The United States Congress has passed Resolution 1053 affirming strong United States-Liberia ties and support for democratic principles and has called for full implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recommendations, including the establishment of an Extraordinary Criminal Tribunal for Liberia.
On September 7, 2018, two Congressmen on the Committee of Foreign Affairs submitted a bill to Congress calling for the passage of a resolution affirming strong United States-Liberia ties and support for democratic principles.
The resolution calls for full implementation of the TRC recommendations, including the establishment of an Extraordinary Criminal Tribunal for Liberia.
“Whereas today the United States is home to an estimated 80,000 people of Liberian ancestry in vibrant communities across the country who have been instrumental in America’s efforts to build a peaceful, democratic, and prosperous Liberia;
“Whereas Liberia and the United States share close historical, political, and economic ties over the course of a nearly 200-year relationship;
“Whereas the people and Government of the United States have a deep interest in Liberia’s democratic stability and Post-conflict development;
“Whereas the civil war from 1991 to 2002 resulted in the death of over 200,000 people in Sierra Leone and Liberia, the displacement of over 1,000,000 persons, and the horrific cases of amputations, mass rape, and human rights abuses conducted under the leadership of Charles Taylor;
“Whereas Charles Taylor was convicted through the Special Court for Sierra Leone for 11 different charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, such as rape, sexual abuse, and slavery, and violation of international law, including the use of child soldiers;
“Whereas a comprehensive peace agreement was signed by the Government of Liberia (GoL), rebel groups, and political parties in 2003;
“Whereas the TRC, as established under the 2003 comprehensive peace agreement, was formally created in 2005, with a mandate ‘to promote national peace, security, unity and reconciliation by investigating gross human rights violations and violations of humanitarian law, sexual violations, and economic crimes that occurred between January 1979 and October 2003.
“Whereas the TRC released a report in December 2008, recommending the establishment of an Extraordinary Criminal Tribunal for Liberia and listed individuals, corporations, and institutions recommended for further investigation and prosecution, among other recommendations;
“Whereas the GoL has not fully implemented the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Agreement to date, including the establishment of an Extraordinary Criminal Tribunal;
“Whereas Liberia experienced its first democratic and peaceful transition of power since 1944 after President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf respected constitutional term limits, and George Weah defeated Vice President Joseph Boakai following a runoff during the 2017 presidential elections;
“Whereas the United States congratulated the people of Liberia on the successful conclusion of the Presidential runoff election and recognized the important role Liberia’s Supreme Court, political parties, security forces, and civil society organizations played in holding a peaceful and transparent contest; and Whereas the United States Government and American citizens have invested in Liberia to rebuild and support democratic institutions, post-conflict recovery, economic growth, improved access to education and health care, professionalization of the country’s military and civilian security forces, and efforts to foster accountability and transparency of government institutions:
“Now, therefore, be it resolved, that the House of Representatives upholds its commitment to maintain and foster the enduring relationship between the people, and the Governments of the United States and Liberia; urges the Government and people of Liberia to support the truth and reconciliation process through the full implementation of the recommendations of the TRC, including the establishment of an Extraordinary Criminal Tribunal; and supports efforts by the Department of State, and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to advance Liberian efforts toward national reconciliation through continued support for the rule of law, effective governance, and the robust role of civil society.
This latest development, according to observers, may likely throw a cloud over what they say is President Weah’s publicly pronounced commitment to a series of what the President called “Peace Dialogues” to be held around the country in a bid to foster national reconciliation. In his recent address to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), President Weah said a nation which has experienced civil war must never take peace for granted and forget that long years of conflict still casts a shadow over the lives of people, adding that he intends to initiate a series of national Peace dialogues throughout the country.
The President furthered that he remains convinced that such dialogues are essential in bringing lasting healing, reconciliation and unity to the Liberian people, adding that his agenda is not one of division but one intended to provide an enabling environment so that a united and reconciled people can enjoy the economic dividends of peace.
However, many Liberians, to the contrary, have called for the establishment of a war crimes court for Liberia to bring to justice those accused of committing atrocities during the prolonged Liberian civil conflict. Prominent among those Liberians is businessman and politician Benoni Urey.
Although he was indicted in the TRC Final report for the commission of economic crimes, Urey has long since and repeatedly denied any involvement in the mindless violence that characterized the Liberian and Sierra Leonean civil conflicts and further maintained that as a civilian being appointed to head the Maritime Commission, he made no war-related decisions. He also maintains that he was the subject of several internationally commissioned audits which cleared him of any fraudulent activity while serving as Maritime Commissioner.
Urey, a millionaire businessman, was also suspected of involvement in activities intended to destabilize Liberia, but a United Nations Panel of Experts 2013 report on Liberia concluded that it did not have any information suggesting that Urey was involved in activities that would destabilize Liberia and the sub-region. He has, however, called for the establishment of a war crimes court for Liberia, a move which, according to observers, did not escape the attention of the international community.
Since then, there have been repeated calls from all segments of the Liberian society, aside from the various civil society groups, supporting the push for a war crimes court. One of those supporting the call is none other than a once feared wartime frontline commander, Joshua Milton Blahyi, otherwise known as “General Butt-Naked”. He earned this nom de guerre for his war exploits, going into battle stark-naked.
Blahyi, now a minister of the Gospel and who was not recommended for prosecution by the TRC, has nonetheless and repeatedly stressed his willingness to face whatever punishment the war crimes court, if established, will prescribe for him, adding that it will do much to combat impunity. He maintains that if his son sees his father being sent to jail on war crime charges, it will serve as a deterrent to his son and other would-be warlords to not tread the same path ever again.
But with President Weah having declared that he prefers instead to initiate what he has called a series of “Peace Dialogues,” it remains to be seen whether such will prove a feasible action providing Liberians with assurances and guarantees of non-repetition. According to observers, President Weah’s magical allure alone may not prove sufficient enough to deliver the justice that the Liberian people need and deserve and that only time will tell whether he (President Weah) will cede to demands for establishing the war crimes court or whether he will persist in the search for peace and reconciliation through his proposed national “Peace Dialogues” and, lastly, whether his “Peace Dialogue” approach will yield any tangible fruits at all.