— Ahead of his upcoming appearance at the 75th UN General Assembly
By Joaquin M. Sendolo
The month of September appears now to be a time that President George Weah and human rights advocacy groups can come in close contact in account of his promise to bring justice to war crime victims; for President Weah had promised the world body, the United Nations General Assembly, that his administration would consult partners to strategize security, safety and other necessary measures that will ensure the establishment of a war crimes court for victims who have lived with psychosocial agony for 17 years now.
By next week the President and his entourage are expected to depart for the headquarters of the United Nations in New York to attend the upcoming General Assembly meeting, and several human rights groups; both local and international, are calling on him to make real his commitment last year to ensure that thousands of war victims in Liberia get justice.
In a letter addressed to President Weah ahead of the opening of the 75th UN General Assembly, the human rights groups stated: “We write ahead of the opening of the 75th UN General Assembly to follow-up on your comments made during last year’s assembly on accountability for past crimes committed in Liberia. Specifically, we urge you to use your speech, scheduled for September 23 during the High-level General Debate, to unequivocally commit to the establishment of a war crimes court for Liberia to request the assistance of the United Nations in creating the court.”
In President Weah’s commitment last year, he stated: “[T]hat we need to agree on a mechanism that would guarantee the sustenance of peace, stability, justice, and reconciliation, as well as enhance our prospects for economic recovery. Considering the importance of this matter, I have already begun consultations with our National Legislature—the representatives of our people-and we intend to have a broader engagement with the Liberia judicial system, and with our strategic international partners and organizations, in order to determine pertinent issues such as legal framework, timing, venue and funding, among others.”
With this commitment, President Weah, upon returning to Liberia from the UNGA meeting last year, fielded two options to the people of Liberia — justice and development — asking them which one of the two they were more interested in. He said he preferred development (infrastructures, agriculture, education, etc.) above justice, considering reconciliation as the means for Liberians to move forward. However, war victims and human rights advocates, among others, have eschewed the options given by the President, describing them as a “dash of hope and deceit.”
Prior to ascending to the presidency in 2018, Mr. Weah, in one of his scanty campaign messages, promised to establish a war crimes court in Liberia to bring justice for war victims. After winning the 2017 presidential election and his subsequent inauguration in early 2018, the President, being supported by some former warlords including Nimba County Senator Prince Y. Johnson, has over the time been reluctant to fulfill this promise.
The human rights groups recalled that in spite of the President’s previous commitment to ensuring justice in Liberia, the atmosphere has turned differently that advocates for justice and accountability have in recent times been threatened. Additionally, the government has brought onboard a lot of former commanders of erstwhile rebel factions, including Augustine Nagbe (alias General Power), Ofori Diah and Siafa Norman into the security sector. It can be recalled that Nagbe, who is on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s list for committing crimes against humanity, made a public call early this year to recruit a “Kru Defense Force” to protect President Weah.
Scores of former rebel commanders were in 2018 seen disembarking a vehicle assigned by the ministry of State at the Temple of Justice, where they had gone to retract a statement made that they would arrest Montserrado District #10 Representative Yekeh Kolubah, who is himself a former rebel and frontline commander. The same group, according to the Independent National Commission on Human Rights, was seen on Capitol Hill in a vehicle registered to the Ministry of State early this year among protesters during a mass citizen protest organized by the Council of Patriots (CoP).
Monrovia City Mayor Jefferson Koijee has also appeared on public records for stating that he would organize a counter protesting group to meet CoP protesters “in flesh and blood.”
The Weah administration has witnessed several protests since its inception in 2018. And so far, nearly all by-elections that have taken place were marred by violence, allegedly orchestrated by loyalists of the ruling party.
“The U.N. General Assembly is an opportunity to reaffirm a commitment to justice for victims and to reinforce that commitment by indicating you will move ahead to request UN assistance in setting up a war crimes court,” the human rights groups indicated in their letter to the President.
The letter, signed by over 20 human rights groups and civil society organizations, also outlines a number of massacres and human rights violations during the war. Among them are the St. Peter Lutheran Church Massacre and the Carter Camp Massacre.
Unlike the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration that did not receive much pressure from the international community for justice in Liberia, the George Weah administration came with the pressure both from Liberians and the international community.
Early 2019, the Representative of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights in Liberia, Uchenna Emelonye, spoke at a justice conference in Monrovia and warned that the progress of Liberia’s peace may be derailed if the issue of accountability is not addressed.
Also, in 2019, at the induction ceremony of Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe, president of the Liberian National Bar Association, the UN Resident Coordinator for Liberia at the time, Yacoub El Hillo, asserted that the survival of Liberia’s peace was in the hands of Liberians and is reliant on addressing the issue of accountability.
“It is right in your hands and you can use the TRC report to do it,” El Hillo stressed.