Liberia: Boakai Omits War Crimes Court in SONA

In his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) yesterday, President Joseph Nyuma Boakai cited lofty interventions in various sectors, including health, education, roads, fiscal accountability, and the fight against drugs and substance abuse. However, one notable topic he failed to address was the contentious subject of establishing the War and Economic Crimes Court (WECC) for Liberia. 

The President had broached the subject in his inaugural address only a week earlier, expressing his administration’s commitment to exploring possibilities for the establishment of the court. The court has been long sought after by many whose families and loved ones lost their lives at the hands of some individuals who now wield incredible political power and economic influence across the country.

“We have decided to set up an office to explore the feasibility for the establishment of War and Economic Crimes Court (WECC) to provide an opportunity for those who bear the greatest responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity to account for their actions in court,” the President said in his inaugural address on January 22. 

He added that his administration intends to seek advice and assistance from the Office of the United Nations Secretary General to ensure that the court, if found feasible, will be in compliance with the highest standards of similar courts everywhere. 

“The Legislature will have its say appropriately in this matter in order to avoid any appearance of vendetta or witch-hunt,” the President said. 

However, on the eve of the SONA, just days after the inaugural address, President Boakai was the subject of snide remarks by Reverend Prince Y. Johnson, who, from the pulpit of his church in Paynesville, claimed that the heat wave attack President Boakai suffered at his inauguration on January 22, was the result of the President using the occasion to renew the country’s commitment to the establishment of the War Crimes Court

Rev. Johnson, a former warlord in the Liberian civil war, is currently serving his third term as Senator of the vote-rich Nimba County. He heavily supported Boakai to win the presidency in the November 2023 runoff election against incumbent candidate George Weah. But it appears he was clearly dissatisfied that President Boakai inserted the issue of the war crimes court in his inaugural address. 

Johnson holds the belief that the Accra Peace Agreement, which set the stage for the end of hostilities in the Liberian civil war, provided amnesty for all perpetrators in the war. Therefore, as far as he is concerned, the government should prioritize development and forget about going back to the ugly past.

Senator Johnson has recommended that the Boakai administration audit the administration of former President George Weah and investigate the mysterious deaths of auditors and others in fiscal and other professional areas of service during the Weah administration. 

Boakai afraid? 

Following the President’s State of the Nation Address, Montserrado County District #8 Representative Yekeh Kolubah expressed his disappointment at Boakai for omitting the issue of war and economic crimes from his address. 

“The President did not talk about the war and economic crimes court — that was wrong. No, he should have talked about it, not because he saw Prince Johnson there and got afraid,” Kolubah told journalists in an interview at the Capitol just minutes following the SONA event. 

“Not targeting a person”

Presidential Press Secretary, Kula V. Fofana, told LNTV ahead of the SONA that President Boakai’s vision for the war and economic crimes court “is not to target an individual. That is the missed message when people talk about the [court], they think it’s targeting an individual. The issue of war and economic crimes court is about accounting for the past,” she said. 

“If you review the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report, you will know that there are lots of recommendations in the report. The war and economic crimes court is part of it, but there is also the issue of memorialization, reparations, and trauma healing. There are people who still feel the impact of the civil war. 

“So, an opportunity to talk about the establishment of the war and economic crimes court is not to say we’re going to grab this person and put them in jail... It’s a broader conversation that needs to happen.” 

Need for wholesome approach

The Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia thinks President Boakai needs to be wholesome in his approach to governance issues rather than segmental.

According to Anderson Miamen, Executive Director, CENTAL, the President not mentioning anything about the war crimes court was unfortunate.

Miamen said while President Boakai has so far completed a week out of his six-year term of office, the war and economic crimes court should not be swept under the carpet.

“I agree that the war and economic crimes court is an important issue. The President not talking about it now is something of concern. He should have said something about it,” CENTAL’s boss said, warning that it is not a good idea to have Liberians wait for another State of the Nation’s Address before Boakai says something about the issue.

Miamen pointed out that Senator Johnson is mixing up things and forgetting about the core issues relative to the establishment of the court.

“Senator Johnson is not proceeding rightfully. We need full accountability not only for the financial and other crimes committed but also for the war and even after the war. This is why we support whatever will bring about the tribunal. We don’t support anything that undermines it. Johnson should understand that everything is important. Things that held us behind should be attended to, and this war and economic crimes court discussion should not be secondary. It is as important as building schools, hospitals, and roads. Accountability for crimes is important to our collective forward march,” he said.

Boakai’s government mantra is dubbed ARREST (Agriculture, Roads, Rule of Law, Education, Sanitation, and Tourism), and it defines the development trajectory he has set for the nation under his administration.

Miamen called on President Boakai to work with a team of well experienced, qualified, and competent people who would help him do a comprehensive review of not only the credentials of those he is nominating for the various positions but also their respective reputations and work history.

He expressed CENTAL’s detest of appointments such as “Cllr. Cooper Kruah who has been accused of corruption and is yet to clear his name.”

According to him, the Justice Minister, who is also the Attorney General of the country and has so much proximity to the President, has to be in good books and stand above fray, more so when he or she is expected to work alongside the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) to prosecute alleged criminals.

One week has elapsed since he took over the administration of affairs of government. The President has yet to complete the nomination of his cabinet, and for the few he has named for senate confirmation, two names, Cllr. Cooper Kruah and Sara Beslow Nyanti remain controversial names so far as the former is accused of corruption in his practice of law while the latter’s academic credentials have been called into question.