-Says Cllr. Gongloe
Amid counter-reactions from the government and some members of the public against the call for the establishment of a war crimes court in Liberia, human rights lawyer Cllr. Tiawon Saye Gongloe says it does not matter how many years it has taken since the war ended, because justice is good to be implemented in time of peace.
Cllr. Gongloe, speaking on Tuesday, September 25, at a press conference organized by groups of human rights advocates in Monrovia, said prosecuting war criminals in time of peace sets a good legacy that would give victims relief and frustrate perpetrators who have used scare tactics to enrich themselves at the detriment of their victims.
“It is good at this time to have justice and prosecute perpetrators of war crimes, because these perpetrators are living luxurious lives and have built decent houses,” Cllr. Gongloe said.
“They know the taste of good life now, and getting them out of the luxury to account for crimes perpetrated against innocent people will be more painful than what they did to victimize people,” he said.
Gongloe said it is now time for Liberia to fight impunity, because without it the current peace that Liberians talk of preserving will still be threatened. “In order to have genuine peace, we must fight impunity,” he said.
He emphasized that the perpetrators of war identified in the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) are getting older, “and may die if they are not prosecuted to ensure justice, which will be a bad legacy for the country.”
Furthermore, Cllr. Gongloe said most of the victims who should serve as witnesses are getting older as well and, if they die, evidence that should back justice will be gone. He described war criminals as “cowards” who do not follow rules and only act when laws are weak.
He added that this is the right time for justice, because “it is logical to reason that when there is a war and ceasefire is declared, you resettle people, put in place a government and rule of law, and then you can bring justice.” Therefore, he said, Liberia, having gone through these processes, has the right time for justice.
Since the TRC made its recommendations in 2009, following the hearing, there have been opposing views about the full implementation of the recommendations, which call for the prosecution of those who bear the greatest responsibility during the Liberian Civil War.
It may be recalled that in May this year, a group under the banner “Citizens Action for the Establishment of War and Economic Crimes Court in Liberia,” came out to present a petition to the Legislature, to enact a law that will call for the establishment of a war crimes court.
This request has also met counter-reaction from the government, with House Speaker Bhofal Chambers and a few others stating that they are opposed to retributive justice.
Furthermore, some clergymen, among them Herman Browne of the Episcopal Church and current president of the Cuttington University (CU), have registered their opposition to the process.
In recent days, Browne said the call for the establishment of a war crimes court is“revenge that is not meant for justice.”
In response to a question surrounding these views, Cllr. Gongloe said before some clergymen took on their titles, they committed heinous crimes 15 years back and the guilt is hovering over them.
Since the TRC process and subsequent call for the establishment of a war crimes court in Liberia, only Joshua Blayee, alias Butt Naked, has admitted to crimes he committed and expressed willingly his desire to face the tribunal and bear the consequences for his crimes.
The rest, including Nimba County Senator Prince Johnson, has always said that bringing a war crimes court will cause Liberia to revert to its dark days.
But Cllr. Gongloe said those calling for justice should not get tired, because those warlords are afraid and fear is another form of justice.
The press conference at which Cllr. Gongloe spoke was organized by Amnesty International, CIVITAS MAXIMA, Global Justice and Research Project, Human Rights Watch, Coalition for Justice in Liberia, Civil Society Organization Platform and the Center for Justice and Accountability.
These groups, together with others, are calling on President George Weah to make an open admission to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) that would back justice in pursuit of accountability for past war crimes committed in Liberia.
In a letter written and endorsed by 80 human rights organizations and read by Adama Dempster to President Weah, the groups called on the government to establish a process of accountability for past war crimes, following its first-ever review of human rights violations.
The group said that since July 1, 2009, when the TRC called for the establishment of a war crimes court for the prosecution of those who bear the greatest responsibilities in the Liberian Civil War, no government has made a decision on the report.
“By seizing the General Assembly high-level segment to present plans for Liberia to bring justice for the serious abuses committed during the civil wars, you would stand with victims and take an important step to address impunity—which has undermined development and reconciliation in the country for far too long—and then build sustainable peace for Liberians,” the groups said in a statement.