Former Child Soldier who Testified in Martina Johnson’s Trial in Belgium Fears Returning Home

Noah Jessey, a Liberian residing in Belgium fears returning back to his home country Liberia due to war trauma, and, his recent account as a witness referred to by some Liberians living in that European country.

Jessey was a child when he was conscripted into the rebel faction of former President Charles Taylor who is serving 50 years sentence for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Sierra Leone during that country’s decade long civil conflict.

Taylor, the leader of the former National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) rebel faction, is also noted in Liberia for leading an array of commissions of atrocities including murders, sexual exploitations, among others. The NPFL entered Liberia on December 24, 1989 and waged a war against former President Samuel K. Doe.

Doe was later captured and brutally killed on September 9, 1990 by Prince Johnson and his Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL), a breakaway faction from Charles Taylor’s NPFL.

Jessey’s show up at the court to testify in the Martina Johnson’s case is said to have come following some Liberians residing in Belgium exposing him as a former fighter in Liberia who was a member of the NPFL rebel faction that Johnson served as one of its frontline commanders.

Civitas Maxima, a Geneva-based legal advocacy group led the campaign that consummated into the arrest of Johnson in September 2014.

Speaking from Antwerp, Belgium, Jessey narrated that he was a minor who was compelled in 1990 to join the revolution in Liberia which led to more than two hundred fifty-thousand deaths, several millions of United States Dollar properties damaged and looted.

“I have been helping the law enforcement and investigation teams here to point out former fighters in Liberia who have committed some serious war crimes. I did not do that to prove that I hated anyone or I was better but I had to do because telling the truth here is very important to everything. I could not afford to lie to protect anyone,” Jessey said.

About him, he expressed regret for taking part in the war as a combatant and asked for forgiveness on grounds that he was innocent and all too young in age to have made any independent decision.

Jessey was born in 1978 and he was barely 15 years old when he was recruited by the NPFL to fight.

“Imagine my role here in pointing out those people who led the war in different ways. Think about my safety if I should come to Liberia now. Agnes Talyor, and many other people who were connected to the war and live in Liberia or the family members of those former combatants I pointed out here may bundle me up one day or overnight and that could be the end of me. I will go back home but I don’t believe that my safety is guaranteed now,” he said.

He testified in the Martina Johnson’s case in 2015 and that case, after long legal deliberations, came to an end in 2016 with Ms. Johnson receiving an acquittal.

Jessey lives in Antwerp and he has been a resident of Belgium since 2005, two years after the Liberian civil war ended with former President Taylor taking asylum in Nigeria and a democratic government instituted after a pluralistic democratic process.

He called on well-meaning organizations, including the Belgium state actors to consider his innocence then as a child soldier and pardon him for any wrong he did.

“I was a child and I knew nothing much. I did not take part into the war willingly. We were forced to accept or lose our lives then. We had to do what we did to survive,” he concluded.

Although the Liberian civil war has ended since 2003, there are still wounds and many families live in the country with the trauma developed from the brutal killings of their loved ones.

Many hope that a tribunal is established one day, mainly following the conclusion of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)’s investigations and report on all of the happenings as of 1979 Rice Riot incident but President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, now in her concluding years of her second and final term is yet to act upon the TRC report.

President Sirleaf too is on record through the TRC investigation for admitting to giving US$10,000 to Charles Taylor during the war, although she filmed her gesture as one intended for humanitarian reasons.