Arusha, September 19, 2014 (FH) - Martina Johnson, a former rebel commander under Charles Taylor, was arrested in Belgium on Wednesday, suspected of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Liberia's civil war, according to rights groups and international media reports.

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“This landmark case marks the very first time an alleged Liberian perpetrator has been criminally charged for crimes under international law committed in Liberia during the first civil war,” said Civitas Maxima, a Geneva-based legal advocacy group which helped bring the case against her.

The organization said her arrest and investigation was possible because Johnson lives in Belgium.  She was due to appear Friday before a court in Ghent to decide if the arrest warrant is prolonged, reported Belgian broadcaster RTBF.

According to RTBF, Martina Johnson was a key figure in Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL).

She is suspected of participating in mutilation and mass killing in late 1992 during “Operation Octopus”, an infamous NPFL military offensive on Monrovia that left scores of civilians dead. Many civilians were targeted because of their affiliation to certain ethnic groups.

The NPFL launched the first Liberian civil war in 1989, giving rise to violence and human rights abuses that were to last several years.

NPFL leader and former Liberian president Charles Taylor was sentenced in 2012 to 50 years in jail for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in neighbouring Sierra Leone. He was tried by the Special Court for Sierra Leone. 

According to Civitas Maxima, “Since the end of the civil war in 2003 the Liberian authorities made no effort to investigate and prosecute crimes committed over a decade of civil war, which claimed well over 150,000 lives, most of them civilians”.