The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in collaboration with the Civil Society Human Rights Advocacy Platform has begun a one-year nationwide consultation with traditional and local leaders to get public support toward the establishment of the War and Economic Crimes court to prosecute major actors of the 14-year civil war amid the lack of interest by the national government.
The consultation in Bomi County was held under the theme; “Effects to Address Past Human Rights Violation of Regional Levels in Liberia,” is a two-day outreach on accountability and justice for past crimes, and it brought together traditional leaders from Grand Cape Mount, Gbarpolu and Montserrado and the host county.
The public outreach is the first of five regional consultations that are expected to take place across Liberia to get the traditional people’s views on the culture of impunity.
Dr. Sonny Onyegbula, OHCHR head of programs, told the participants that the responsibility of the commission is to promote accountability and rule of law, adding that it is under the accountability pillar of the Liberia Country Office under which they have been providing support to ensure that the recommendations of Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) are implemented.
Dr. Onyegbula said the consultation is important because of the pivotal role played by traditional leaders in getting the message disseminated to community members.
“We are aware of different myths and falsehood that are mischievously associated with the establishment of Economic and War Crime Courts,” Dr. Onyegbula said, “Among the falsehood are that once the court is established anyone that took part in the Liberian war will be sent to prison and that such establishment will plunge Liberia into another civil war which is not true.”
Dr. Onyegbula said that court is only for persons who bear the greatest responsibilities for atrocities committed during the war.
He said, “Similarly, child soldiers do not bear any responsibility because they were under the direction of a Commander who should account for their action; many countries have established similar courts and underwent justice processes, but it did not lead to any war, Sierra Leone is a very good example.”
Adama K. Dempster, Secretary-general of the Civil Society Organizations and Human Rights Advocacy Platform, said the outreach is intended for the traditional leaders to discuss with right advocacy groups about some violations that took place during the war and those that are still ongoing.
Dempster said the outreach will focus on the implementation of the TRC report and its recommendations to end the culture of impunity across the country to serve as deterrence for others.
He said the rights advocates see the traditional leaders as strong as the national government that can shift things in a positive direction for the betterment of Liberia.
Dempster said since the TRC ended its work ten years ago, nothing has been done to address the culture of impunity.
It may be recalled that a committee headed by Montserrado County District # 4 Representative, Rostonlyn Suococo Dennis signed a resolution last year endorsing the establishment of a war and economic crime court for Liberia.
The resolution which reportedly received over 50 signatures out of the 73 members of the House of Representatives. However, since the endorsement last year there has been no effort to include the quest of an establishment of a war crimes court on the agenda for debate in plenary of the House of Representatives.
Representative Dennis in one of the sessions broke in tears when Bong County District #1 Representative Albert Hill rejected her amendments for inclusion of, and discussion on the “Resolution for the establishment of War Crimes Court in Liberia,” and “Article 96” on the House’s Agenda as part of business of the day.
She argued that the Bong County lawmaker, who is one of the signatories to the Resolution, did not know the essence of the document he signed, thus leading Representative Dennis to questioning his integrity.