Belgium makes first-ever arrest for international crimes in Liberian first civil war

24 September 2014 by Stephanie van den Berg

Last week, Belgium arrested and indicted Liberian Martina Johnson on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for alleged participation in Operation Octopus, a brutal battle for capital city Monrovia in 1992. This is the first-ever indictment for international crimes during the country’s first civil war, lasting from 1989 to 1996. Human rights organizations say Johnson was a close confidante of former Liberian president Charles Taylor and served as a general in his National Patriotic Front for Liberia (NPFL). 

The battle for Monrovia saw thousands of people killed and scores raped as intoxicated child soldiers from Taylor’s Small Boys Units attacked the city. According to Civitas Maxima, an organization that provides legal representation for war crimes victims and helped bring this case to Belgian courts, Johnson is charged for her direct implication in mutilations and mass killings. The arrest came after an investigation by the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office, following a complaint filed in 2012 by three Operation Octopus victims. 

“These cases are very complex because of the remoteness of the country concerned and the nature of the things we need to do: that has an effect on the timing,” prosecution spokesman Jean-Pascal Thoreau told IJT. Under Belgium’s amended universal jurisdiction law, Johnson can be tried by local courts because she has primary residence there. She was remanded in custody for another month as the probe of the investigative magistrate continues, Thoreau said. It is unclear when the case could go to trial. 

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