Martina Johnson was born in 1970 and is Liberian. Johnson was the commander of The National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) rebel group during Liberia’s first civil war, which took place from 1986 to 1996.
This rebel group, which was led by Charles Taylor, was attempting to overthrow then President Samuel K. Doe in order to take control of the country. On 6 September 1990, President Doe was captured and tortured; he died on 9 September 1990.
The NPFL is accused of having committed many crimes throughout the duration of the civil war. These crimes were committed against civilians and the opposition, and included sexual violence and murders, as well as the enlistment of child soldiers.
As a member of the NPFL, Johnson is suspected of having participated in and/or have been involved in many different crimes, including being suspected of participating in, or even having organised, “Operation Octopus”. Octopus was the name given to the attack on the capital city of Monrovia carried out during October 1992 with the aim of getting Charles Taylor into power.
Five American nuns were killed during Operation Octopus. These nuns were members of the “Adorers of the Blood of Christ” order – a Catholic order based in St Louis in the USA – who were acting as missionaries in Liberia but were also carrying out humanitarian work. Johnson is suspected of being involved in their deaths.
Operation Octopus was stopped by the ECOMOG (The Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group) and groups that opposed Charles Taylor, including the ULIMO (United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy), which is made up of supporters of Samuel K. Doe. This defeat, the arms embargo imposed by the United Nations Security Council, as well as further defeats meant that the NPFL had to change strategy.
In July 1993 a peace agreement, which made provisions for general elections, was signed. However, between 1994 and 1995, fighting between the different groups continued. The Abuja Agreement signed on 20 August 1995 was soon violated. In 1996 a new Abuja agreement was signed in the framework of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). This put an end to the first civil war. Charles Taylor, who was the leader of the rebellion movement was then finally elected and came to power in 1997.
Taylor put Johnson in charge of the security of the international airport of Monrovia, the capital of the country. She held this position for six years, until the beginning of the second civil war, which forced Taylor to flee the country. Johnson wasn’t heard of again until 2009, when her name appeared in a list published by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia. This list consisted of the names of the most prolific criminals from the first civil war in Liberia. Despite this, Johnson was not worried: she emigrated and is now living in Ghent in Belgium with her husband, a Belgian with Liberian roots
In 2012, a Belgian lawyer presented a case to the Belgian court on behalf of three Liberian victims, who still live in Liberia.
For this reason, Belgian police arrested Martina Johnson in Ghent on 17 September 2014.
She is suspected of having participating in and even having lead Operation Octopus (an attack on the capital city, Monrovia) over the course of 1992, which would mean she was involved in many crimes against humanity committed during this time.
Johnson was put under house arrest and has to wear an electronic bracelet whilst awaiting her court date.
To this day, Johnson still denies these allegations.
The investigation is ongoing, and several procedural acts were undertaken throughout 2020. An international rogatory letter is expected to be executed in Liberia.
This is the first time anyone has been indicted for crimes committed during the Liberian civil war.
Martina Johnson was one of Charles Taylor’s very few female personal guards.