Liberia’s Push for War Crimes Court Gains Traction in U.S.

Beth van Schaack and Adama K Dempster

Since US Ambassador for War Crimes, Beth Van Schaack, received the petition document from Liberian human rights advocate Adama K. Dempster (pictured) in May 2023., there has been renewed calls from Liberians at home and abroad for the establishment of a War and Economic Crimes Court in the country.

Liberia’s civil society organizations, justice campaigners, war victims and survivors, and the human rights community have joined forces to push for the establishment of a War and Economic Crimes Court in the country. Following an initial resolution by civil society organizations submitted to the United States government officials in Washington, DC in 2023 by human rights advocate Adama K. Dempster, a parallel resolution calling for the United States’ support for the court has been endorsed by several prominent Liberians based in the U.S., under the banner of the Coalition for Justice in Liberia. 

Those who endorsed the Coalition’s resolution include Attorney Charles Sunwabe, Executive Director of the Coalition for Justice in Liberia; Ms. Massa Washington, Former Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner; Ms. Hawa Metzger, Executive Director of the Lady Justice Center of Liberia; Mr. Emmanuel Savice, Executive Director Liberians United for Justice and Accountability; and Mr. Bernard Goah, Executive Director Operation We Care for Liberia.

The call for a War Crimes Court stems from Liberia's long and brutal civil war, which claimed the lives of over 250,000 people and displaced millions more. The resolution argues that not a single perpetrator of these crimes has been held accountable, and that a War Crimes Court is necessary to deliver justice to the victims and survivors.

The resolution also highlights the United States' unique connection to Liberia, noting that Liberia was founded by freed men and former slaves from the United States, and has been a major U.S. ally for decades. The resolution urges the United States to leverage its experience in establishing courts to support Liberia in setting up a War and Economic Crimes Court.

The Liberian government has already taken some steps towards accountability, but the resolution argues that these efforts have not been enough. The resolution points to similar actions taken in other African countries, such as Guinea, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Central African Republic, as examples of how a War Crimes Court can help to deliver justice and promote reconciliation.

US Ambassador for War Crimes Beth Van Schaack has pledged support for the victims of Liberia's civil war, and the resolution expresses hope that the United States will also support the establishment of a War Crimes Court. Following a visit to Liberia in early March 2024, she lauded President Joseph Boakai for his expressed commitment to the establishment of the War and Economic Crimes Court in Liberia, and the subsequent endorsement of a resolution by the House of Representatives of the 55th Legislature of the Republic of Liberia, for the establishment of the Court.

The passage of a resolution by the Liberian House of Representatives is a significant step forward for the push for a War Crimes Court. However, the resolution still needs to be approved by the Liberian Senate before it can be implemented.

If the resolution is ultimately successful, it would be a major victory for Liberia's civil society and the victims of the country's civil war. A War Crimes Court would help to hold perpetrators of war crimes accountable, deter future atrocities, and promote healing and reconciliation in Liberia.