Civitas Maxima’s war crime court campaign, which is expected to reach five counties, has begun to yield fruit as Lofaians have now joined the bandwagon to call for the establishment of a war crimes court in Liberia.
The campaign, which began in Voinjama and has now reached Foya, focuses on a Flomo Theater play titled Musu’s Diary – a story about a young girl who is on a quest for justice, facing doubt and uncertainty during Jungle Jabbah’s trial in the United States.
The ULIMO rebel commander (Jabbah) was found guilty and was sentenced to 30 years in prison in Philadelphia for having concealed his role in the war from U.S. immigration authorities.
“There is no sustainable peace in Liberia until the hearts of people are at ease,” said Mrs. Korto Harris, the Mayor of Voinjama, as she warmly welcomed Flomo Theater to perform a play about justice for war crimes in town.
“There were bad-bad things done in Lofa county, especially by Jungle Jabbah. It’s important that the people here know that he is in jail,” Mayor Harris added.
Lofa county was the location of many battles between fighting groups and is where some of the most horrific massacres took place. It has been over 20 years since the wars ended, but ethnic tension still has a profound impact on inhabitants in Voinjama. “It took a long time to rehabilitate society and we want peace to continue,” said a member of the Lofa county leadership, while noting that the debates for war-time accountability could potentially spark a conflict.
The Musu’s Diary play, developed by Flomo Theatre in cooperation with Civitas Maxima and the Global Justice and Research Project, aims to raise awareness about court cases against alleged Liberian war criminals living abroad and encourages informed debate about war-time justice.
“We haven’t ever spoken about justice collectively in the community; this is the first time. Since the TRC, no one has asked us about the past,” said the Paramount Chief, who welcomed the project to his town. “Most of the victims are here, not in Monrovia,” he added.
The project, called “Justice in Action,” brings together performing artists and legal experts to perform a version of Musu’s Diary where the audience participates and asks questions. Musu’s Diary is a cartoon produced by Civitas Maxima, to reflect the diverse opinions on justice and impunity in Liberia, while also sharing information about trials abroad against alleged Liberian war criminals.
Foya witnessed some of the most horrendous crimes; several village members remember being forced to buy pieces of human bodies. The body parts were carried inside a wheelbarrow by rebels and civilians were requested to buy them. If they refused, they would be killed.
During the play, both in Voinjama and Foya, hundreds of people gathered and engaged in discussion in the center of town where the performance took place. Questions were raised about the implementation of a system of accountability for Liberia.
“We need perpetrators, who are walking around us, to realize that what they did was wrong. I believe the way forward is for the perpetrators to go to court,” said a participant at discussions with the town chief.
During the discussions, an elderly audience member said: “Liberia was sweet before the war. This fight for justice is not for us, it’s for our little ones.”
Despite the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report and its recommendations in favor of the establishment of a war crimes court, there has been no government’s action to establish a domestic accountability system for the crimes committed during Liberia’s two civil wars.
“My recommendation to the international community is to work tirelessly in bringing the war crimes court to Liberia,” said someone from the audience. Another participant addressed the issue of security and mentioned the lack of trust in the armed forces in maintaining peace. He said: “If there is to be a war crimes court in Liberia, the international community needs to ensure security for our country. Maybe the time is not now.”
“We want justice, but we are not in power […] In Liberia if you don’t have money – you can’t speak for justice. It’s not because we don’t know, it’s because we are afraid,” said a young audience member, while debating that the stories are yet to be shared collectively. “I have noticed that people have remained silent in the face of poverty. Today I have learned that there are people in the world listening to us and they are willing to speak to victims.”
Another audience member added: “I have gone through many pains but remain silent, in order to save my life and family. But after all, I noticed that hiding the truth will not benefit me […] keeping these feelings inside will do us nothing else but continue our suffering and bitterness.”
In spite of these diverse views, the majority present at the performance called for justice.