Deputy Speaker Supports War Crimes Tribunal in Liberia

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Deputy Speaker Cllr. J. Fonati Koffa is presiding in the absence of Speaker Bhofal W. Chambers

Calls for requisite infrastructures and legal procedures in order for the court to function properly

Deputy House Speaker, Cllr. J. Fonati Kofffa (District #2 Grand Kru County), has expressed his support for the establishment of a war crimes court in Liberia including the prosecution of war criminals, with a call for the requisite infrastructure and the legal procedures to be followed in order to legitimize and solicit funding for the process in the country.

“I’m in support of a war crimes tribunal here but we must do first things first. We must put in place the requisite infrastructure and legal instruments and solicit the needed funds in order to smoothly facilitate the prosecution of war crimes cases here in Liberia,” he said.

Cllr. Koffa believes that the country and its people will not oppose the prosecution of people who allegedly committed crimes against Liberians and violated International human rights protocols.

The Grand Kru County lawmaker, however, insists that there are key issues of legal and Infrastructure concerns that the country needs to address in setting up the stage for the trial of crimes against Humanity committed in Liberia during the war.

The Liberian legal expert and politician’s remark was prompted by the transfer of the trial to Monrovia on February 15, 2021, a 51-year-old Sierra Leonean, Gibril Massaquoi, on allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity including murder and aggravated rape, allegedly committed during the second phase of the Liberian Civil War between 1999 and 2003.

Earlier this week, the Court in Finland heard the case involving the Swiss International Non-governmental Organization, Civitas Maxima and it’s Liberian based sister organization, the Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP) headed by Hassan Bility, a Liberian Journalist and academician.

The Pirkanmaa District Court in Finland at the beginning of the trial on Thursday, February 4, 2021, following years of delays for witnesses and the emergence of the COVID-19 Pandemic, began hearing into the case with claims and counter-claims ensuing between State Prosecutors and Defense lawyers over doubted charges brought against defendant Massaquoi.

Recently, the Grand Kru County lawmaker told journalists that he supports the full implementation of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC) resolution as supported by the United States Congress 1055.

He equally believes that transitional justice is not necessarily hunting perceived persons of Human Rights violations, but a matter of ensuring an established legal and infrastructure process supported by Liberians to see that those bearing the greatest responsibility of War crimes are brought under the ambiance of justice in order to set the stage for adherence to transitional justice and the rule of law.

The Deputy Speaker argued that while the Liberian government needs to work with the international community to establish the legal framework, it cannot neglect its own responsibility he refers to as ‘national soul’ to support and give full “faith and effect to others.”

He stated that the remedy for resolving Liberia’s long running issues of transitional justice is giving full support to the Implementation of the TRC road-map highlighted by the United States Congress joint resolution 1055.

On the question of whether or not Liberia has the jurisdiction to try International Human Rights Crimes, Deputy Speaker Koffa affirmed, but stated that neither he nor the government is aware of the transfer of the Finnish War criminal trial to Monrovia.

The Justice Ministry in Monrovia is tight-lipped on whether or not it is knowledgeable of the transfer of Massaquoui to Monrovia for trial. While some advocacy groups and war victims, as well as the Liberian National Bar Association, have been exerting pressure on the George Weah Administration to ensure the implementation of the TRC recommendations, the government continues to renege on responding to the demand of Liberians. But prior to his ascendency, President George Weah assured the nation that he would bring justice for victims of the war.

Concerning what seems to be a surprising transfer to the country, the Deputy Speaker said: “I don’t think the quest by Finnish authorities to transfer the trial of the Sierra Leonean man to Monrovia is intended to embarrass the government of Liberia. However, there is a lack of infrastructure that needs to be addressed in order to give ‘free, fair, and transparent’ justice for both perpetrators and victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity. So then, I continue to say, Let’s follow the path of the TRC recommendations.”

Gibril Massaquoi, Spokesperson, RUF

Relating to allegations over the emergence of tension between neighboring Sierra Leone and Liberia, with the hosting of Gibril Massaquoi’s war crimes trial in Monrovia, Rep. Koffa said he believes that the governments of Sierra Leone and Liberia do not intend to shield war criminals but remain fully supportive to the international community’s quest in ensuring that those held liable for the greatest war crimes and crimes against humanity are brought to justice.

“I’m not sure the government of Sierra Leone is in favor of war criminals, neither am I sure of the Sierra Leonean government attitude towards the trial. Certainly yes, former President Charles Taylor was prosecuted for crimes committed in Sierra Leone, however, the most important thing is, we cannot forget Liberia war crimes for crimes committed in other countries’. A crime is a crime, and if we are to entertain these things especially on our soil, let us ensure that those who committed atrocities in Liberia are brought under the ambiance of Justice and let’s follow that path legislatively to do that in Liberia.”

He added: “I’m not aware that the Legislature has had any oversight in this transfer of the trial, neither am I aware that the Executive has had negotiations on this matter. However, I would hope that a Finnish court sitting in Finland cannot transfer a case of such nature to the Liberian authorities without knowledge of the Liberian authorities. That would be mind-boggling. But even so, what is the purpose of the trial. Is it a short trial or a trial to make someone feel good? Or an attempt for sustainable justice to ensure that all those who bear the greatest responsibility of war crimes and crimes against humanity are brought to justice? And when you do that, the Liberian TRC implementation just cannot be forgotten.”

However, this is not the first time the Grand Kru County Lawmaker has spoken on the issue of the TRC Report and the call for the establishment of a War Crimes court in the country.

In October 2019, Rep. Koffa on the State Radio ELBC said: “There is a need for a process that would ensure a proper and substantive prosecution and retribution on what has happened during the country’s bitter past.”

“I will move for a model of the International criminal court. We cannot by-pass it or shortcut it as this will be resulting in more harm than good.”

The Liberian government is yet to carve a statute that would make the court a nationally binding instrument, and until that can be done, the Deputy Speaker argued that the prosecution of any Liberian will be somehow illegal. The Liberian National Bar Association has carved an instrument and presented it to the Legislature for passage calling for the establishment of a war crimes court in Liberia. Some members of the the House of Representatives had also solicited some signatures registering their consent for the establishment of the court and full implementation of the TRC Recommendations.

He called for additional training of the judicial actors, adding that lawyers also need to be trained. “The most important thing is that we need a statute that will do that.”

The constitution says the Supreme Court is the highest appellant body of the country. In this regard, the Deputy Speaker added, “If you bring a War Crimes Court here and arrest someone and they file for it to be dismissed for some reasons, it’s going to our supreme court, and they will decide and normally it takes five years for them to make a decision.”

Speaking further, Rep. Koffa said if the issue of War Crimes are to become a success story, Liberia must have the ability to absorb what those decisions will lead Liberia to.

“We need the support of our International partners with the cost and Management as they cannot shy away.”

“Look at our past record, we cannot prosecute corruption; how will we be able to prosecute war crimes? We need to put in place the infrastructure and be assured of funding first and foremost.

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