A former commander in a rebel Liberian army whose alleged war crimes were first exposed in Maclean’s is under investigation by Canada’s Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Program, a collaborative unit consisting of the RCMP, the Department of Justice, the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, and the Canada Border Services Agency.
Bill Horace fought in the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), a militia founded and led by Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia who was recently sentenced to 50 years in prison by a United Nations-backed war crimes court. In March 2010, Maclean’s published evidence gathered from alleged eyewitnesses and former associates of Charles Taylor and Bill Horace, as well as witness statements given to Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission—all implicating Bill Horace and men under his command in horrendous atrocities. Horace arrived in Canada about a decade ago and is today living freely in Toronto. When first contacted by Maclean’s in 2009, Horace admitted membership in the NPFL but rebuffed or ignored subsequent attempts to interview him. None of the allegations against him has been proven in court.
One of Horace’s alleged victims, a man named John Harmon, told Maclean’s about a day in 1993 when Horace and men under his commander confronted Harmon and other hungry civilians who were foraging for oil palm fruit at an abandoned plantation near the town of Pleebo, close to the border with Ivory Coast.
“They came and accused us of looting and therefore said we should be executed,” said Harmon. “Twenty-one were executed in all fashions. They were shot. They were beheaded. Some were nailed to the cross, like my brother, Steve. He was nailed to the cross and then later shot.”
Harmon said the victims took a long time to die. “We cried. We tried to talk to [Horace]. People came, some of our relatives came, and they were on the spot begging him while the executions were going on. It is a horrible thing to talk about.”
Harmon said he was saved by the intervention of another NPFL commander named Turtle Bone. His story was corroborated by two witnesses who gave statements to Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission—though one of the two recalled that the alleged massacre occurred in 1992.
“Everyone around here used to go to the big palm nut farm to cut palm and make oil to eat and sell,” one witness told the commission. “Gen. Bill Horace and his men were passing. They entered the plantation and accused us of looting the place. He then ordered his men to arrest people. They started chasing us, and everybody was running all over the place. They then started firing at us. I first saw one woman fall. The bullet hit her on the head. Her husband was crying. Then one of the other fighters shot him also.”
Under Canada’s Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act, anyone who has committed gross human rights violations can be criminally charged, regardless of their legal status in Canada or where the alleged atrocities took place. An individual can be held accountable for crimes he personally committed, or for those carried out by subordinates.
In practice, though, criminal charges are exceedingly rare in war crimes cases in Canada. It is much more common to deport suspected war criminals than charge them. The standard of proof is lower, as are the financial costs involved. Since the act was passed more than a decade ago, two people have been prosecuted and one convicted.
The following witness statements referring to Bill Horace were given to Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Maclean’s has redacted names and some personal information to protect those who made the statements. One of the witness statements could not be posted online in an easily legible form. Maclean’s has transcribed the relevant passage (image 7).
[gallery2 columns=”4″ exclude=”270272,270273″]