A group of Liberians, wearing predominantly black clothing, stormed the grounds of the Capitol Building, demanding the House of Representatives and the Senate to pass into law the establishment of a War and Economic Crimes Court.
The protesting Liberians, soaked with perspiration and appearing visibly upset yesterday, displayed placards calling for an end to impunity and the implementation of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) which, among many things, called for the establishment of an Extraordinary Criminal Tribunal (War Crimes Court), so that perpetrators of heinous atrocities in the Liberian civil crisis can be held accountable for their actions.
The protesters were led by Franklin K. Wesseh of the Citizens Action for the Establishment of War and Economic Crimes Court (CAWAECC) and Siaffa Kanneh of the National Student Movement for the Establishment of Economic and War Crimes Court in Liberia.
Speaking to journalists, Mr. Wesseh said their protest to establish the War and Economic Crimes Court is in compliance with Article 34(e) of the 1986 Constitution.
“The Legislature shall have the power … to constitute courts inferior to the Supreme Court, including Circuit Courts, Claims Courts, and such courts with prescribed jurisdictional powers as may be deemed necessary for the proper administration of justice through the Republic.”
Siaffa Kanneh of the National Student Movement for the Establishment of Economic and War Crimes Court said if the legislature cannot create the War and Economic Crimes Court into law, it should pursue the implementation of the final report of the TRC.
Wesseh argued that the TRC report was sent to the dustbin, probably because President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was listed as one of those who should be barred from holding political office for thirty years.
He further urged the legislature to sign a joint resolution and request the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to help establish a War Crimes Court in the country, to prosecute those responsible for the worst crimes – genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.
The protesters said they would continue to “march on” until they get a formal redress from the legislature.
“We will not stop protesting. We will see to it that either the House or the legislature give us redress. Those innocent souls who died during the civil war need answers. Those monies which were squandered at the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) want answers,” Wesseh said.
Journalist turned human rights activist, Hassan Bility, who sought asylum in the US, was among the petitioners at the Capitol Building. Mr. Bility is also among those advocating for the establishment of the War and Economic Crimes Court.
Former ICC Prosecutor and TRC Commissioner
Former TRC Commissioner John H.T. Stewart in an open letter to the president in 2011, stated that then President Sirleaf had shown an indifferent attitude towards the report of the TRC due to her name being listed. As such, the thought of an establishment of a court for accountability under her administration never saw the light of day.
However, on the margins of the 15th Assembly of State Parties meeting at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, impunity for key players of the Liberian Civil War, which saw over 250,000 people killed, is coming to an end anytime soon.
Stephen Rapp, the man who directed the successful prosecution of former President Charles Ghankay Taylor for crimes against humanity, says he believes other recommendations from the report of the erstwhile Truth and Reconciliation Commission must go forward, to prevent the country from slipping back into its brutal past.
Ambassador Rapp, formerly United States Ambassador-at-large for War Crimes Issues, said while the report may have been controversial as it called for the barring of former President Sirleaf from political office for 30 years, that didn’t mean other aspects of it—very important ones too—must not be taken care of.
“And I know with the TRC and the recommendations, which became controversial like a political football because of the recommendation about preventing President Sirleaf from being in power from 20 or 30 years or something like holding office—that it became a political issue and people kind of stuck on that,” he said.
Mr. Rapp highlighted that he was pleased to assist the Government of Liberia for the prosecution of former Taylor strongman Benjamin Yeaten, who it is alleged is in hiding somewhere between Togo and the Ivory Coast.
Yeaten was indicted by the grand jury of Montserrado County for his involvement in the murder of Nimba County statesman Samuel Dokie and family, among them his wife Janet Dahn Dokie. The ICC has global jurisdiction. It is a court of last resort, intervening only when national authorities cannot or will not prosecute.
It may be recalled that the US former ambassador for Global War crimes is on record as saying that he is more than willing to help pull the strings for the establishment of the court, so that perpetrators cannot go scot-free, but that such a request would have to come from the Government of Liberia.