9 Lawmakers Sign Resolution for War Crimes Court

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Rep. Dennis with Reps. Sonwarbi and Domah shortly after the ceremony.

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.

10 COMMENTS

  1. Life is just too good right now for the present government under the ruling clique of President Weah to consider a World Crimes Court.

    The biggest fear is that the formation of this kind of court will force this government to pause a little bit and begin to reflect not only on past atrocities, but on many of the big and intractable issues like good governance; transparency and accountability, and the cancer of corruption that has fast eroded the overall confidence of the people under this regime.

    This is what British statesman, Oliver Wendell Holmes, once meant when he was referring to the folly and comical behavior of politicians. He said, “For politicians are like little children, who march before a parade of elephants, pretending to control the huge animals.” Unfortunately, it is sad to say that this is exactly the norm under this regime. For Truly, I do not think that the president has fathomed the deep implications of what the continual ignoring of this very grave issue means for his government and the nation.

    Instead, he and his followers are mesmerized and captured in the lure of power usurpation, arrogance, and the unstoppable abuse of the nation’s resources.

  2. I took off on a flight this morning from Airport Douglas in Charlotte for New Jersey. Travelling along with me was my 6-year old son; it was his first flight since birth.

    And as the plane was ascending, I began to notice an air of curiosity about him. He observed that the ground beneath us was becoming narrower and narrower and the high rise buildings and other iconic images were becoming less visible.

    To my utmost surprise, he turned to me and said, “Dad, I can’t see the buildings anymore. Why?” He asked. I turned to him and responded, “Son the higher the plane climbs, the lesser is the visibility below.”

    Relating this story to the state of affairs in our country, it is difficult if not impossible, for the present core of leaders to look down and try to imagine the misery and sufferings of the ordinary people down here. Why? In the ordinary Liberian English we say, “They’re way up there O!” In other words, they have reached what they perceived as the highest altitude of success; and consequently it has blinded them to see the true realities faced by the ordinary folks on the ground. Worst, they lack the vision, courage, and the willingness to imagine others.

    The phrase, “World Crimes Court” sparks horror and fear to the establishment because it conjures associations of placing enforcement mechanisms to stop the abuse of power in Liberia; respect the rule of law; stop impunity; and practice good governance.

    It is hard for one to see down here, when the person is up there!

  3. Mr. Price, I could never have put it any better than the way you so beautifully put it. I will just leave it at that. you read my mind. thank you.

  4. War Crime Court was never too expedient or needed for the past 12 years of good governance (or so-called?) under Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf but suddenly it has become a priority under the Weah regime. Why the necessity for the establishment of War Crime Court become an urgency now, what happened to this urge during the past 5 or 10 years. Those calling pushing the urgency for this Court were sleeping?

    Those of you asking for the establishment of the War Crime Court as an urgency of now, WILL YOUR COLONIAL MASTERS IN THE USA tell us how Taylor left the jail in the USA and will they be willing to bring forward all those that aided his extrication from prison? The blood of the innocent people killed in the 14 years civil conflict is upon their hands, least to mention that they aided and abetted Taylor. The same reason he’s in jail today, for aiding and abetting the war in Sierra Leone to purport his dangerous scheme of blood diamond smuggling, gun running and money laundering.

    If they are not willing to bring forward all participants who aided and abetted Taylor, Ellen and Woiweyou in the formation of the NPFL in the USA, then why waste millions of dollars to establish a kangaroo court just to foster selective justice? The NPFL was created in the USA, so why not first point and call out all those Americans that aided our champions of terror and destruction.

    Just to cite a historical reflection, this same USA that thrive on the values of democracy, did not condemn Samuel Doe for staging a bloody coup against the Tolbert regime, but rather the USA was the very first country to recognize the military junta of Doe. So what signal was the US government sending to the world, that bloody coup-de-tat was another form of democracy?

  5. Since the Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC) considered events from 1979 to 2003, why is there a focus on the war era alone ?

