…Former Prosecutor, UN Human Rights Commissioner in Country
With mounting calls for the establishment of a war crimes court in the country, United States former Ambassador-at-large on War Crimes issues, Stephen Rapp, and United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) Country Representative, Uchenna Emelonye, have expressed the need for the Liberian government and people to take a serious step towards holding alleged perpetrators in the country’s 14-year war accountable for atrocities they committed.
On the record of the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) Platform, summary killings, sexual slavery, torture, among others, were crimes committed during the war that are yet to be accounted for by alleged perpetrators.
At the opening of a National Justice Conference organized by the CSO Platform, Global Justice and Research Project and other partners, including Civitas Maxima and the Center for Justice and Accountability, on Friday, November 9 in Monrovia, Ambassador Rapp said that there is no way people can protect their children and grand children or realize sustainable peace in a post-war country without holding people, who committed war crimes, accountable for their actions.
According to Rapp, in the absence of justice to hold people accountable, major players in a war will continue to build wealth through the influence of crimes they committed, “and the only way to avert such a situation is to hold them accountable for their crimes.”
He said other countries, including Sierra Leone, Rwanda and Chad, had gone ahead to hold war crimes perpetrators accountable, adding that such is not a new phenomenon to puzzle over. In order to have stable peace, he noted, to move Liberia forward, Liberians themselves need to decide what kind of justice they would want for the country.
The call for the establishment of a war crimes court in Liberia has heightened since the inception of the George Weah Administration.
It can be recalled that in May this year, a group under the banner, “Citizens United for War and Economic Crimes Court,” converged at the Capitol Building and presented a petition to their lawmakers, calling for the establishment of such a court.
As the debate continues, those opposing the establishment are of the view that time for a war crimes court is belated and, therefore, the function of such a court is no more significant, since it was not done after the war ended in 2003.
In response to this, Amb. Rapp said there is no statute of limitation to the establishment of a court, and it does not matter when it is established.
He said, “As long as perpetrators are living and still around, a war crimes court can be established to hold them accountable for crimes they committed.”
Amb. Rapp, who cited some instances, stressed that there were crimes committed in the 1960s that the United States Government is still pursuing up to date, and there was a war crimes court established after World War II in Germany and that some of those who could not face it at the time, were made to account for their actions in recent history.
According to him, there is no good night of sleep for a war crimes perpetrator as long as he/she killed a child or sexually enslaved women, “because there is a day that he/she will have to account for such actions.”
UNHRC Country Representative, Uchenna Emelonye, who served as a keynote speaker at the opening of Friday’s event, could not hold back what he believes can bring total peace and stability to Liberia. He declared that “the position of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is that all actors, led by the government, must ensure accountability for past crimes.”
The talk about war crimes court in Liberia has been meeting strong resistance, especially from would-be perpetrators, especially Nimba County Senator and former leader of the defunct Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL), Prince Y. Johnson.
Many of the perpetrators identified in the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) are serving or recently did serve in government, even at the Legislature where petition for the establishment of a war crimes court would be enacted into law; but Senator Johnson has already described the establishment of such a court as a “fiasco,” because he feels that the TRC documents are tainted with “fraud.”
However, Amb. Emelonye said: “As for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, we commit to supporting the government and people of Liberia in their quest for reconciliation and accountability for past human rights violations.”
He further acknowledged that the accountability framework for Liberia has been fashioned by the report of the TRC in 2009.
He added, “It is on this pedestal that the Human Rights Committee, in its concluding observations in July 2018 on the initial report of Liberia, regrets the very few steps taken to implement the bulk of the TRC recommendations, including the fact that alleged perpetrators of gross human rights violations and war crimes mentioned in the report have not been brought to justice.”
Amb. Emelonye said that the Committee urged the Liberian government to take all necessary measures to implement the TRC recommendations, and further recommended to the government to establish, as a matter of priority, a process of accountability for past gross human rights violations that conform to international standard.
“The commendable national thirst for peace and inclusive society in Liberia can be accelerated and consolidated if the government provides access to justice for all, particularly if it ensures accountability for past violations. A post-war society that does not promote justice and accountability, does not properly heal without scars; conversely, if the victim of today does not heal and forgive, there is a tendency that he or she will be the violator of tomorrow if availed with power and authority,” Emelonye added.