Nine of the 73 representatives signed a resolution seeking the establishment of a war crimes court for Liberia at a conference for lawmakers held in Paynesville last week, Representative Rustonlyn Suacoco Dennis of Montserrado District #4 has said.
Rep. Dennis, who chairs the House’s Committee on Claims and Petitions, did not name the signatories to the Resolution for the Establishment of War Crimes Court in Liberia (H. Res. 001). However, their signing of the resolution, drafted by the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA) in April this year is the first ever move by members of the Legislature to support a future war crimes court in the country.
The resolution still needs at least 40 more votes to be passed by the House before it is sent to the Senate, according to the House’s rule requiring a two-thirds majority vote.
“Just within a day we were able to get nine signatures, while we are on break,” Rep. Dennis informed the conference delegates, noting, “Just imagine when we would have resumed session, we will get other representatives to sign,” Dennis added to the applause from conference delegates.
The TRC report listed a number of lawmakers to be prosecuted for crimes they allegedly committed, including Representative George Boley of Grand Gedeh, Senator Prince Johnson of Nimba and Senator Dan Morias of Maryland County. Even House Speaker Bhofal Chambers has voiced opposition to the court.
Rep. Dennis said the executive branch of government has influenced the legislature not to be independent, but she remains optimistic that both the House and the Senate would pass the resolution.
“We consider this quest for the establishment of a war crimes court very cardinal for ending impunity in this country,” she said, noting, “I am sure we will get the 49 signatures.”
A number of Liberians have been tried, and indicted in connection to crimes committed during the country’s war in Europe and the North America.
Ten years ago, Liberia’s TRC recommended the court be set up, but that has not happened so far. President George Weah has shown no political will for the court like his predecessor Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and previous legislatures have also shown no interest to establish the court.
The United Nations has given Liberia only up to July next year to address crimes committed during its civil war, one Africa’s bloodiest conflicts, which lasted from 1989 to 2003. And if the resolution passes both houses of the Legislature, President Weah would be under pressure to sign it into law.
The Resolution calls on the President to support the establishment of the court, and urges him to seek the support of the international community and civil society organizations for the trials of accused individuals to be free and fair as well as held in accordance with international standard.
It also calls for a full implementation of the recommendations of the TRC, which recommended the erection of memorial for victims and reparations for survivors.
The conference was a collaboration of the Secretariat for the Establishment of a War Crimes Court in Liberia (SEWACCOL), Civitas Maxima, University of Nottingham and the Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP).
The House’s Committees on Claims and Petitions, Judiciary, Good Governance and Government Reform, Ways Means and Finance Development, and Peace and Reconciliation requested for the conference, according to a news release by Civitas Maxima.
Other lawmakers present at the conference promised to sign the resolution.
“We will sign this resolution and we will take it from county to county on the floor to make our colleagues to express publicly how they feel about this burning national issue that needs to be dealt with to make us be represented among the comity of nations as a civilized country,” remarked Representative Larry P. Younquoi (#8), who has been one of the court’s staunchest supporters. He said and other lawmakers would push the resolution to a referendum if the Senate refuses to pass it.
Aaron Weah, a member of SEWACCOL and the country director of Search for Common Ground, made a presentation about wartime massacre across the country that moved lawmakers attending the conference.
He referenced the TRC report, which recorded 32 massacre sites in Lofa, 30 in River Cess, 24 in Grand Cape Mount County and 18 in Gbarpolu County. These four, according to Mr. Weah, are the highest among massacre sites in other counties across the country.
Representatives Beyan D. Howard Lofa County (#5), and Joseph N. Sonwarbi of Nimba (#3) upon Weah’s presentation, requested that copies bearing the massacre sites be produced and distributed among members of the House of Representatives and Senate to help them make an informed decision on the court.
“Some of us are just getting to know this information, and I believe most of some of our colleagues under the influence of the Executive [who are] opposing this resolution do not know,” Representative Howard charged. “When the information is distributed and they see what happened in their counties, they will see reason to agree with us,” Rep. Howard said.
There were also calls for the media and civil society to get involved.
“Civil society organizations and the media should help in this process to provide awareness to the people of our districts so that the people will know and share their views on the horrible massacres that took place in their areas, because they are not aware of these things,” said Representative Vincent Willie, II of Grand Bassa County (#4). “By that, they will fall in support of justice and will not oppose war crimes court establishment here,” said Representative Willie.”
Representative J. Fonati Kofa of Grand Kru (#2) also expressed support for the resolution, but said that it should be drafted in line with the Constitution to protect both victims and perpetrators.
This story was a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project. The donor has no say in the story’s content.