Monrovia – The arrest of Liberian Sekou Kamara on March 26 in New York did not only add to the number of Liberian warlords booked for lying to U.S Immigration Service in an attempt to hide their horrible past, the latest action of the U.S Government also signal to what extent the Biden administration is willing to go in bringing to book human rights abusers and corrupt officials in Liberia.
Kamara was allegedly a general of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), a rebel group that was responsible for 12 percent of the atrocities documented by the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in its 2010 final report. The nation’s brutal civil wars that ran from 1989 through 2003 killed more than 250,000 Liberians and displaced hundreds of thousands more.
However, Kamara, notoriously known as “General Dragon Master,” like other players before him was not arrested for those crimes. He was charged with lying to U.S. immigration authorities on his application to enter the United States and using an illegally acquired green card to obtain other documents. The criminal complaint against Kamara was submitted to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which has pursued other Liberian war criminals.
Immigration violations have been used before to bring perpetrators of atrocities to justice. Mohammed Jabbateh, a battalion commander in the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO), was found guilty in a Pennsylvania court for immigration fraud and perjury after lying about his wartime past in an asylum application. The warlord, commonly known as “Jungle Jabbah,” was sentenced to thirty years in prison in 2018.
The late Jucontee Thomas Woewiyu, who was a top official in Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPLF), was convicted in 2020 of lying on his U.S. immigration forms about his ties to war criminals.
While Kamara is not the first Liberian warlord to be arrested, his apprehension comes at the time the Biden’s administration has made the fight against corruption and impunity on a global scale a major foreign policy priority. That stance is already being felt in Liberia.
In December 2021, Senator Prince Yormie Johnson, a former warlord, was sanctioned by the United States under the Global Magnitsky Act, the sweeping legislation that authorizes sanctions against any individual viewed to have violated human rights or engaged in corruption.
It was a rude awakening for the Nimba County strong man, who prides himself as the “God Father” of his native county and a “King Maker” when the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia dropped the bombshell – labeling him as a corrupt official hugely benefiting from government funds through a pay-for-play scheme with government ministries.
As part of the scheme, according to the U.S. government, upon receiving funding from the Government of Liberia, the involved government ministries and organizations launder a portion of the funding for return to the involved participants.
The one-time fierce warlord, known for brutally killing ex-President Samuel K. Doe, and a major opposition to the establishment of war crimes court in Liberia, was forced to resign as Chairman of the Senate Committee on National Security, Defense, Intelligence, and Veteran Affairs after the U.S. Embassy expressed disappointment in the Liberian Senate for his preferment.
In December 2020, the United States sanctioned Senator Harry Varney Sherman, a former Chairman of the ex-ruling Unity Party, for his involvement in a bribery scheme.
The Treasury Department accused the Grand Cape Mount County Senator of facilitating bribery within the Judiciary for judges to grant ruling in his clients’ favor and in some instance paid bribe to facilitate the removal of an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court – Justice Kabineh Ja’neh – who had ruled against him.
As the Biden administration imposed sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin and several officials for Russia’s illegal war against Ukraine, its radar is ever present over Liberia.
U.S. officials including attorneys, members of Congress, and U.S. Ambassador Michael McCarthy have made it clear that they intend to pursue all individuals suspected of undermining the rule of law or engaging in corruption in Liberia, both past and present.
Congress Resolution H. Res. 907, introduced in February, reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to support progress toward transparency, accountable institutions, and other tenets of good governance in Liberia.
The Legislation specifically implores the White House to “continue to impose targeted sanctions and other measures against those responsible for undermining the rule of law as well as the faith and trust of the Liberian people through the conduct of corruption, gross violations of human rights, and other acts that threaten the peace and security of Liberia.”
Observers believe this could target other individuals directly cited by the TRC Report, including Benoni Urey, the political leader of the All Liberian Party (ALP) and former Warlord and current Grand Gedeh County Representative, Dr. George S. Boley, among others.
Urey was listed as a Specially Designated National (SDN) by the Treasury until 2015 for his involvement in money laundering and illegal arms trading.
Urey is accused of playing a complex game in his effort to evade accountability for his wartime actions. He stands accused of spearheading dubious legal charges against his political opponents in an effort to maneuver himself back into a position of power and disingenuously declared his support for a Liberian war crimes court.
He once declared in defense of his patron Charles Taylor: “Let them free Taylor or carry everyone to jail; we had a war in Liberia and one person did not commit all atrocities. A lot of people did and if one person can face justice, why not the rest?”
Last year, Newsweek wrote that Urey is simply hopping “from one bandwagon to the next, hoping he will never reach a real court of international law.”
For Dr. Boley, he was deported for lying to immigration authorities about his war time activities. He currently enjoys a hefty salary and allowances while representing Grand Gedeh County Second Electoral District. His rebel faction, the Liberia Peace Council (LPC) was responsible for 11 percent of the crimes committed during the civil war, according to the TRC in its final report.
While war perpetrators like Senator Johnson, Rep. Boley and Mr. Urey may be evading justice due to Liberia’s lackadaisical posture towards the establishment of a war and economic crimes court, the arrest of Sekou Kamara, and sanctions against Senators Johnson and Sherman show how far the Biden administration is willing to go in bringing to book human rights abusers and corrupt officials.