Between 1989 and 2003, civil war consumed the small West African nation of Liberia, resulting in the death of 250,000 individuals and the displacement of one third of the Liberian population. All parties to the conflict committed grave abuses of human rights, including forced disappearance, torture, rape, and extrajudicial killings against civilians. Though Liberia has made some progress in rebuilding since the end of the conflict in areas like infrastructure development and security, major obstacles to sustainable peace beset the country, not least a culture of impunity for wartime crimes.
Origins: American Colonization and Discrimination (1822-1989)
In 1817, the American Colonization Society, a group of white American citizens (including slaveholders) established Liberia as a safe haven for emancipated American slaves, and helped relocate approximately 12,000 black Americans to West Africa. . In 1847, the colony declared its independence from the ACS and ratified a constitution guaranteeing individual rights and creating a tri-partite system of government, making Liberia the oldest democracy in Africa. However, as the new republic violently extended its territorial control over the land populated by indigenous tribes, its new legal system reserved the rights enshrined in the constitution solely for the Americo-Liberian settlers and their descendants. Systematically discriminating against indigenous Liberians, the state deprived them of meaningful political, economic, and educational opportunities.
Tensions over the state-sanctioned discrimination in Liberia came to a head during the Rice Riot in 1979. Then-President William R. Tolbert Jr. allegedly ordered the police to fire on peaceful protestors, killing hundreds. In the turmoil that followed, Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe and Sergeant Thomas Quiwonkpa staged a military coup and assassinated President Tolbert in 1980. With the 1847 constitution suspended, Master Sergeant Doe had a new one written, entering into force in 1986. Though the new constitution attempted to remedy Liberia’s legalized discrimination against indigenous populations with aspirational language, inequalities in the country persisted. Whatever progress the new constitution can be said to have achieved, however, was promptly uprooted when Master Sergeant Doe was elected president in a rigged 1985 election, hailed as legitimate by the U.S. government. Once again exploiting ethnic politics in Liberia, the U.S.-backed president relied almost solely on his coethnics, the Khran, and ethnic allies, the Mandingos, as he purged the government of Mano and Gio tribe members and carried out brutal campaigns against suspected opponents. President Doe’s policies precipitated the conflict that would later ravage the country for 14 years.
Civil War: Part I (1989-1997)
The war began in December 1989, when the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL)—led by the U.S.-educated Charles Taylor and made up, in part, by persecuted Mano and Gio—launched an assault on Doe’s forces from positions in Côte d’Ivoire. By early 1990, tens of thousands of Liberians had fled the country, thousands of civilians and combatants had been killed, and the government and rebel forces had tortured civilians and combatants. Simultaneously, new rebel factions—like the Movement for the Redemption of Muslims (MRM), the Liberian United Defense Force (LUDF), and the United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO)—were emerging. Eventually, on September 9, 1990, Prince Johnson, commander of the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL), an NPFL splinter group, captured, tortured, and executed President Doe. Following Doe’s murder, a National Transitional Government assumed nominal control of the rump of the government of Liberia, though its control did not extend beyond Monrovia. In August 1990, the Economic Community of West African States’ (ECOWAS) sent a peacekeeping force to Liberia, but the fighting—which at that point included summary executions, the use of child soldiers, and the targeting of protected persons and areas—did not abate until 1997 with the election of Charles Taylor as Liberia’s new president.
Civil War: Part II (1997-2003)
The election of Taylor as president did little to bring long-term peace. From 1997 to 2003, the Taylor regime oversaw the total disintegration of the Liberian state and its social order. Although, on paper, Liberia still was a constitutional democracy with a judiciary, the Liberian Constitution and domestic legal system were incapable of providing redress for the destruction of social institutions, or for the widespread use of violence, including by the infamous Anti-Terrorist Unit, a paramilitary force run by Taylor’s son, Chuckie Taylor. While government forces under the control of Taylor terrorized the population, insurgent groups increased their activity within Liberia. By 1999, Liberia was plunged back into a full-blown civil war as a new rebel movement, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), began attacking government forces from neighboring Guinea. Several other rebel groups began vying for control of the government and all sides continued to perpetrate atrocities. By the summer of 2003, Taylor’s government controlled only a third of the country while human casualties continued to rise. The violence did not cease until Charles Taylor fled Liberia to seek refuge in Nigeria due to mounting pressures from the international community, including the United States. On August 18, 2003, the Government of Liberia, LURD, the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL), and eighteen other political parties signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in Accra. By the end of the 14-year armed conflict, 250,000 people had been killed, with every armed faction implicated in gross human rights violations, including massive killing of civilians, torture, widespread rape and sexual violence, forcible recruitment of children as soldiers, extortion, looting of the national economy, and the destruction of cultural property.
