Civil society organizations (CSOs), including the Civil Society Human Rights Advocacy Platform of Liberia, Global Justice and Research Project are commencing a major conference today, November 9, to discuss justice and human rights issues on the topic, “Opportunities and Challenges for Truth and Justice in Liberia for Past Crimes.”
The local human rights groups have invited some international human rights advocacy associations, including the American-based Center for Justice and Accountability, Swiss-based Civitas Maxima, the Centre for Civil and Political Rights, and the Human Rights Watch.
According to the group, Liberia remains a country grappling with a legacy of serious human rights violations, with no accountability for crimes committed in the country during the civil war.
They recalled crimes such as sexual violence, recruitment of child soldiers, torture, summary executions and massacres of civilians as being committed during the war, though the perpetrators are yet to face justice.
“The convening will seek to explore opportunities and challenges for truth and justice in Liberia for past war crimes and to develop strategies in the quest for justice,” a statement from the group said.
Some dignitaries expected at the conference are Stephen J. Rapp, United States Ambassador at-large for War Crimes issues from 2009 to 2015, and Dr. Uchenna Emelonye, Country Representative of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Dr. Emelonye is expected to deliver the keynote address.
Also expected to attend the conference today are Liberian government officials and members of the Legislature, international and civil society representatives, and partners.
The conference comes at a time when pressure is mounting for the establishment of a war crimes court in the country, in order to hold perpetrators of war crimes accountable for what they did during the war (1989-2003).
This call was reinforced by presentation of a petition to the Legislature in May this year, calling on that lawmaking body to enact a law that will seek the establishment of a war and economic crimes court to end impunity.
Since the petition was presented, many people have continued the advocacy for the establishment of a war crimes court, but the government has said its priority is not about establishing a war crimes court.
When President George Weah addressed the United Nations General Assembly in September, local civil society groups had expected him to make a commitment to ensure justice, but he instead committed to holding a series of what he called “peace dialogues” around the country.
Prior to this statement, President Weah had publicly declared his belief that, “Every Liberian is connected to each other and, therefore, he finds it difficult to prosecute anyone for war or economic crimes.”
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Bhofal Chambers, though previously vocal on accountability, since becoming Speaker has now changed his stance and backpedaled on his call for the establishment of a war crimes court.
Speaker Chambers says he prefers restorative justice to retributive justice; something that signals defeat for the petition filed by advocates of war crimes to the Legislature.