Liberia: Court Orders Ex-TRC Commissioner Washington to Pay US$1.5M in Damages

Ms. Taylor has been awarded US$1.5 million by a Court in Monrovia after finding Massa Washington (left) guilty of libel absentia. 

The Civil Law Court 'B' has found Massa Washington, a former commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) guilty of libel and ordered to pay US$1.5 million in damages.

The money is meant for Agnes Revees Taylor, ex-wife of former Liberian President Charles Taylor.

However, defendant Washington was not present for the judgment and had also been missing in action throughout the trial action since she resides in the US. 

As a result, Judge Scheaplor Dunbar found her guilty in absentia and ordered her to pay the plaintiff, Ms. Taylor, US$500,000 for punitive damages and US$1 million for general damages.

The money, according to the Court, is sufficient enough to restore the plaintiff's prestige and reputation and to compensate her for the injury she had sustained as a result of the defendant's libelous statement. 

Judge Dunbar’s decision came after he confirmed and affirmed the unanimous verdict of the petty jury, in April of this year.

“The defendant did not serve as evidenced by the sheriff's return, and so the court granted a request for the issuance of the writ of summons by publications and mailing, in keeping with sections 3.40, and 3.41 of the civil procedure law of Liberia,” Judge Dunbar said.

Cllr. Massaquoi, based on the absence of Ms. Washington applied for judgment by default in keeping with sections 42.1 and 42.6 of the civil procedure law of Liberia, which the Judge accepted.

And after the application was filed, Judge Dunbar requested Ms. Taylor and the case witnesses to take the stand and testify.  

Justifying his decision, Judge Dunbar ruled, “after the four publications were completed, the plaintiff requested a clerk's certificate beyond the statutory period of ten days. 

“The clerk of the court is hereby ordered to prepare a writ of execution to be placed in hands of the sheriff for service of the defendant to enforce the judgment and is hereby so declared,” the judge ruled. “The clerk is also ordered to prepare a Bill of cost against the defendant to be taxed.” 

The case came as a result of an article Ms. Washington authored and published, which carried the headline “Attacks Against GJRP's Hassan Bility are Coordinated, Purposeful and Should Be Condensed”. 

In her article, she claimed that “Ms. Taylor  orchestrated a smear campaign against Hassan Bility aimed at making him pay for being part of a process that saw her lose her opulent lifestyle in the UK as well as being incarcerated in a British prison for more than two years.”

Ms. Taylor was arrested on June 2, 2017, in London by the Metropolitan Police and charged with torture on the grounds of her suspected involvement with the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NFPL) rebel group, which was led by her ex-husband, during the First Liberian Civil War,] from 1989 to 1996.

However, on December 6, 2019, the Central Criminal Court (The Old Bailey) in London decided to dismiss the charges against Ms. Taylor. The Court's decision came after the UK Supreme Court confirmed, in a historic judgment on November 13, 2019, that members of non-State armed groups may be prosecuted for crimes of torture under section 134(1) of the UK Criminal Justice Act 1988, thus legally paving the way for the case to proceed to trial.

The UK Supreme Court then sent the case back to the Central Criminal Court to consider further evidence from the prosecution's expert and apply the legal standard confirmed by the Supreme Court to the facts of the case.

In order for a member of a non-State armed group to be prosecuted for torture, the group must have been exercising “governmental functions." The Central Criminal Court ruled that the evidence presented by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) failed to prove that the NPFL had the requisite authority over the relevant territory at the time the crimes in question were committed. Therefore, the Court dismissed the case.

 However, he Court noted that “there is prima facie evidence that she held a high rank in the NPFL and (…) carried out, whether personally, or by giving orders, or by acquiescing in, the acts of torture (…) which took place in, or on the border of, Nimba County." Thus, Ms. Taylor was not found innocent.

Civitas Maxima and the Monrovia-based Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP) provided the initial information to the UK authorities which led the Metropolitan Police to conduct an investigation into Ms. Taylor for several years. UK law allows the CPS in these circumstances to return to court if further evidence of government-like control is gathered.

Months after the case had been dismissed, Ms. Taylor returned to Liberia. Although she had claimed asylum in the UK, her application to settle there permanently was refused under a Home Office rule that there were serious reasons to consider that she had, amongst other things, committed a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity.

However, in Liberia, she stated in a press conference on July 27, 2020 that it was “one of the misconceptions that was out there” that she was “looking for asylum” in the UK, and claimed that she “got asylum in the UK in 2007.

In her written press statement she added “I have returned home to the land of my birth to also contribute to the building of our nation. I am a Liberian with a deep love for my country and people."

Meanwhile, Ms. Taylor in the lawsuit claimed that defendant Washington published fake information with sinister intent to injure her hard-earned reputation after the said information was broadcast and circulated on the internet and print media.

She further argued that defendant Washington was not satisfied with her diabolical campaign to besmear and defame her good reputation, with actual malice and diabolical schemes to ruin her good reputation.

Ms. Taylor added that due to the defendant's damaging publications, she endured reputation damage and "mental anguish and humiliation to the effect that people looked upon her as one who does not portray or possess the kind of moral rectitude to be an international public servant and to transact business with the public, for which damages must be paid because the publications are found wanting, contrary to the law. 

Madam Taylor is the executive director of the Liberia Institute of Policy Studies and Research, since May 3, 2021.

She worked with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) as a permanent representative and minister plenipotentiary at Liberia Permanent Mission to the IMO, establishing a career in law and public policy with more than 20 years of work experience in both the public and private services in Liberia and abroad, with no record of criminal offense or conviction.