a conflict-resolution mechanism, so that as a government and people, we could together focus our efforts on poverty reduction, growth, and economic development, rather than on retribution.”
However, in September 2022, Monrovia City Mayor Jefferson Koijee, who is also the Secretary General of the ruling party, called for the establishment of a war and economic crimes court for Liberia as contained in the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report.
There were suggestions from some quarters that Mayor Koijee’s statement was induced by expressed concerns by former US Ambassador McCarthy about corruption and a growing culture of impunity as well as the apparent lack of official resolve to implement the TRC recommendations.
However, in recent times, Mayor Koijee has intensified his call and specifically called for the prosecution of Sen. Johnson. Many believe the breakaway from CDC has led to the calls by the CDC to prosecute him.
This paper gathered that the CDC has reached a consensus to turn Sen. Johnson over to the International Criminal Court for prosecution should they win the elections which is now slated for a run-off in November.
If this happens, Sen. Johnson would be the second warlord to be officially turned over by the Liberian government for prosecution by the International Criminal Court. In October 2009, former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf requested former Liberian President Charles Taylor’s handover from Nigeria. Now Liberians are arguing where he should be tried.
The TRC was established through an Act of Legislature in 2004 and began active work in 2006, charged with a mandate to examine the root causes of conflict in Liberia, produce a historical narrative of the root causes of the Liberian conflict, and make recommendations for Institutional Reform, Accountability, and Reparations. The TRC recommended, amongst a host of recommendations, the establishment of a War and Economic Crimes Court for Liberia to try those responsible for the commission of atrocities and economic crimes. The TRC also identified a number of institutions, economic institutions, and foreign governments that aided and abetted the commission of war and economic crimes in Liberia.
Johnson played a prominent role in the First Liberian Civil War. Serving as the leader of the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia, he captured, tortured, and executed President Samuel Doe, who had himself overthrown and murdered the previous president William R. Tolbert Jr.
On September 9, 1990, Johnson’s supporters abducted President Samuel Doe from ECOMOG headquarters in the Monrovia port district. Doe was tortured and executed in Johnson’s custody on September 9, with the spectacle videotaped and broadcast around the world. The video showed Johnson sipping a Budweiser beer and being fanned by an assistant as his men cut off Doe’s ear. Johnson later denied killing Doe.