The Human Rights, Justice Campaigners and Victims of Liberia on Monday, November 19, responded to President George Weah’s comments on the establishment of a war and economic crimes court to prosecute past crimes in Liberia, especially whether a war crimes court is needed for peace and development.
Shortly after returning from Paris, France, President Weah weighed in on benefits Liberia stands to accrue in maintaining the country’s hard-won peace, reiterating his stance that the world could disintegrate in the absence of peace.
He made the comment when he addressed reporters upon arrival at the Roberts International Airport on Thursday, November 15.
He added, “Therefore, I admonish all Liberians to continue promoting peace, because without peace, we cannot gain growth and our national agenda will not be implemented. Our history is that we came from war; we need to be more mindful of what we say to each other as well as what we do. We should promote peace, because the entire world is promoting peace.”
The President also committed and acknowledged division among Liberians regarding the establishment of a war crimes court, stating that Liberians need to make a determination between maintaining peace and a war crimes court.
“We have our liberty,” President Weah further said in response to a reporter’s inquiry about his thoughts on growing calls for a war crimes court, noting, “We all have different minds and views on this issue. Some are calling for a war crimes court; others are calling for reconciliation. What we need to do is to find out what we need as a people. We, the leaders, are under obligation to do for our people and nation what is in their best interest. Liberians need to come together to talk about the advancement of the country.”
But the campaigners said the answer to the President’s question is yes, because a war crimes court is the medium through which impunity is addressed for those who bear the greatest responsibility for war-related crimes such as massacres, summary executions, recruitment of child soldiers, sexual violence and atrocities that constitute gross human rights violations against defenseless civilians during the 14 years of unrest.
Adama K. Dempster, secretary general of the Human Rights, Justice Campaigners, read the statement on behalf of the group at a news conference in Monrovia, reminding President Weah that the issue of war crimes court is not a matter of choice, but of transitional justice that deals with past human rights violations.
Dempster said that a war crimes court is the only way to help assure that development undertaken after the war would not be destroyed in the next war, and the only available deterrent for perpetrators.
He said the establishment of a war crimes court will not cause any instability in the country, because they strongly believe that the only threat to peace and security is impunity.
Responding to the issue of conducting a referendum to get citizens views before the establishment of a war and economic crimes court, Dempster said: “There is no need for a referendum on the matter of criminal accountability; it just doesn’t go that way in democratic societies.”
“The call for a referendum will only delay the implementation of the July, 2018, UN Human Rights committee conclusions that the government should establish a process of accountability for past human rights violations and report back in two years,” Dempster said.
He said the Liberian people spoke through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), and there is no need for a referendum on the matter, because it will delay UN committee’s request on impunity and past human rights violations by the Liberian government.
Dempster called on the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to brief President Weah in details on the July 2018 Human Rights Committee report, and the US Congress House Resolution 1055, regarding Liberia’s lack of compliance with its human rights and bilateral obligations.
Dempster said the TRC, which completed its work ten years ago and conducted numerous hearings as well as taking statements from victims across Liberia and in the Diasporas, recommending the establishment of an extraordinary criminal court to prosecute past “serious crimes.”
He said this year, Liberia witnessed multiple marches in the streets, most recently on November 12, to campaign for the establishment a war crimes court, and petitioned members of the legislature to implement the TRC recommendations, which includes a war crimes court.
Dempster said the president should be aware that his recent remarks are interpreted to be against the establishment of a war crimes court, which remains a bitter affront to the TRC’s outcome of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) held in Accra, Ghana, a decision reached by representatives of the Liberian people in 2003.
He said it is also against the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) goal-16 Global Peace and Global Justice and a strong institution of which Liberia is a part calls for access to justice for all.
Hassan Bility, executive director for Global Justice and Research Project, said if the government has not publicly made their position known on the establishment of the war crimes court, it is a serious challenge for the country and its people.
He said the president’s statement on the war crimes court upon arrival from Paris indicates that he is not in support of ending the culture of impunity, and the government needs to clarify its position.
Bility called on the legislature to take steps in creating a legislation, to ensure that there are accountability and justice for those that lost their lives during the civil war.