Wednesday, February 24, 2010

IN THE NEWS: Arrest in U.S. of Former Warlord from Liberia

This week's arrest in New York of George Boley, Sr., an alleged former Liberian warlord, has highlighted the need to pursue prosecutions for Liberia’s past atrocities if Liberia is currently unable to do so itself. According to recent reports, Boley, Sr. is the former leader of an armed rebel group called the Liberian Peace Council (LPC), which is known to have committed rape, torture, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, and forcible recruitment during the fourteen years of armed conflict in the country that lasted until 2003.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has charged Boley, Sr. with holding invalid immigration documents and committing extrajudicial killings overseas (as an immigration violation - not as a criminal charge). Boley Sr. now faces removal from the United States. Like former President Charles Taylor, Sr., he received higher educations degrees in the United States before returning to Liberia and entering politics. In 1997, Boley Sr. made an unsuccessful bid for president of Liberia. In the last twenty years, he has traveled between the US and Liberia while raising a family in the United States.

The 60-year-old appeared before immigration officials today, February 24, and denied all charges against him. Another immigration hearing is scheduled for March 16, 2010. If Boley Sr. is found guilty of the administrative charges against him, he could be deported from the United States back to Liberia. If the judge decides to deport him, Boley Sr. says that he will request political asylum to remain in the United States.

Boley Sr. has claimed that the accusations against him are false and alleges that some Liberians who escaped the civil war used fraudulent allegations about the LPC to strengthen their applications for political asylum in the U.S. ICE is amassing and investigating the allegations of atrocities committed by the LPC under Boley’s tenure for its immigration case. ICE stated that “it will not allow the United States to be a safe haven for those trying to avoid prosecution and punishment for crimes committed in their homelands.” Further, “ICE will not relent in [its] efforts to ensure that human rights violators are brought to justice and removed from our communities.”

However, human rights advocates are calling attention to the fact that Liberia currently lacks credible justice mechanisms to prosecute serious crimes committed during its internal conflicts between 1989 and 2003. In its report last year, Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) maintained that the LPC had committed numerous human rights violations, including massacres and sexual crimes. The TRC, which is an advisory body, recommended that Boley Sr. be prosecuted, though no official action has been taken in Liberia to charge him with any crimes. The TRC's final report 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. However, many doubt that Boley Sr. would be brought to justice if returned to Liberia.

The inability of the Liberian justice system to adequately prosecute Boley Sr. raises questions as to the duty of the United States to hold him accountable for his violations of international law. Although at this time, neither country has criminally charged him, advocates are backing the possibility of undertaking criminal investigations against Boley Sr. in the United States.

This situation parallels the case of Charles Taylor, Jr., the American-born son of former Liberian president who is now on trial under the auspices of the Special Court for Sierra Leone. In October 2008, a Florida jury found Taylor Jr. guilty of participating in torture and conspiracy to commit torture within Liberia under a 1994 U.S. law commonly known as the Torture Statute, which implemented the United States' obligations as a State Party to the UN Convention Against Torture and which states that U.S. citizens accused of committing torturous acts overseas can be tried in a U.S. federal court. It is unclear at this time whether Boley Sr. will be charged with any crimes and the human rights abuses with which Boley Sr., a non-U.S. citizen, is accused could be prosecuted in the United States under federal laws prohibiting torture and war crimes committed abroad. What is known is that Boley Sr.’s case could have serious implications for holding human rights abusers accountable for their actions.

You can check out other entries on this blog regarding Charles Taylor, Jr. here. For other cases addressing the accountability of foreign officials in the U.S., read about the Samantar case here. On March 3, 2010, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case of Samantar, a former Somali government official who is believed to have overseen grave human rights violations in Somalia. The question facing the Court is whether former officials of foreign governments who commit human rights violations abroad can use the U.S. as a “safe haven” to avoid being held accountable for their crimes. Check back here for updates on developments in these and other accountability matters.

Written with assistance from International Justice Project Intern Kacey Mordecai.

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