The chairman of the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives J. Fonati Koffa, a lawyer by profession, says he is in support of the prosecution of perpetrators of war crimes committed during Liberia’s 14-year civil war, but says more time is needed for the present government to act on it.
The Grand Kru County District #2 Representative told journalists on Friday, December 14, 2018, during his year-end media engagement at the Capitol Building, that the country’s 14-year civil war was a source of deep division, adding, “Nobody would want to be in favor of impunity.”
“I am in favor of war crimes court, but it is the issue of the timing. When the time comes, the appropriate legislation will be put together to do what we need to do, but the government that has been asked will do it in its own time and season,” Rep. Koffa said.
However, Koffa failed to say when would be a right time to prosecute perpetrators of war crimes.
Koffa’s revelation of his support for a “war and economic crimes court” is in contrast to House Speaker Bhofal Chambers’ views against such development.
Chambers has of late frowned on the establishment of such a court in the country — a complete about-face from his earlier position held during the administration of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. At that time Chambers, being sharply at odds with the nation’s first female president, staunchly advocated for the establishment of a war crimes court in Liberia and recommended her first for prosecution.
Now having apparently switched his persuasion on the matter, pundits believe he has betrayed the cause of justice for victims of war crimes.
Speaker Chambers said he believed that the country should seek restorative justice (healing, curative or uplifting) in order to forge ahead and foster peace and unity that the country enjoys than retributive justice (revengeful, retaliatory or punishing) which will picture the bitter past.
In a related development, Rep. Koffa hailed President George Weah because he scrapped some tenured positions, noting that the President acted legally by submitting to the Legislature a bill to erase some tenured positions.
He believes that the President’s action is constitutionally correct, arguing that it is not wrong for one President to right what is wrong, which he thinks is legitimate, according to Article 56 of the 1986 Constitution.
Article 56 says: “All cabinet ministers’ deputies and assistant cabinets ministers, ambassadors, ministers, consuls, superintendents of counties, and other government officials, both military and civilian, appointed by the President pursuant to the Constitution shall hold their positions at the pleasure of the President.”
In spite of the Article 56 provision, many tenured positions in Liberia exist because the institutions for which they are responsible are integrity institutions that should be protected from interference by government. Other institutions bearing tenured positions are members of international parastatals that require a level of fixity in member-country representation for the larger (international) body to properly function.
President Weah’s frustration with tenured positions was kindled when his attempt to appoint a member of his political party, Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), to well-paying and influential positions in government were met with stiff resistance, in one case at the level of the Supreme Court. In that instance, the President decided to dismiss Liberia’s permanent representative to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), Atty. Isaac Jackson, so that a CDC partisan could be appointed to the position. Jackson sought and was granted a stay order on the President’s decision by the Supreme Court of Liberia because he had 18 months left to complete his tenure.
Weah’s IMO appointment has remained in limbo since then. Few months later, the President decided he would have the Legislature do away with all tenured positions, a move which many legislators have overwhelmingly embraced.
Rep. Koffa pledged support to the “legal impeachment proceedings” of Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh, but did not explain why he excluded himself from the Ad-Hoc Committee to write the impeachment proceedings against Associate Justice Ja’neh.