War Crimes Court Liberia Campaign Intensifies at US Congress

Rep. Daniel Donovan (left) has presented to the United States Congress a resolution that calls for the full implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) recommendations, including the establishment of an extraordinary criminal tribunal for Liberia, an issue that Liberia's President George Manneh Weah (right) has tried his best to avoid.

-US Congressman over major Liberian constituency joins campaign

Calls for the establishment of a war and economic crimes court in Liberia may not be getting the needed reception at home from those in authority, but the calls seem to be resonating abroad, with strategic and deliberate efforts being made to ensure that Liberians get justice.

The global effort is now rendering the process seemingly inevitable—a call to which, according to many, President George Weah must adhere to ensure sustainable peace and reconciliation.

The latest effort comes from a man that represents the 6,000 strong direct immigrant Liberian community on Staten Island, New York. The man is Representative Daniel Donovan, Jr., who represents Staten Island and parts of South Brooklyn in the 11th Congressional District of New York in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was elected on May 5, 2015, during a special election, and sworn in on May 12, 2015.

With his constituency being home to one of the largest concentrations of Liberians in the United States, Donovan may be well aware of the atrocities that were perpetrated in Liberia’s 14 years of civil unrest—and is endeavoring to seek justice for many of his constituents, who still carry the scars of one of Africa’s most brutal civil wars.

He has presented to the United States Congress a resolution that calls for the full implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) recommendations, including the establishment of an extraordinary criminal tribunal for Liberia. His resolution also seeks to affirm America’s strong ties with Liberia.

The resolution, submitted by Donovan, was a simple decision and, according to reports, is meant to express the collective opinion of a chamber of Congress on public policy issues.

Donovan is a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs as well as part of U.S. President Donald Trump’s Republican Party. He has already received the endorsement of the President’s 2018 re-election campaign. With this, he will be able to influence the U.S. President to support the resolution to establish a war crimes court in Liberia.

With this latest move, the Weah Administration has again been put on official notice by the world’s most powerful nation. This is not the first of such high profile moves, as a top official of the United Nations recently told President Weah, regarding the full implementation of recommendations of the TRC.

At a National Peace Conference in Monrovia on March 22, 2018, Deputy UN Secretary-General Madame Amina Mohammed said: “It is also critical to implement the recommendations of the TRC, and for the legislature to pass key bills that would support local inclusion and reconciliation. These would be timely measures that would assure Liberians that there is strong resolve to see a conclusion to the process”

Madam Mohammed, who was visiting as representative of the UN to participate in the official end of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), told the news conference that, “To ensure reconciliation and a peaceful and prosperous future, it will be crucial to deepen efforts to address the underlying causes of conflict in Liberia.” She also said that prevention is critical in averting a relapse into violence.

There has been a barrage of calls of late for the court to be established. Some groups that have been leading the campaign recently, want the establishment of a special court to try war and economic criminals. They include the Global Justice and Research Project, Coalition for Justice, National Student Movement, Flomo Theatre, Fubbi Foundation for Development and Sustainability, Citizens Action, Liberia Trust Communications and the International Justice Group.

A staunch war crimes court advocate in the last regime, Maryland County Representative Bhofal Chambers, who is the current Speaker, has now reversed his earlier position and has been calling for restorative justice. According to him, restorative justice, which focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims and communities, would offer genuine peace and stability in the country.

Liberia was plunged into a brutal armed conflict beginning December 1989, following a rebel invasion that was led by now convicted former President Charles Taylor.

An estimated 250,000 people died and another 1.5 million others were internally and externally displaced. Neighboring countries, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and Guinea, also saw a spill-over of the war. Thousands more were maimed, raped and mutilated by bands of militias from warring factions that included ULIMO (United Liberation Movement for Democray), LPC (Liberia Peace Council), LDF (Lofa Defense Force), LURD (Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy), NPFL (National Patriotic Front of Liberia), etc.

But Cllr. Jerome Verdier, TRC former head, and Executive Director of the International Justice Group said recently: “We are glad that the international arrests, detentions, deportations and travel ban of these war and economic crimes’ perpetrators will continue until they are eventually prosecuted for their heinous and egregious crimes against human kind. There will be no hiding place. Not anymore.”

The TRC, created as part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, in 2009, released its final report after hearing the testimonies of victims and perpetrators of atrocities committed during the civil war.

The commission made over 200 recommendations, including prosecution of individuals  found responsible for various kinds of gross human rights violation and war crimes.

Among several recommendations advanced in the 370-page report, several Liberians associated with former leaders of warring faction, political decision makers, financiers, organizers, commanders and foot soldiers, were recommended for public sanctions (lustrations- to purify by means of religious rituals or ceremonies).


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