‘Invited’ Officials absent from Civil War Student Arts Exhibition

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Mr. Bility addresses participants at the occasion.

Two Liberian government officials did not turn up for the opening of a two-month art exhibition on Wednesday, August 14, 2019 at the National Museum that is showcasing cartoons of students depicting horrors of the Liberian Civil War (1989-2003), according to the organizers of the exhibition.

Hassan Bility of the Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP), which is hosting the “Cartooning for Justice” with the Liberia Visual Arts Academy (LivArts), told reporters they invited Lenn Eugene Nagbe and Cllr. Musa Dean of the ministries of Information and Justice, respectively.

Bility said it was against GJRP’s standard operation procedure (SOP) to show proof that the invitations were sent, while the two ministers did not respond to query on the matter.

Their absence from the event came just over two weeks when President George Weah failed to attend a memorial for victims of the St. Peter’s Lutheran Church Massacre in Sinkor, his third time being absent from a civil war-related event he was invited or expected to attend this year.

President Weah has not showed support for a Liberian war crimes court despite pressure from local and international advocates. The United Nations has given Liberia up to July next year to address crimes committed during the country’s 14 years of civil unrest.

The students’ cartoons show horror and evoke painful memory of one of Africa’s most brutal civil wars. One cartoon shows rebels beheading a kneeling man before his wife and children. Another portrays the hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), while others show civilians fleeing the war with flaming buildings at the background.

Advocates present at the opening of the exhibition bemoaned the officials’ absence.

“I think it is the content of this program that scares the policy makers not to come, because some of them have said publicly that in this country, there will be no accountability,” said Cllr. Tiawon Gongloe, president of the Liberian National Bar Association (LNBA.

“When they come here, the reality might speak to their conscience to change their mind, and they do not want to change,” said Gongloe.

Attendees at the program

Kenneth Y. Best, the Publisher of the Daily Observer newspaper, added his voice: “I am sorry that quite often when I attend these kind of programs, I have to make the same remark expressing my regret, because I don’t see any government people here,” Mr. Best said.

“What kind of government we have that does not seem to be interested in anything?  What we don’t have time for in Liberia, other people have time for it—young people drawing portraits on justice?  What you see here was exhibited in Geneva, Switzerland, not even in Monrovia. And we are told by people here that those people widely applauded these young people,” Mr. Best added.

GJRP is working with the Swiss human rights group Civitas Maxima in the prosecution of Liberians in Europe and America in connection with the Liberian Civil War, and the two organizations are among scores of others calling for a war crimes court for Liberia.

Bility said the cartoon exhibition was a way of reaching out to the young generation, and getting them involved in the debate about justice. He said GJRP was planning to take the event to Margibi County.

John H.T. Stewart, a former Commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, whose recommendations in 2009, included the war crimes court, commended GJRP and LivArts for using Liberian students to draw cartoons about the war to learn and teach the lessons of their country’s dark past.

“So, what we see happening is the creation of memory. Memory is very important so that we don’t go back to where we came from,” Stewart said.

“The Second World War ended in 1945, but people are still held today to account. Even though, some are very old and have been hiding their identity all along, the fact that they are shamed, they are still made to account for their past deeds. When you go to Europe, the museum of the Holocaust is there to show the dark days, because people who were directly affected do not want to go to the past. Impunity is still stalking the land, and the only way we can deal with it is to be reminded of what happened to us in the past and of the exigency to deal with the present so that we do not go further as a people torn by war and gross disrespect and abuse of human rights,” said Stewart.

Francis A. Igiriogu, a United Nations representative added, “For us, we strongly believe that any country that wants to be serious for peace and development, that country should be serious for accountability of past wrongs. We also believe that without accountability, what you will get is impunity.  When you have impunity, the consequences are that you will get lawlessness, underdevelopment, and poverty.”

Igiriogu urged organizers of the event not to allow the absence of Ministers Nagbe and Dean to discourage them.

“The fight for human rights is not about crowd,” he said “It is for the people to understand, and the few that understand can persevere to come together with one voice and continue to push it, and at the end of the day the end will be achieved.”

This story was a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project. Joaquin M. Sendolo is a New Narratives Justice Correspondent. 

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