    Are we implying that the executions of 1980, along with the arrests, imprisonments without trial do not matter ?

    Are we implying that the attack on Charles Julu’s home during the Nimba raid doesn’t matter ?

    Are we implying that the death of D. K. Wonsehleay doesn’t matter ?

    Are we implying that the 1984 raid on the UL campus doesn’t matter ?

    Are we implying that the denuding of Jenkins Scott, Stephen Crayton and other Doe officials by Quiwonkpa’s forces doesn’t matter ?

    Are we implying that the atrocities committed by Doe troops on Quiwonkpa’s real and perceived supporters do not matter ?

    Are we implying that the controversial death of journalist Charles Gbenyon doesn’t matter ?

    Are we implying that the numerous other human right abuses committed in the 1980s, some of which are not prosecutable under the restrictions of article 97 of the constitution, do not matter ?

    If we keep picking and choosing which atrocities are more significant than the other in the 1979 -2003 period, real justice will be elusive.

    • Very salient questions, Renford. The mandate of the TRC as you reminded us, was supposed to cover events from 1979 to 2003. But, of course, our TRC with a “Supreme Court” estimation of itself, decided to abridge that mandate to cover just events covering two-thirds the range of its mandate. Ain’t that something? On top of that, their haphazard and myopic conclusion and recommendations is supposed to be final and no questions ask? For instance, instead of just stopping at their findings and recommendations from the “Truth-seeking” exercise, our TRC people went even one step further, by sentencing some culprits (30-year ban on political activity), way ahead of according the accused their day in court, a fundamental pillar of democracy and rule of law. And those were supposed to be laying the foundation for the “New Liberia.” A Liberia where the rule of law would be paramount and applicable to all and sundry without fear or favor. Additionally, let those especially eyeing Ellen and few others as complicit in the overthrow of Doe and the concomitant civil war as a fallout be aware that there were several phases of that campaign, which when applied accordingly and in context, in terms of who did what and when, may very well exculpate some of the people being targeted and collectively. What do I mean by this? Briefly and for the sake of this post, the campaign to remove Doe from power on account of the hatchet and tyrannical manner in which he ruled Liberia, was indeed a just cause which was overwhelmingly supported by a large fraction of the Liberian population initially. Again, simply because of the brutal manner in which the country was being run with no relief in sight, in spite of all the peaceful, conventional and democratic attempts tried prior. The original intent and from a vantage point was not a civil war. The whole operation was supposed to be a “surgical,” if you know what I mean. But certain logistics having gone fatally awry, the GOL got wind of the plot. Some of the plotters were apprehended and eliminated quietly without trial. That is what provoked the initial incursion in Butuo as a retaliation. The GOL in return, responded brutally in recriminatory fashion on area residents, especially anyone of Quiwonkpa affinity, real or imagined. That overreaction by the GOL garnered more sympathy for the invading forces, which served as a recruitment bait for aggrieved elements and effortlessly. As that ragtag army swiftly advanced towards Monrovia, the campaign appeared like a cake walk, with little to no resistance. At that point, Mr. Charles Taylor now sensing or envisioning himself as potential president, became intransigent by now refusing to listen to any advice from fellow collaborators including Ellen and the others to cease the incursion, as that was not the original intent-a civil war. But too late, Mr. Taylor had now smelled power and so, no turning back! At that juncture Ellen and most of the original planners withdrew from Mr. Taylor. That split would give rise to and even support in some instances to other counter efforts to stop Mer. Taylor. The formation of various factions in that regard beginning with the INPFL and later ULIMO, etc., is remindful. But most importantly in this saga, is the fact that numerous attempts by way of 16 peace accords were made, overtures that could have surely prevented the unnecessary deaths of so many of our compatriots along with the wanton destruction of our country. In short, the greed and intransigence of Mr. Charles Taylor, who refused to honor any of the outcomes of all those peace accords from the first one, was responsible for the unnecessary deaths of those thousands loved ones we lost, and not necessarily Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and in spite of her infamous assertion to “flatten the mansion/Monrovia, we will build new one.” Anyone familiar with history will acknowledge the fact in that regard, that no general or leader in history, ever went on any warfront and asked his/her forces to bow their heads in prayers. Rather, the expectation is always a show of bravado, courage and valor in order to inspire, not timidity.

