A Liberian warlord known as “Jungle Jabbah” has been sentenced to 30 years in prison in the US for lying about his role in his country’s civil war.
Mohammed Jabbateh was found guilty of immigration fraud for falsely telling US authorities in the 1990s that he had never belonged to an armed group.
One witness told the court how he had ordered the heart of a captive to be cooked for his fighters.
Around 250,000 people were killed in Liberia’s brutal 14-year civil war.
Campaign group Amnesty International has welcomed the verdict as the “first case to provide some justice for victims of Liberia’s civil war”, even though he was not convicted of the atrocities he and his men allegedly carried out.
“It must not be forgotten that there has still been no accountability for these crimes in Liberia itself,” said Amnesty’s West Africa researcher Sabrina Mahtani.
“The Liberian authorities must urgently establish a criminal court to try crimes under international law and ensure those responsible are held to account.”
The 51-year-old moved to the US in the late 1990s, living in Pennsylvania in a community in Philadelphia known as “Little Liberia” until his arrest in April 2016.
The trial was told how he had been a commander in two armed groups – the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (Ulimo) and later the Ulimo-K – during fierce fighting in the early 1990s.
Witnesses were flown over from Liberia to give testimony about the allegations of killings, rapes, mutilations and cannibalism committed by him or by fighters under his command.
In total there were three accounts of hearts being removed, including how the wife of a town chief was told to cook the heart of a murdered villager and then one of her own husband, a US Department of Justice statement said.
US prosecutor William McSwain said: “This man is responsible for atrocities that will ripple for generations in Liberia. He thought he could hide here but thanks to the determination and creativity of our prosecutors and investigators, he couldn’t.
“This prosecution was our only option under the law and his sentence achieves at least some measure of justice for his victims.”
According to Civitas Maxima, a Swiss organisation that works to ensure justice for victims of war crimes, many suspects still hold powerful positions in Liberia.
Liberian campaigner Hassan Bility says Jabbateh’s conviction shows Liberian victims want to be heard.
“Our post-war politicians have not listened to the victims’ cries. This will have to change.
“Our hope still remains to see these trials take place in Liberia, so victims of war crimes from all over the country can witness the proceedings.” BBC News