An Attempt at Justice: The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (2003)
The CPA followed more than a dozen unsuccessful peace agreements over the course of Liberia’s conflict. The Agreement created a framework for a transitional government, called for political and economic reforms, and set out procedures for demobilization. Businessman Gyude Bryant was elected to head the National Transitional Government of Liberia, which was inaugurated on October 14, 2003.
Having committed themselves to promote the “full respect for international humanitarian law and human rights,” the signatories to the CPA called for the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The signatories envisioned the TRC would provide a “forum that [would] address issues of impunity, as well as [provide] an opportunity for both victims and perpetrators of human rights violations to share their experiences, in order to get a clear picture of the past to facilitate genuine healing and reconciliation.”  The CPA tasked the TRC with addressing “the root causes of the crises in Liberia, including human rights violations,” and to recommend means to rehabilitate victims of human rights violations. Despite the potential of the TRC, Liberia has done little to implement the body’s recommendations, many of which relate to prosecutions, sanctions, an alternative justice mechanism, reparations, and memorialization.
Persistent Impunity (2003-Present)
With regard to the TRC’s recommendations on prosecutions for human rights violations during the conflict, the legislature has not created the proposed extraordinary court and no prosecutions have occurred in domestic courts. Though the lack of prosecutions can perhaps be attributed to the state of Liberia’s legal system, commentators also point to a lack of political will, including an ability of elites to obstruct prosecutions. Other commentators have expressed concern that implementing the TRC’s recommendations for prosecutions would create instability and should be ignored in the interest of peace. President Johnson Sirleaf—herself named by the TRC as human rights violator—has echoed this view.
The international community, too, appears unwilling to invest in an internationalized tribunal, particularly given the cost and duration of these institutions. The international community has been largely quiet in commenting on the TRC’s recommendations, perhaps worried about putting distance between it and a natural ally in President Johnson Sirleaf. Although U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Liberia in the weeks after the TRC Report was released, she made no mention of the TRC’s recommendations despite the public attention the report was receiving in Liberia.  International human rights NGOs were similarly quiet in the period following the Report’s release.
As yet, impunity for the crimes committed during the 14 years of the Liberian conflict continues to be norm in Liberia.
Denying Safe Haven to Fugitive War Criminals
Outside of Liberia there have been efforts to hold accountable perpetrators of and accessories to war crimes during the Liberian conflict. In 2006, Chuckie Taylor, Charles Taylor’s son and head of the aforementioned Anti-Terrorist Unit, was arrested in Miami for attempting to enter the United States with a falsified passport. The U.S. federal government successfully prosecuted Chuckie Taylor for his role in torture committed during Liberia’s civil war, leading to a 97-year sentence which he is currently serving in federal prison in Florida. In Europe, a Dutch appeals court sentenced a Dutch businessman to 19 years in prison for serving as an accessory to war crimes during the conflict when he smuggled weapons into Liberia using his timber business as cover. In the fall of 2017, the case of Mohammed Jabbateh, a former rebel commander for ULIMO forces who migrated to the United States in the late 1990s, will go to trial in Pennsylvania. Jabbateh is charged with two counts of fraud in immigration documents and two counts of perjury for failing to disclose his alleged war crimes during the Liberian conflict—including murder and conscripting child soldiers—when he applied for asylum.
For up-to-date developments in the fight for accountability in Liberia, follow Liberian Quest for Justice or go to Civitas Maxima.
