War Crimes Court Advocates Predict Grave Consequences if Justice Not Served

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Temple of Justice, Monrovia Liberia

By Joaquin Sendolo, New Narratives fellow

GANTA, Nimba County – No one hearing “rogue! rogue! rogue!” in the middle of the night in a community in the city of Ganta stays asleep long.

Instead, people rush out with machetes to find the culprit. When the suspect is caught, there is no thought of turning him over to the police. He is beaten to death and his body is left on the roadside.

Reports from the Ganta Police show that four people were killed by vigilante mobs in just one week in August last year.  According to the police, the victims were suspected to be thieves, but one among them was later identified as insane.

There have been a number of mob violence incidents in Nimba, especially the populated Ganta area in the last five years. The most infamous of these events happened on September 30, 2015. The mob ransacked a hotel in reaction to the mysterious killing of a motorcyclist whose body was discovered on a roadside with parts reportedly extracted. Authorities imposed a nighttime curfew afterwards.

There have been a number of mob violence incidents in Nimba, especially the populated Ganta area in the last five years. The most infamous of these events happened on September 30, 2015. The mob ransacked a hotel in reaction to the mysterious killing of a motorcyclist whose body was discovered on a roadside with parts reportedly extracted. Authorities imposed a nighttime curfew afterwards.

“All this boils down to the fact that many a time criminals are set free when taken to the police and evildoers are rewarded with positions in this country,” says Gorgboyee. “Without a war crimes court and an effective justice system to hold people accountable, I can tell you freely that I can participate in a war here in the future to commit crimes so I can get my share of public positions being offered former warlords and generals here.”

Since taking over one year ago, pressure has been mounting on the government of President George Weah for the establishment of a war crimes court, and justice advocates in Ganta are warning that unless justice for wartime atrocities is served, mob violence will surely increase.

Advocates in Nimba County say the fact that perpetrators of war crimes are now serving in high government positions without any penalty for their crimes sends the message that they were right to kill people and destroy the country.

The advocates say people who headed the past administration were implicated in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report for their role in the war and therefore could not bring justice against themselves.  They say President Weah is in the best position to bring justice for victims and survivors, and without justice no Liberian including warlords in authority should feel that peace is here.

Jasco Davis, County Coordinator of the Catholic Justice of the Peace Commission (JPC), says the crime rate in Nimba and the country as a whole is due to impunity, and the only solution is to hold perpetrators, who committed atrocities in the country, accountable and reform the justice system.

Davis, 53, says he and other advocates in Nimba face threats and harassment from those fearing prosecution.

“But we strive to move above fear because with justice people will shun evil acts in the society,” Davis says.

Aaron Weah, Country Director of Search for Common Ground, says the Social Cohesion and Reconciliation Survey (SCORE) conducted in 2017 and 2018, found that a majority of Liberians want to see the Liberia Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recommendations implemented, including a war crimes court.

SCORE is conducted in multi-ethnic societies worldwide.  First conducted in Liberia in 2016, it was created by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Centre for Sustainable Peace and Democratic Development (SeeD), based in Cyprus, where it has been conducted since 2013. The survey has also been conducted in Iraq, Ukraine, Bosnia Herzegovina and Moldova.

“About 60-75 percent of Liberians [according to SCORE] hold this view, and they want to see the TRC recommendations and strategic roadmap and national healing implemented, and these are documents that call for justice.  So, these expressions show how strongly Liberians feel about justice,” Weah says.

Weah also referenced a survey conducted by USAID (United States Agency for International Development) three years ago on conflict vulnerability in Liberia and it was found that there were many grievances that made people lack trust in the justice system.

“About 60-75 percent of Liberians [according to SCORE] hold this view and they want to see the TRC recommendations and strategic roadmap and national healing implemented, and these are documents that call for justice.  So, these expressions show how strongly Liberians feel about justice,” Weah says.

Weah also referenced a survey conducted by USAID three years ago on conflict vulnerability in Liberia, and it was found that there were many grievances that made people lack trust in the justice system.

That survey found that a staggering 73 percent of Liberians have no trust in the Judiciary, Executive and the Legislature.

“Alternatively, these people find trust in the civil society, religious institutions, and traditional leadership,” Weah says.

Weah recalls when lawlessness led to the flogging and stripping of police officers and sheriffs in the Barnesville area last year and how many police stations had been vandalized in the country, which he says is the legacy of the war.

He says a war crimes court has its limitations and it might not prosecute as many people as many may hope but, he says that establishing a criminal tribunal will pave a way to rewriting Liberia’s history clearly so that everyone is prepared for genuine reconciliation.

Nimba County suffered huge casualties during the civil war (1989 – 2003). Many Nimbaians also committed heinous crimes, according to the TRC. Benjamin Yeaten, former Special Security Service Director; Roland Duo, former head of Port Security and Senator Prince Johnson, former head of the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL) are on the TRC list of “Most notorious perpetrators.”  Johnson is also on the list of warring faction heads to face prosecution.

The Nimba Senator opposes the establishment of the court.

“Those who are calling for a war crimes court are wasting their time,” he said on Radio Ganta in December last year.  “When Alhaji Kromah is touched, the Mandingoes will rise up against that; when George Boley is touched, the Krahns will rise; and I dare anybody to touch me,” Senator Johnson said earlier.

However, the Nimba County Senator and political godfather has somersaulted and welcomed the establishment of a war crimes court to investigate impartially human rights abuses during the war.

The story was produced in collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project.

1 COMMENT

  1. Incidents of mob violence occurred before and after the 1980 coup, and happening elsewhere in the sub-region (Sierra Leone, Ghana, Ivory Coast, etc). So, positing a causal link between lack of a war crime court and vigilante justice is at best tenuous. Truth be told, some people would take the law into their hands when law enforcement officers or police stations (policing presence) aren’t around. It goes to the Wid West scenario of outlaws running isolated frontier towns in early America.

    This isn’t to say that Liberians shouldn’t discuss a war crime court. But let the majority of our people in the country make that decision, not a one-sided cruise by some – including few of the same Machiavellians that were maneuvering for war. Poor Liberians know those who waged war on them and for a dozen years saw them working amicably with few Human Rights lawyers and advocates in the past government. We shouldn’t, therefore, be surprised that the downtrodden prefer the government to currently prioritize their interests and welfare over a war crime court: Not rocket science.

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