Adama Dempster, a member of the Secretariat for the Establishment of a War Crimes Court in Liberia (SEWACCOL) says the Liberian Government’s failure to heed calls for accountability for alleged perpetrators of war and economic crimes during the 14-yr civil war may have grave consequences on the country at the international level.
He made the disclosure on May 9, 2019 in Monrovia at the launch of a Question and Answer (Q&A) document containing frequently asked questions and answers relative to the establishment of a war crimes court in Liberia.
With regards to consequences the country is likely to face for failing to address accountability concerns, Mr. Dempster said “The consequences will include the loss of Liberia’s seat at the UN High Commission for Human Rights, financial strangulation and restriction of some government officials from traveling out of the country”.
Mr. Dempster, however, noted that if the Liberian Government heeds to requests by the UN Human Rights Commission for accountability and demonstrates readiness to establish a court to hold perpetrators to account, the United Nations Human Rights Commission will source funding to facilitate the process.
Further, according to Mr. Dempster, because it appears the public lacks adequate information on what constitutes a war crime, SEWACCOL is commencing a sensitization campaign to provide information on what constitutes a war crime and those likely to appear when a court is established.
Printed booklets containing 20 frequently asked questions with relevant answers to what constitutes war crimes in Liberia are to be distributed to community radio stations to adequately inform, educate and sensitize the public.
“Many people do not know what war crimes are and who are connected to them, but everyone believes that as long as a person fought war he/she committed war crimes,” Aaron Weah of Search for Common Ground said.
Those organizations and individuals leading the charge to sensitize, inform and educate the public on this all important issue include Aaron Weah of Search for Common Grounds, Adama Dempster of Civil Society Organizations Platform, Hassan Bility of Global Justice and Research project, Joseph M. Wreh, III of SEWACCOL and Peterson Sonyah of the Liberia Massacre Survivors organization.
Among the questions asked are: Why justice for past atrocities; whether anyone has been held to account for crimes committed during the civil war; why accountability remains an issue even after 15 years since the end of he civil conflict; and what options are available for accountability in Liberia.
Other questions include: what are the TRC recommendations on accountability for war crimes; what the role of justice in social healing is; what an Extraordinary Criminal Court would do for Liberia; who would serve on the extraordinary criminal court and how information about the court should be disseminated.
Additionally, the booklet contains questions on President George Weah’s position on prosecutions for past crimes; the view of the international community on judicial accountability for past crimes; whether or not a referendum is needed to decide on the establishment of a war crimes court in Liberia; whether or not justice will threaten Liberia’s peace; steps the government should take to ensure accountability for past crimes; how the TRC was established; what its mandates were, and what it did after its establishment.
Aaron Weah of SFCG said “The sensitization is essential because those who did not see what happened during the war must know the history by reading or hearing the true story.”
He said they are also embarking on the preparation of a draft bill for submission to the National Legislature to disallow people with criminal records from contesting elections or holding positions of trust in public service.
Mr. Weah made specific reference to Nimba County Senator and ex-warlord Prince Johnson, according to him, has a huge support base in Nimba and is occupying a senatorial position with war crime charges hanging over him.
Prince Johnson led the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL) that captured and killed President Samuel Doe in 1990. He is also accused in the TRC report for committing many atrocities during the war.
As to whether anyone has faced justice for crimes committed in Liberia during the civil war, the Q&A clearly states that no one has faced prosecution for crimes committed in Liberia.
Nevertheless, it says some including Mohammed Jabateh, Jucontee Thomas Smith Woewiyu, Chucky Taylor and others have been prosecuted under the laws of the United States for their links to the war in Liberia.
It can be recalled that Mohammed Jabateh was sentenced for 30 years in the United States for lying to US Immigration authorities on his visa application. In Europe there are others including Agnes Reeves-Taylor and Martina Johnson, of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), and two other fighters of the United Liberation Movement (ULIMO) are currently under custody to be tried for their connection with the civil war in Liberia.
The launch also allowed journalists to ask questions on justice issues and, one of such questions was whether there is any truth to claims by family members -of Agnes Taylor-Reeves that her arrest by British authorities was influenced and informed by representations made to British authorities by some Mandingo people.
In response, Hassan Bility of the Global Justice and Research Project said “The UK, which has some of the best court experts will not arrest anyone simply on the basis of sentiments held by some members of her/his family.”
He said the case is in court and will be prejudicial to talk about it in the media and therefore could not elaborate further.
He also said others who are not captured in the TRC report can still face war crimes charges based on evidence and confession by witnesses because the TRC indicated that not all crimes committed during the civil war were recorded.
In further clarification, Aaron Weah said the question of funding for a war crimes court depends on the disposition of the Government of Liberia towards the need to establish the court and to solicit funding for it as well.
According to Mr. Weah, the government can liaise with partners and donors if it is serious about this venture just as it was in other countries including Sierra Leone and Rwanda.
This story was done in collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project. Funding was provided by Australian Aid. The funder had no say in the story’s content.