Read more on CJA’s role in the Chuckie Taylor case
 Brookings Institution, “Liberia: Links Between Peacebuilding, Conflict Prevention and Durable Solution to Displacement” 1 (2014), available at https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Liberia-Links-between-Peacebuilding-Conflict-Prevention-and-Durable-Solutions-to-Displacement-Sept-5-2014-FINAL.pdf.
 Id. See also Human Rights Watch, “Liberia: A Human Rights Disaster” 2-10 (1990), available at http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/liberia1990.pdf.
 Brookings Institution, supra note 1, at i; Aaron Weah, Hopes and Uncertainties: Liberia’s Journey to End Impunity, 6 Int’l J. of Transitional Just. 331, 334-41 (2012).
 Hanau Kabbah, A Guide the Liberian Legal System and Legal Research, GlobaLex, Aug. 2014, http://www.nyulawglobal.org/Globalex/Liberia1.htm.
 Stephen C. Lubkemann et al., Unintended Consequences: Constraint of Customary Justice in Post-Conflict Liberia, in Customary Justice and the Rule of Law in War-Torn Societies 193, 196-97 (Deborah Isser, ed., 2011).
 Weah, supra note 3, at 333.
 Lubkemann et al., supra note 6, at 197; Stephen Ellis, The Mask of Anarchy: The Destruction of Liberia and the Religious Dimension of an African Civil War 52-54 (2nd ed. 2006).
 Lubkemann et al., supra note 6, at 197; Ellis, supra note 9, at 57.
 For example, the Constitution states: “all of our people, irrespective of history, tradition, creed or ethnic back ground are of one common body politic.” Constitution, preamble (1984) (Liber.).
 Lubkemann et al., supra note 6, at 197; Ellis, supra note 9, at 58-59.
 Lubkemann et al., supra note 6, at 197; Human Rights Watch, supra note 2, at 1; Ellis, supra note 9, at 60, 63-64.
 Lubkemann et al., supra note 6, at 198. Interestingly, the conflict that started in 1989 revealed that there is no great animosity towards Americo-Liberians as they were never singled out for persecution at any stage of the fighting. On the contrary, the sentiment has grown that Mandingos, whose ancestors have been in Liberia for two centuries, are not Liberian. This may be attributable to the fact that certain Mandingos hold that their ancestral land is neighboring Guinea. Ellis, supra note 9, at 192.
 Lubkemann et al., supra note 6, at 198; Human Rights Watch, supra note 2, at 1-2.
 Human Rights Watch, supra note 2, at 3; Ellis, supra note 9, at 75-77.
 For an overview of the origins of these factions and their activities, see Ellis, supra note 9, at 94-104
 Advocates for Human Rights, a House with Two Rooms: Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia Diaspora Project 153-54 (2009); African Comm. on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Liberia: Initial and Combined Periodic Reports 1982-2012, 55th Ordinary Session 7 (Nov. 6, 2012), available at http://www.achpr.org/files/sessions/55th/state-reports/1-1982-2012/intial_peroidic_report_eng.pdf.
 Jeremy I. Levitt, The Evolution of Deadly Conflict in Liberia 211-16 (2005).
 Ellis, supra note 9, at 88-89.
 Id; African Comm. on Human and Peoples’ Rights, supra note 18; see also Lubkemann et al., Lubkemann et al., supra note 6, at 198.
 Jim Dube, Resurrecting the Rule of Law in Liberia, 60 Me. L. Rev. 575, 580 (2008).
 Id; Advocates for Human Rights, supra note 18, at 183-84.
 Advocates for Human Rights, supra note 18, at 183-88.
 Lubkemann et al., supra note 6, at 198.
 Advocates for Human Rights, supra note 18, at 194; Editorial, Extraditing Charles Taylor, N.Y. Times (Mar. 21, 2006), http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/21/opinion/extraditing-charles-taylor.html?mcubz=3.
 Comprehensive Peace Agreement Between the Government of Liberia and the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) and Political Parties (Aug.18, 2003), available at http://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/file/resources/collections/peace_agreements/liberia_08182003.pdf [hereinafter Comprehensive Peace Agreement]; Lubkemann et al., supra note 6, at 198.
