Cllr. Jerome Verdier, former chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), has slammed comments from the Weah led government that Liberia lacks the money to implement the recommendations of the TRC which call in part for the establishment of a war and economic crimes court in the country.
Verdier, in a lengthy comment over the weekend when he appeared as a guest on the popular Spoon Talk, said the international community has invested so much to restore peace and as such, it has its arms opened to finance the establishment of war and economic crimes court.
“The implementation of the TRC report is for good governance, justice and rule of law to return to Liberia. The international community has the money to support Liberia in the quest to end impunity. All that is needed is for the President to commit the government to implement the report,” he said.
Verdier’s claims came barely a little over two weeks since Information Minister, Ledgerhood J. Rennie, said on a local radio station in Monrovia that the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) is interested in implementing the TRC recommendations, including the establishment of war and economic crimes court, but there is “No money.”
Rennie said there are even a lot more other factors, including Legislative approval and the general support of the entire country’s population to endorse the establishment of the war and economic crimes court in order to prosecute all those named in the TRC report.
When guns went silent and warring factions assembled in Ghana in August 2003 to find a political solution to restore peace to the country, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was negotiated and agreed upon and was subsequently enacted into law by the National Transitional Legislative Assembly of Liberia (NTLA).
The TRC was established to promote national peace, security, unity, reconciliation, and at the same time make it possible to hold war crimes perpetrators accountable for gross human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law that occurred in Liberia during the war.
And when former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was inaugurated in 2006, she inaugurated the TRC, thereby creating the hope for review and implementation, but unfortunately for the TRC commissioners and all others who wished to see war crimes perpetrators prosecuted, former President Sirleaf did not give much attention to the TRC report especially the aspect that has to do with justice for war victims.
The former President’s reluctance to implement the report is presumingly due to her involvement in the war one way or the other, where she appeared before the very TRC in Monrovia in 2008 and confessed giving US$10,000 to former NPFL leader and President Charles Taylor accordingly for humanitarian purpose.
“We got credible facts that former President Sirleaf was the chief fundraiser and she raised millions of United States dollars to support Taylor. We found out also that she was the chief mobilizer of child soldiers across the country for Taylor’s warring faction that caused so much harm, including the destruction of lives and properties,” Verdier disclosed to his panel of online interviewers.
He said the TRC was not his making of him neither his colleagues, but the Liberian people whose opinions made it possible.
“There is no regret for the recommendations the TRC board gave. We didn’t do it because of a presidential tenure or term. Sirleaf lacked the courage to implement it because she was caught in the web, but there is President Weah. I understand that they are saying that there is no money, but that excuse is poor and unacceptable. President Weah just doesn’t have the interest in implementing the report.
“Weah does not even know what he wants to do. How can the government tell us that there is no money when, in fact, they have not even told us how much it will cost? Have they done an assessment? No, not at all, but there they are pretending that they want to implement the report but there is no money,” Verdier noted.
Ultimately, the TRC collected more than 20,000 statements from the Liberian people about human rights violations between 1979 and 2003. Statement-takers were deployed in all 15 counties in October 2006. After examining the statements, the TRC held public hearings, focusing on specific events, groups, or kinds of violations. Based on the statements and the hearings, the TRC compiled a final report at the end of its work.
About a few names of persons recommended by the TRC to be prosecuted, Verdier named Nimba County Senator, Prince Johnson as the most notorious war criminal who should have been prosecuted by now and should not have been allowed to hold a public office and benefit as he is doing now. He and others are enjoying tax payers’ money,” said Verdier.
“Prince Johnson showed no remorse all through the hearings and up to now he is still not remorseful for all of the atrocities he committed against the people and the country, but there he is today serving as a Senator. Sad for our country, but no matter what, the justice the Liberian people are seeking will come one day, in fact very soon,” he averred.
Senator Prince Johnson was the leader for the Independent Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL), a breakaway warring faction from Charles Taylor’s NPFL that waged war on the Samuel Doe Administration on December 24, 1989.
Johnson’s rebel faction was the fastest moving warring faction that entered Monrovia from far away Nimba County and captured Doe on September 9, 1990.
Cllr. Verdier told his interviewers that Joshua Milton Blahyi, whose dour name in the war as “General Butt Naked,” has been the only one to show remorse for the crimes he committed during the war.
“Butt Naked was even calling for the war crimes court. He regretted everything he did and he has since been opened to prosecution, unlike Prince Johnson who continues to put up a recalcitrant posture towards the process,” the International Justice Group boss said.
Jefferson Koijee: crimes against humanity?
Cllr. Jerome Verdier clarified that at no point did he tell anyone or an organization that Jefferson Koijee, City Mayor of Monrovia, was a soldier and he committed war crimes. However, Verdier claims he has enough evidence linking the Mayor to crimes against humanity.
“I have nothing personal aginst Jefferson Koijee. In fact, when the TRC was at work, Koijee was one of the youths who went out there to create awareness for people to repose confidence in the process to come out to testify.”
“My attention was recently drawn to him when I saw what happened to Jestina Taylor, a young lady who was kidnapped, abused and tortured. We have evidence that Jefferson Koijee was the brain behind violations of Jestina Taylor’s human rights, and also some other different actions from him that led to the death of a few persons,” he alleged, adding, “The International Justice Group (IJG) has submitted Koijee’s name to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to be prosecuted for crimes against humanity, not war crimes.”
Verdier’s claim that Koijee should be held liable for crimes against humanity was taken with a different thought by two of his former workmates, Cllr. Pearl Browne Bull and John H. T. Stewart.
Both Bull and Stewart distanced the TRC report from any indictment of Koijee for any crime, but Verdier, in his reaction, said the two former Commissioners of the TRC have their personal motives to promote.
“They have something to push with the Weah led government and so they went ahead and said what they said, but I did not say Koijee was mentioned anywhere in the TRC report,” he clarified.
Meanwhile, a group of educated and young professionals under the banner “Childhood Friends of Mr. Jefferson T. Koijee” have also vouched for Koijee, describing as unfortunate the claims by Cllr. Verdier that Koijee has committed crimes against humanity.
Joseph Sankaituah, Former President of the Federation of Liberian Youth (FLY), Sheikh K. Dukuly, II (Ph.D), a Researcher and Nafesa Kanneh (MPH), Public Health Practitioner / Chief Executive Officer, Nasofehtravels said they have not known Koijee for being involved in any war or criminal acts.
Also, Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei (PhD), Former Chief Clerk and Sergeant-at-arms of the Mano River Union Youth Parliament, Jerry Tarbolo, former secretary general of the Federation of Liberian Youth, Urias S. Goll (Attorney-at-law) and a former Parliamentarian of the Mano River Union Youth Parliament were also signatories to the statement from Koijee’s Childhood Friends taking exception to Cllr. Verdier’s accusation against Koijee.
Others were Kula B.N. Fofana, Assistant Dean, David Straz College, University of Liberia / former co-chair, Vision 2030 Steering Committee, Augustine S. M. Tamba, former president of the Federation of Liberian Youth, Cianna Precious Smith, former member of the National High School Student Union of Liberia as well as Brezhnev David Paasewe, former first vice president of the Federation of Liberian Youth, Alfred P. K. Cassell, former member, Board of Advisors, Federation of Liberian Youth, and Pindarous W.T. Allison, former Secretary-General of the Federation of Liberian Youth.