The United States Ambassador to Liberia has given a powerful endorsement to Hassan Bility, the justice activist accused in court proceedings this month of bribing witnesses.

In a visit to the Monrovia office of Mr Bility’s organisation the Global Justice and Research Project, Ambassador Michael McCarthy, commended Bility’s work in gathering evidence that has led to the convictions of three war criminals and charges against nearly a dozen more.

“We stand with Mr Bility for the work he is doing and many other people are standing with him. He is supported by other governments and diplomats of other governments,” said Ambassador McCarthy in an interview.

The ambassador did not directly address accusations by three witnesses in the ongoing war crimes trial of Gibril Massaquoi that Mr Bility attempted to bribe them to make false testimonies.

Mr Bility has rejected the claims saying they are being orchestrated by those who have been charged as a result of his work or fear they will be charged.

Ambassador McCarthey said the U.S. Embassy took the threats of violence against Bility and his team very seriously.

“I want to make it clear that violence against those who seek justice through the rule of law must never be tolerated in Liberia,” Ambassador McCarthy said in a statement. “The United States Embassy regards the security of committed researchers like these to be of the utmost importance, and as a bellwether of Liberia’s democratic progress.”

The ambassador’s intervention will be felt by many perpetrators accused of war crimes in Liberia’s civil war.

Those like Agnes Taylor, whose war crimes case in the U.K. was dismissed on a technicality leading to the denial of her permanent residency application, will be unlikely to secure a visa to most international countries including the United States and may risk charges in any country where she does secure a visa.

Ms Taylor will also risk being extradited to the U.K. should prosecutors there decide to open a new case.

Others such as Representative George Boley, who was deported to Liberia from the United States after being found by U.S. authorities to have violated immigration laws, is in the same boat. Those inside Liberia will be afraid to travel in case they also face charges and extradition.

Inside the United States, there are accused war criminals living in fear they too might be charged as Boley, Mohammed Jabbateh, Tom Woewiyu and Moses Thomas were.

The ambassador applauded Mr Bility’s success in securing dozens of charges and convictions.

He also praised the Liberian government and media for allowing thorough coverage of the trial of Gibril Massaquoi and other cases in the United States and Europe. Many counties do not have such things said the ambassador and the people of Liberia should be proud of institutions like the GJRP.

“Civil society and a free press are alive in Liberia. Organisations like Mr Bility’s can’t exist in many countries in the world but here in Liberia he and his colleagues do their work,” he said.

Ambassador McCarthy said America’s commitment to justice was underscored by the fact that the first person convicted for crimes in Liberia’s civil wars was American citizen, Chucky Taylor, the son of former President Charles Taylor.

Charles Taylor is serving a 50-year sentence for crimes in Sierra Leone. Chucky is serving a 97-year sentence in the U.S. state of Florida.

At the same time, Ambassador McCarthy urged the Liberian legislature to overcome gridlock and pass a bill establishing a war and economic crimes court.

“Criminals who committed war crimes should not live with impunity and think they will never pay for their crimes,” said the ambassador. “At the same time, it is very important that the Liberia’s war crimes commission be designed and overseen by Liberians, and it cannot be run by outsiders. We support the active discussion as to which form this commission should take but it is left with the Liberian people in the desire of a system of justice that will account for unpunished crimes.”

The trial of Mr. Massaquoi will continue on Friday which is likely to be the last day before the court returns to Finland for final hearings.

A verdict is expected this year.

This story is a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project.

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