  6. @Renford Walsh, very good points you raised there, all those cases of atrocity need to be addressed. But I can tell you truly my friend, all those cases would not be addressed by this War and Economic Crime Court intended to be established. These folks only want to indict few persons perceived not to be following the narrative in their playbook. If these folks are serious about justice, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf would now be on a travel ban. The NPFL was created in the US by three Lierians, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Charles Taylor and Tom Woweyou. Charles is in detention and Tom is in court for their role in the NPFL atrocities. Ellen that threatened to flat the executive mansion is moving around free and the US is saying nothing. Do you think that War Crime Court will dispense justice without partiality? NO!

  7. Peter Gboyo, your vain efforts to exonerate Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf greatly fall short of facts relative to the chronology of events that unfolded. First fact, Ellen did not break away from the NPFL until in 1993, when the NPFL onslaught “infamous Operation Octopus” on Monrovia failed. Remember that when Ellen made to comment on BBC Focus on African interview, to “Flat the mansion and rebuild it in three days”, Taylor had long since broken away from the mandate to be just a general heading the military wing but rather was now calling himself president while Samuel Doe was still alive and seated in the executive mansion. NPFL was in Paynesville when Ellen did that interview. Prior to that interview, Taylor’s speech was aired by the ELWA Radio Station on July 23 or 24, 1990 where he said “I, Charles Ghankay Taylor, President of the Republic of Liberia…..”. You don’t need to twist historical facts.

    Ellen confirmed that she give money to the NPFL, moreover the TRC obtained credible facts from pertinent inside source from the NPFL, hence her 30 years ban from politics was in place.

    Ellen knew the repercussion of launching that civil war, the carnage, rape, mass murder, massive destruction of properties, yet she pursued that negative path to change. Some officials of the US government, having fallen in sympathy with the innocent Liberian people warned that such civil war would throw Liberia back a hundred years, yet she decided to forge on with the onslaught, so why would you be so fallacious in your efforts to support the evils of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf?

    Ellen, Charles and Tom transported Prince Johnson along with other trained rebel commandos to overthrow Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso, because he refused to have his country used as a main highway for training and transport of rebel soldiers into Liberia to launch civil war.

    Ellen used her contact to campaign greatly for logistics for the NPFL, meaning her efforts made the NPFL to succeed. Jerome Verdier’s TRC’s decision to ban her from politics for 30 years was in place, for me I would have banned her for life.

    Don’t twist facts because you support Ellen. You are contradicting the points that Renford Walsh advance. Renford Walsh is suggesting justice for all while you are suggesting justice for few. Stop this deception, it’s killing Liberia.

    • “Vain efforts?” No my friend, you are being myopic here. And my excursion on this subject may appear as “a defense of Ellen,” but far from that. Mine was simply a caution to people expending their time and energy and needlessly on an expedition that will yield naught, from a cost-benefit assessment of thus pursuit. As for your time-line emphasis, that too, was not the thrust of my espousal. All I tried to do was point out the fact that Ellen disengaged from Taylor earlier than you speculated too. Under no circumstance could Ellen have connived with Taylor against the IGNU of Amos Sawyer. No way! All your other talks about Ellen and others “transported others to overthrow Thomas Sankara” is just loose talk, which you cannot back with facts. Lastly, remember that Ellen was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, way after the war. Meaning, if she were that complicit and culpable as you surmise, she would have never been considered for the coveted prize. But this is all tautology and no substance. The anticipated war crime tribunal will cut this matter. So tie your dog, my friend.

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