Ritualistic Murders, Voodoo and the Rule of Law

Eleven days ago, March 24, I wrote about ritual killings in Lofa County, Liberia, as well as in a number of other countries and the involvement of high ranking people, politicians and rich businessmen. Two days later a high profile ritual murder case was unearthed in Maryland County, involving several high-ranking government officials.

Former Interior Minister and Maryland Superintendent under previous Administrations, and at the moment of his arrest Ambassador-at-Large appointed by President Sirleaf, Dan Morias, former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court and former Maryland County Attorney Cllr Fulton Yancy, together with at least eight other persons, were arrested following a string of ritual murders. They are now in custody in the county capital’s jail, according to the Harper police ‘for protective reasons’. Some sources even report the arrest of as many as nineteen suspected ritual killers.

The circumstances surrounding their arrests caused President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to warn against voodoo justice and raise many questions about the rule of law in Liberia.

Maryland County is notorious for its history of ritualistic killings, one of the most sensational being the ritual killing of Moses Tweh in 1977 for which ultimately seven persons were condemned and publicly executed, among whom a member of the House of Representatives, Allen Yancy, older brother of Fulton Yancy, and Maryland Superintendent James Anderson, son of the Chairman of the True Whig Party, in those days the only legalized political party. Not surprisingly, Marylanders’ past of ritual killings and fears resurfaces, as reported by Tom Kamara in The New Democrat Online. Besides, the famous Liberian journalist presents a chilling report on the interrogation techniques (read: torture) of the Liberian police in the Moses Tweh murder case.

The list of disappeared and ritually murdered people in Maryland County is long, but nobody knows how long. When the Minister of Justice, Christiana Tah, visited the County in the wake of the recent arrests she met with citizens who told her that between 1999 and 2010, 16 people had been reported missing and are believed to be victims of ritualistic killings. The minister acknowledged ‘that there are still lots of unresolved cases of this nature.’ Meanwhile Government has deployed additional and more police officers to Maryland to ensure security in the area.

Cllr Fulton Yancy is accused of killing the 7-month pregnant Tomo Allison and pulling the unborn child out, killing the baby too. The circumstances surrounding the discovery of evidence in his home are astonishing. The Liberia National Police used the services of a witch doctor or voodoo priest who reportedly went into Mr Yancy’s house and with the ‘aid of a young girl’ discovered two bottles of blood and human parts, and the intestines of the unborn child. The woman and child were reportedly killed four months ago. The use of traditional doctors or voodoo priests to solve crimes is not new. President Samuel Doe hired a Kissi voodoo high priest Contabu who was even officially employed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs. It has been reported that citizens of Bong County are now demanding that traditional priests are employed to solve ritualistic murders in their county.

The Harper Police handling of the ritualistic case is increasingly being criticized, both by the media and individuals like Dr. James Elliot, a Liberian pathologist based in the USA. Also President Sirleaf was very outspoken. She was closely involved in the arrests and investigation. She warned local people in Maryland against ‘sassywood’ or voodoo justice.

Cllr Fulton Yancy denies any involvement in the ritual murder of Tomo Allison, her unborn baby and others. So does the other top official arrested, Dan Morias. The latter accused unnamed Liberians of attempting to destroy his ambitions to become a Senator in the forthcoming elections of 2011.

Dan Morias is not an unknown in Liberian politics. The former Superintendent of Maryland County and Interior Minister was a close ally of warlord-president Charles Taylor and also on good terms with Taylor’s successor Guyde Bryant – who hails from Maryland County – and since he was nominated Special Envoy by President Sirleaf I assume that Morias also enjoys (enjoyed??) President Sirleaf’s confidence.

I remember that in 2008 Morias’ name was mentioned at a TRC hearing. Survivors recounted before the Truth and Reconciliation Committee the massacre of 369 civilians in 2003. In that year, militiamen loyal to Charles Taylor rounded up 369 inhabitants of Glaro and massacred them at various locations in River Gee County, which borders Maryland County. The killings, witnesses said, were executed by fighters of the ‘Mountain Lions Brigade’ under the supervision of former Maryland County Superintendent Morias and General William Sumo.

The definition of rule of law is a complicated issue and I will not attempt to provide one here. Nevertheless, a basic principle is that ‘Nobody is guilty unless found guilty after a fair trial.’ But who is meanwhile protecting ordinary people – men, women, children, babies even unborn -their basic human rights, in particular their right to freedom of fear?

Not only in Liberia this basic question remains increasingly unanswered, also in Uganda and South Africa, to name but two countries where new cases of ritual killings continue to emerge, criminals get away with their heinous crimes, and impunity is rather common than exception.

I am afraid the last statement of my March 24 posting is more valid than ever.

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