— Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Claims
Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has trashed reasons for the establishment of a war crimes tribunal in Liberia, suggesting that the matter had already been decided at the level of the Supreme Court which reduced the matter to that of a Palaver Hut engagement.
In a television interview with Al Jazeera journalist, Mehdi Razzan Hassan, Madam Sirleaf said the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)’s findings and recommendations were taken to court, tested, and later given the green light to be reduced to palaver hut discussion items.
“The TRC has gone to the court, it has left the court and has transformed into a palaver hut,” she said.
According to her, now is not time for reawakening old wounds but dialogue in order to strengthen the country’s peace and rebuild its broken structures and systems.
“The process of contrition and forgiveness and all of that has started so I don’t care about what you say,” she sharply replied to Mehdi Razzan Hassan, a British political journalist and author.
Before she assumed the Presidency in 2006, the TRC had already been formed in 2005 with Commissioners appointed by Transitional Chairman Gyude Bryant following extensive consultations and a vigorous vetting process by local and international actors.
Thus, it was on May 12, 2005 when the Liberian Transitional Legislative Assembly enacted the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Act establishing the Commission and detailing its mandate.
The TRC was established to “promote national peace, security, unity and reconciliation,” and at the same time make it possible to hold perpetrators accountable for gross human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law that occurred in Liberia between January 1979 and October 2003.
Addressing herself to the TRC recommendation banning her and others from holding any public office in the country for a period of thirty years, she told the journalist that he was not informed of the country’s post war history and so he should forget about discussing it.
“Maybe you are not updated about what is happening in that country. Maybe you forget that after that came out, I won two elections. That went to court my dear. It’s like you don’t have enough information for the things you are saying. It is really unfortunate. This matter went to the court. I did not put it there,” Madam Sirleaf explained.
Sirleaf said this is no time to revisit the ugly past, which has brought the country and its people to the terrible stage it has gotten to. However despite her failure to address accountability concerns during her tenure and her current stance opposing the establishment of a war crimes court for Liberia, public outcry has continued to mount with victims demanding justice and an end to impunity.
According to US State Department and other local and international human rights organizations, access to justice remains a key weakness in the country’s justice system which is stymied by corruption. This situation has led to a general loss of public confidence in the country’s judicial system, according to various human rights reports.
Moreover, the lack of accountability for perpetrators of human rights abuse has led to a growing wave of calls for accountability which, in the view of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, is necessary to sustain peace and foster reconciliation, one that is based on justice.
It can be recalled that the Human Rights Committee, in its concluding observations in 2018 on the initial report of Liberia, noted with 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 TRC report have not been made to account.
Recently, Yacoub El Hillo, Resident Coordinator and Country Director of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and Uchenna Emelonye, Country Representative of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, observed that Liberia’s hard-earned peace can only be sustained if victims are given justice by having people who committed human rights abuses made to account for their deeds.
Unlike President Sirleaf who maintains that the quest for accountability would reopen old wounds, “The UN strongly believes that addressing the question of accountability is essential to achieving long lasting peace and fostering reconciliation, and it was once said that accounting for past actions is an important element of healing and reconciliation.”
Those were the words of UN Resident Coordinator Yacoub El Hillo when he addressed a meeting of lawyers recently. He further stressed that: “Accountability was among the first steps towards transforming relationship at different levels,” assuring that “the UN is committed to helping the government and people of Liberia in their quest for lasting stability, peace and reconciliation.”
El Hillo added that all Liberians have the right and opportunity to discuss and agree on whatever restorative mechanisms they choose to adopt to bring closure to this important question, noting, “The mechanism needs not come from outside, and may not be set up outside, but can come from right here.”
The UN resident coordinator is supported in this view by the Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Uchenna Emelonye.
According to Emelonye, Liberia can achieve true national healing, enduring reconciliation and sustainable peace if the government and partners including civil society organizations ensure that perpetrators be held to account.
“The position of the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is that all actors, led by the government, must ensure accountability for past crimes,” he stressed.
Referencing the TRC final recommendations, Emelonye said it is important to note that the Accountability framework for Liberia has been fashioned by the report of the TRC of 2009. It was on this basis, according to him, that the Human Rights Committee, in its concluding observations in 2018 on the initial report of Liberia, expressed regrets for the very few steps taken to implement the TRC recommendations, including the fact that alleged perpetrators of gross human rights violations and war crimes mentioned in the TRC report have not been brought to justice.
More to this, lawyers at a retreat hosted by the Liberia National Bar Association recently, debated issues surrounding the implementation of the TRC final recommendations. Eighty-two (82) lawyers out of ninety-four (94) lawyers voted in favor of full implementation of the TRC recommendations.
In its report, the TRC identified 98 perpetrators it referred to as “Most notorious perpetrators,” eight (8) heads of warring factions, twenty-one (21) persons for economic crimes and nineteen (19) corporations, institutions and state actors.
The 98 perpetrators and eight heads of warring factions were recommended for investigation and prosecution along with the 21 persons and 19 corporations. Another 52 people were recommended for public sanction and barred from holding public office, and 54 other individuals and entities were recommended for further investigation.
Meanwhile, public demands for the establishment of a war crimes court for Liberia have intensified amid heightened security concerns in the wake of threats to violence against organizers of the planned June 7 protest.
Such concerns appear to be undergirded by fears of a resurgence of armed violence implicit in public pronouncements by ex-generals of defunct warring factions, in last April, threatening to arrest a member of the Legislature.
Meanwhile a leading legal practitioner in Monrovia, (name withheld) has slammed suggestions by President Sirleaf that the TRC matter went to Court where it was decided to revert to the Palaver Hut. According to the lawyer, the former President should be aware that the commission of egregious human rights crimes cannot be a matter of “forgive and forget” and cannot either be reduced to crimes of a lesser category.
According to the lawyer, former President Sirleaf’s reluctance and failure to address is evidenced by statements by ex-rebel generals that she “took care” of them meaning, she provided for their welfare and shielded them and that is why, according to him, the ex-rebel generals had what he called the temerity to publicly issue threats against Representative Yekeh Kolubah.