 Priscilla Hayner, Ctr. for Humanitarian Dialogue & Int’l Ctr. For Transitional Justice, Negotiating Peace in Liberia: Preserving the Possibility for Justice 5 (2007), available at http://ictj.org/sites/default/files/ICTJ-Liberia-Negotiating-Peace-2007-English_0.pdf.
 Id. at 5.
 Advocates for Human Rights, supra note 18, at 194.
 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, supra note 28, at preamble.
 Id. at art. 13.
 Paul James-Allen et al., Int’l Ctr. For Transitional Justice, Beyond the Truth and Reconciliation Commission: Transitional Justice Options in Liberia 18-35 (2010), available at http://www.ictj.org/sites/default/files/ICTJ-Liberia-Beyond-TRC-2010-English.pdf; Leoni Steinl, Child Soldiers as Agents of War and Peace 105 (2017) (noting that most of the TRC’s recommendations have not been implemented). It should be noted that Liberia has taken some steps towards its alternative justice mechanism, the Palava Hut Program, though process is largely untested and lacks jurisdiction over grave human rights abuses. Rosalind Raddatz, Tempering Great Expectations: Peacebuiling and Transitional Justice in Liberia, in Transitional Justice and Peacebuilding on the Ground 178, 191 (Chandra Lekha Sriram et al. eds., 2013). For more about the history and functions of the palava hut processes see Ezekiel Pajibo, Int’l Inst. For Democracy and Electoral Assistance 18-24 (2008), available at http://www.idea.int/publications/traditional_justice/upload/TJM_Liberian_web.pdf. See also News, Int’l Ctr. For Transitional Justice, Ellen Officially Launches Palava Hut Program (Oct. 22, 2013), https://www.ictj.org/news/liberia-ellen-officially-launches-palava-hut-program; Press Release, United Nations Development Programme, Ethnography Forum Kicks off in Bomi (Sept. 17, 2015), http://www.lr.undp.org/content/liberia/en/home/presscenter/articles/2015/09/17/ethnography-forum-kicks-off-in-bomi.html; Augustine T. Tweh, INHCR, UNDP Complete Atonement and Psychosocial Recovery Workshop, Front Page Africa (May 3, 2017), http://www.frontpageafricaonline.com/index.php/news/4068-inhcr-undp-complete-atonement-and-psychosocial-recovery-workshop.
 Liberia, Freedom House, http://www.freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2014/liberia-0#.VEFdWyldUdI (last visited Sept. 21, 2017); Leoni Steinl, supra note 35, at 105.
 Even the TRC’s chairman, Jerome Verdier, a strong proponent of prosecutions, has stated that the profound deficiencies of Liberia’s formal justice system leaves the International Criminal Court [sic] as the best chance to provide legal accountability. Raddatz, supra note 35, at 188.
 See Weah, supra note 3, at 331.
 Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1L-zpvwRew (last visited Sept. 21, 2017).
 Nicolas Cook, Congressional Research Service, Remarks at the Liberia forum sponsored by The Africa Society of the National Summit on Africa and Howard University’s Ralph J. Bunche International Affairs Center (Jan. 20, 2011), available at http://allafrica.com/stories/201101210992.html; Sarah Williams, Hybrid and Internationalised Criminal Tribunals: Selected Jurisdictional Issues (2012).
 Johnny Steinberg, Liberia’s Experiment with Transitional Justice, 109 Afr. Aff. 135, 136 (2009).
 U.S. v. Belfast, 611 F.3d 783 (11th Cir. 2010).
 News, Ruben Carranza, Int’l Ctr. For Transitional Justice, Dutch Court Convicts Arms Dealer for Role in Liberian Atrocities. What Does It Say About Justice for Economic Crime? (May 4, 2017), https://www.ictj.org/news/dutch-court-arms-dealer-liberia-economic-crimes.
 Alleged Liberian Warlord ‘Jungle Jabbah’ Caught After Hiding for Years in the US, Vice News (Apr. 14, 2016), https://news.vice.com/article/liberia-warlord-jungle-jabbah-arrested-philadelphia-pennsylvania-war-crimes-asylum.