-- Joining views: Allan White, Bishop Kortu Brown, Jerome Verdier, Massa Washington, as Senate solicit views on TRC VS its TJC recommendation
Former Vice President Joseph N. Boakai and Alexander B. Cummings, political leader of the Alternative National Congress, have been invited by the Senate to give their opinions on the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report.
The Senate’s invitation to the opposition politicians, along with 12 others, comes after public backlash over its decision to recommend to President George Weah of their preference to set up a Transitional Justice Commission (TJC) to perform several tasks as recommended by the erstwhile Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The TRC called for the establishment of a war and economic crimes court to prosecute perpetrators and address the legacy of the 14-year civil war that killed an estimated 250,000 people and displaced more than a million -- a suggestion in which the Senate, which has in its membership at least one warlord, appeared not to be interested.
But after public outcry, the Senate has decided to solicit the views and opinions of politicians, lawyers, experts, civil society organizations, and some former commissioners of the TRC, regarding its decision to call for the setup of the TJC.
“The Liberian Senate, in continuation of the debate and public hearing on its recommendation to the President on the implementation of the TRC recommendations, has invited some experts and stakeholders to appear and give their opinions,” a statement from the Senate said on Thursday, July 1.
According to the Senate, the hearing of expanded experts and stakeholders will run from Monday, July 5 through 14, 2021, in the Annex Chambers of the Senate.
The ANC political leader and Cllr. Arthur Johnson are expected to appear before the Senate plenary one on July 5, 2021, while the former Vice President and Debay Sayndee, Director of the Kofi Annan Institute for Conflict Transformation, University of Liberia and representatives of the Liberian National Bar Association will appear on July 7, 2021, at noon.
The expected appearance of Cummings and of Boakai, will happen a few days after Solicitor General Syrennius Cephus, informed the Senate of his support for the establishment of the TJC to handle the TRC report rather than a war and economic crimes court.
Cllr. Cephus, who earlier informed the Senators that his remark was not an official position of the President Weah-led government, argued that the 1986 Constitution of the Republic of Liberia has to be amended in order to pave the way for the establishment of the court.
“We all know the socio-economic impediment and the processes that occasioned the final report of the TRC, the constitutional challenges bordering on due process and the question of the full implementation was left unaddressed,” Cephus said.
He added “My position on this is that the Transitional Justice Commission is indeed the better forum to be able to carry out this work. The TRC was not a Supreme Court or any court of appeal where descending or conclusiveness of a judgment is based on majority opinion.
“Liberia’s mere commitment to treaty obligations does not constitute parts of the laws of Liberia. Even after ratification of a treaty where it becomes law, it becomes subject and subordinate to the Constitution and can be reviewed by Article 2 of the Liberian Constitution,” Cephus said.
In his argument, he said that the TRC was not meant to be a court where Commissioners of the Commission would have provided dissenting opinions but a platform for national reconciliation and healing.
Cllr. Cephus added that the creation of the Court in question would require amendments to Articles 2, 50, 54, 56 of the 1986 constitutions.
What’s in the Senate Report
In their recommendation, the Senate leadership informed President George Weah that the establishment of such a commission is necessary to determine whether the TRC recommendations have not been fully and timely implemented.
The Senate argued that the transitional justice commission, when established, will examine the effect of the August 2003 Act of the Legislature, which granted general amnesty to all participants in the civil crisis, a major obstacle to the prosecutions of warlords.
The commission, the Senate said, will then determine if the TRC commissioners comply with the mandate such as the face-to-face meeting with perpetrators of crimes and other offenses and their respective victims in light of allegations from some former warlords that the TRC never contacted them.
“The mandate of the TJC, when established, will also include analyzing credibility and legitimacy issues surrounding the final report of the TRC in respect of the fact that four of the Commissioners had serious issues with the report and consequently, two of the commissioners did not sign the final report but instead presented a dissenting report,” the Senate report said.
“The TJC will also examine the effect of the ratification, assertion of Liberia to the Rome Statute in 2004 after the end of the civil crisis on the establishment of the war crimes court,” the report said.
The 24-page report from the Senate comes nearly two years after President Weah asked the Legislature to advise him on the implementation of the TRC's recommendations which, among other things, called for the setting up of a war crimes court.
During Liberia’s armed conflicts from 1989-96 and 1999-2003, Liberians suffered widespread violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, such as mass killings, rape and other forms of sexual violence, summary executions, mutilation and torture, and use of child combatants.
The TRC, which operated between 2006 and 2009, recommended creating a war crimes court to try those responsible for grave crimes committed. Many of the TRC’s recommendations, including for the war crimes court, have never been carried out.
But in the last two years, Liberians have held marches to campaign for the war crimes court and have petitioned the Legislature to carry out the TRC’s recommendations. These marches gained the support of the Liberian Bar Association, the National Traditional Chiefs Council, and other prominent high profile Liberians, and civil society groups.
Meanwhile, the Senate has disclosed that on July 8, 2021, Bishop Kortu K. Brown, President of the Liberian Council of Churches; andCharles B. Coffey, President of the Press Union of Liberia will appear for their expert opinions; while, Jerome Verdier, former Chairman of the TRC; and Oscar Bloh, chairman of the Election Coordinating Committee (ECC) will be appearing on Monday, July 12, 2021, at 12 Noon.
The Senate further said that on July 13, 2021, members of the National Muslim Council of Liberia will join Alan White, former Prosecutor of the Sierra Leone Special Court at 12 Noon for further hearings which will be followed by questions from the Senators. On Wednesday, July 14, 2021, the National Chairman of the Coalition for Democratic Change, Mulbah K. Morlu and Madam Massa Washington, a former member of the TRC will also appear.