-Say, President, Legislators are playing delay-tactics not to establish war and economic crimes court
By Hannah N. Geterminah, with Journalists for Human Rights
The quests for justice through the establishment of a war and economic crimes court continue to reverberate across the country with calls for those who plunged the country into chaos to bear the consequences of their actions.
The calls for perpetrators of heinous crimes during the country’s 14 years of war are more intense now than ever before as advocates expressed disappointments in the George Weah administration for what they termed as lack of interest in seeking justice for the over 200,000 people who lost their lives and hundreds of thousands who still bear the scars of the conflict.
Justice advocates, many of whom have staged protests and presented petitions to both the Legislative and Executive branches of government, said President Weah and members of the 54th Legislature are playing delay tactics with the implementation of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that recommends the prosecution of those who carried out mayhems during the civil unrest.
Those in the vanguard for justice have been looking for every opportunity to bring pressure to bear on the government for the establishment of a war and economic crimes court to prosecute wrongdoers, and the 2021 celebration of International Justice Day provided yet another platform for justice activists to raise their voices.
One of those who graced this event was a member of the defunct TRC, Massa Washington. In her words, Liberia’s ugly past will continue to haunt the country until perpetrators are made to face justice and those found guilty be punished for atrocities committed
Madam Washington, like many others, knows that the failure to address violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law in the past has helped perpetuate civil conflicts and further abuse, not just here, but in many other places.
She described the senate’s recent decision calling for the establishment of a Transitional Justice Commission (TJC) as illegal and a violation of article 10 of the Act that was legislated to implement the Accra Comprehensive Peace Accra (CPA).
The president of the Liberia national bar association, Cllr. Tiawon Gongloe, could not agree more. The Senate’s action also received a barrage of criticisms from scores of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and the public. Some termed it as a deliberate plan to undermine Liberians overarching quest for justice.
The CPA’s cardinal purpose was to provide a forum that will address issues of impunity and an opportunity for both the victims and perpetrators of human rights violations to share their experiences to get a clear picture of the past to facilitate genuine healing and reconciliation.
“What happened in the senate is illegal. It was a legal gathering of illegal activities,” Madam Washington alarmed.
She said with such action, the senators failed to represent those pregnant women whose stomachs were opened, kids that were rapped, and those that were recruited as child soldiers
Article 10 of the TRC report bequeaths unto the presidency the responsibility to implement the report. It mandates the presidency to implement the recommendations.
However, the Senate recently called on President Weah to set up a TJC to analyze and investigate the findings of the report. This is despite the overwhelming consensus among Liberian for the court.
The TRC report contains major findings on the root causes of the conflict, the impact of the conflict on women, children and the generality of the Liberian society; responsibility for the massive commission of Gross Human Rights Violations (GHRV), and violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL), International Human Rights Law (IHRL) as well as Egregious Domestic Law Violations (EDLV).
The Senate’s recommendation to the President was in response to his September 12, 2019, request to them to advise him on how to proceed with the implementation of the TRC report. The Senate said it reviewed the President’s request under the framework and scope of the CPA, which was signed by all warring factions and political parties on August 12, 2003.
The Senate, however, recommended the TJC to, among other things, determine whether the TRC fully complied with its mandates, such as a face-to-face meeting between perpetrators of crimes and other offences and their respective victims;
to analyze credibility/legitimacy issues surrounding the report; to examine the effect of Liberia’s accession to the Rome Statute in 2004 (after the war had ended) on the establishment of a war crimes court, and for the to President offer an official apology for the roles the presidency played in the crises.
But Like many advocates, the former TRC commissioner said the President’s request and the Senators’ recommendations are delay tactics intended to deny Liberians justice. President Weah has barely two years to elections and many believe that all of the senate’s recommendations cannot be implemented before 2023.
“I need to be on the ground to speak out because being silent now when Liberia needs us most is like we agree with what is happening,” Madam Washington, who just returned to the country stated.
According to her, undoing the TRC means former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf 12-year presidency and the creation of institutions such as the Independent National Commission on Human Rights; the Governance Committee, and the General Auditing Commission—all preconditions that were listed in the CPA as mandatory institutions—must also be undone.
This means there is a likelihood of a legal tussle if President Weah implements the lawmakers’ proposals, which LNBA head, Cllr. Gongloe said undermines the integrity of the TRC report.
The legal body has been calling for the full implementation of the TRC recommendations.
The group recently presented a petition to the legislature to see the need to establish the court urgently. The LNBA, along with other CSOs, had earlier planned to lead a mass peaceful protest to pressure the government for swift actions but had to cut off the strike action due to the spike in Covid-19 cases in the country.
Due to government reluctance to set up the court, Cllr. Gongloe and other campaigners are taking matters into their hands—navigating channels through which Liberians can get justice.
An Appeal to UN
At the International Justice Day celebration, Cllr. Gongloe appealed to the UN to help set up a Justice mechanism that will enable the establishment of the war crimes court.
Addressing the ceremony held under the theme; “Promoting Justice and Accountability for Past and Future Crimes in Liberia,” he noted that the establishment of the court lies heavily on the shoulders of the International community.
“Liberia is powerless to set up a justice mechanism because the leaders are full of greed and cheats. Only the UN United can save us,” he said expressing frustration.
The LNBA president call is about the UN Security Council resolution that brought into being the war crimes court in Rwanda to address the aftermath of 1994 the genocide.
He does not believe that the government has the political will to establish the court and the judicial independence to prosecute those that stand to face justice.
“It is impossible that this government will set up the court. Can’t we see that the justice system has been politicized?” Cllr. Gongloe said.
He asked further, “How do you expect President Weah to act when those around him including his advisers are those who committed war crimes in Liberia?”
Cllr. Gongloe described as diversionary tactics, the President’s quest to set up a TJC when he does not want to solve or address crucial problems facing the Liberian people. “This needs to stop,” he stated.
“The President is acting like a shocks absolver to take pressure on his head but does not have time either plan to act when there is a problem.
The President of the Federation of Liberian Youth (FLY), Amos Williams, in an emotional remark, also requested the UN to help ensure justice for the young people.
“Many of our young brothers and sisters have been condemned to the streets. They were used as child soldiers, some were drugged and some raped—a situation that led many of them being wayward now,” Williams said, adding, “Those who took the young people future away should be brought to justice.”
For the Executive Director of Liberia Massacre Survivor Association, Peterson Sonyah, what happened during the war cannot be swept under the carpet. “I survived a Massacre but lost my father and other family members. There should be justice for them,” he said.
Meanwhile, many had looked upon the appearance of former President Charles Taylor before Special Court for Sierra Leone as an important step forward in the fight against impunity with the belief that his transfer would have set the stage for Liberia to tackle its gross injustice.
But justice remains elusive for victims and survivors nearly 20 years since the notorious NPFL strongman, who led countless atrocities against his compatriots and elsewhere in the sub-region, departed Liberia.