October 28, 2021

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Ex-VP Boakai Indicates He’s Open to Prosecuting Benoni Urey in War Crimes Court

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Monrovia – Further doubts are emerging over core members of the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) following statements made by Vice President Joseph N. Boakai of the Unity Party (UP) in an interview with the London magazine “Africa Brief” this week. The former vice president discussed his reputation as an anti-corruption figure, the need for the average Liberian to benefit from the country’s wealth, as well as the prospect of long-delayed justice through the formation of a War Crimes Court for Liberia.

In the interview, Boakai expressed a strong desire for accountability for the horrors of Liberia’s civil war, arguing that impunity for crimes committed demand the formation of a War Crimes Court. He lamented that “Most of the war lords are the ones who want to be in the legislature, they’re the ones who want to be President, as if to say nothing has happened…Impunity is what for me, I believe, should warrant the War Crimes Court to come…”

Many observers have noted that one reason Liberia has failed to convene a War Crimes Court is because many of those named in the 2007 Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report as perpetrators are still active in business and politics. Making matters more complex, some of those politicians named in the TRC report have publicly called for a War Crimes Court despite being likely targets should such a court be established.

The need for reconciliation rather than retribution is also cited as a reason against forming a War Crimes Court, but Boakai took a strong stand against this view by declaring, “Now, you cannot live in a society, create harmony and reconcile when most of the people who don’t believe that they’re responsible for anything, they’re evasive about what they did and they seem as though they don’t even care. When you have that kind of society, reconciliation becomes difficult.”

While Boakai’s call for accountability and an end to impunity in Liberia is a long-held position for the former Vice-President, his comments relating to Benoni Urey of the All Liberian Party (ALP) raised eyebrows. Questioned about Benoni Urey’s wartime activities and the possibility that he could be found culpable by a War Crimes Court, Boakai replied “I recall Benoni Urey to be very frank, I don’t know to what extent.”

Previous reporting by Front Page Africa has highlighted the increasing wariness by many in the Boakai camp about continued association with individuals such as Urey who are linked to war crimes. Now it appears that Boakai himself may harbor doubts over Urey, his long-time political ally. Is this a sign that Boakai is distancing himself from Urey as he readies himself for the 2023 presidential elections?

It is not just Boakai’s team that have expressed concern about Benoni Urey. The US Embassy in Monrovia reportedly view Urey as a toxic figure as a result of his murky past as Commissioner of the Bureau of Maritime Affairs in the Charles Taylor regime. The US government’s negative view of Urey has been held for years.

Mr. Urey, one of Liberia’s wealthiest men, was a close ally of ex-Liberian President Charles Taylor who is currently serving a 50-year prison sentence in a UK cell. Urey has often been accused of being one of the catalysts of Liberia’s destruction by acting upon orders of Mr. Taylor, and using his role as maritime commissioner to siphoned millions of dollars to off-shore accounts to exchange for weapons for Taylor. And in the process amazing overnight wealth.

As the result, he was listed as a specially designated national (SDN) by the U.S. Treasury Department; his assets were frozen and he was banned from travelling to the United States.

He has since denied these allegations. And although, the sanctions were lifted, his critics has called for him to face the war and economic crimes court if it is established.

‘Let’s Call Spade a Spade’

In response to a question as to whether he would continue to support the war crimes tribunal if Urey were to appear, Amb. Boakai empatically said: “That’s why I believe if I knew that someone did something wrong and they know that whatever happens they know the public is aware, they should take the initiative to correct that wrong.  I recall Benoni Urey to be very frank.

“I don’t know to what extent.  There are lot of people who have a lot of information – I don’t have it because during the conflict I was not all the time in Monrovia – I live up country, I was up country before I came down… So… I work with people as a team but individuals can always answer their question.”

According to him, the setting up of the court was imperative as most perpetrators, especially warlords are being seated at the echelon of power and showing no remorse.

“Let’s call a spade a spade –everyone knows when they do wrong.  We have been given enough time to realize what we have done.  At least, unlike other places, it was about time that maybe even if by error you were put in a responsible position, you will say as part of all this, I think I need to do something, I need to understand that I still have some baggage and I need to reconcile.  Nobody has done that, so what do we do?   No matter what you try to do there are people who are hurting.”

It is clear that Joseph Boakai – having presided as Vice-President for the twelve years immediately following Liberia’s horrific civil war – places great emphasis on putting an end to impunity and seeking accountability. It is also in Boakai’s political interest to take such a position, given his long-established reputation for integrity and anti-corruption platform. Will Boakai’s ties to Urey fray further as a result?

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