— Seeks global support to establish war crimes court
President George Weah has lodged a complaint against Liberia’s opposition parties at the 74th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). Contrary to the African adage which says the family should avoid washing its linen in the glare of the public, the President said that Liberians are beginning to witness the emergence of a creeping threat to the country’s democratic space and its hard-won peace and stability.
President Weah spoke Wednesday, September 25, 2019 at the UNGA in New York. He said some individuals within and out of the country, particularly those who have lost democratically-held elections, have resorted to incitement, threats of violence, misuse of social media and hate speeches with the aim to attain power through undemocratic means.
“This is unacceptable, and must not be encouraged by those who would wish Liberia well. Because for democracy to thrive, all Liberians, including the ruling class and the opposition parties, must respect the rule of law and abide by the procedures and regulations prescribed therein,” President Weah said.
He said as the leading opposition party in Liberia for the past 12 years prior to the holding of the 2017 elections, “Our party, the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), accepted the disputed results of the two previous presidential elections (2005 and 2011) in the interest of peace.”
He continued, “Nevertheless, throughout those two terms, we continuously engaged the government in a constructive manner by accepting to serve as Peace Ambassador, when called upon to assist them maintain the peace under their regime.”
President Weah said Liberians must all learn to respect the mandates of the electorates, “when that mandate is not in our favor, and not be selective in our support for democracy only when we win.”
“As I have acknowledged on many occasions, Liberia is a UN success story; that is, after being devastated by a brutal civil conflict that lasted for 14 years (1989-2003), peace was restored and maintained by then the largest peace-keeping force in the history of the UN. Under the auspices of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), Liberians enjoyed 16 years of unbroken peace,” President Weah said.
He said Liberians remain pleased and grateful for the efforts and sacrifices the World Body made to secure “our peace.”
Weah recalled how the peace-keeping work was assigned to the Liberian government shortly after the peacekeepers where withdrawn two years ago.
“This is a responsibility to which I attach the greatest importance, because without peace, our world will be difficult. We are all aware of the terrible destruction of lives and properties caused by the country’s civil war,” President Weah said.
Although President Weah’s speech did not have a specific theme, he however said long after the guns had been silenced in the country, the survivors have to live with the collateral damage of the war: the shattered families, the displaced populations, the resettlement of refugees and all the other negative consequences of a national socioeconomic fabric that has been torn apart.
“Since assuming the leadership of my country almost two years now, I have remained focused on my charge to ensure that peace prevails in Liberia. At that time, we committed ourselves to upholding our constitutional mandate, which is to ensure that all the democratic rights of our citizens would be guaranteed and protected,” Weah told the gathering.
“I kept the peace”
“I have kept this promise, and the country is today a beacon of democracy in Africa where freedom of the press, expression, association and other political and democratic rights are respected under the rule of law,” he said.
Though he spoke of the opposition’s undermining his government, Weah said that Liberia’s political environment remains vibrant with political actors, with parties “freely exercising their franchise and participating in various elections.”
To the UNGA, President Weah added, “Madam President, I am delighted to report that there are no political prisoners in Liberia, and existing laws that hindered or threatened press freedom have been de-criminalized.”
President Weah said several protests are being held from time to time, all of which have ended peacefully, and that his government has welcomed all as a positive manifestation of democratic maturity.
“This is the democracy for which our country has yearned; this is the freedom for which our people have struggled and suffered; and this is the emancipation for which many of our citizens have paid the ultimate price,” he said.
President Weah said the 2003 Accra Peace Accord, which formally ended the country’s civil war, called for the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to provide a forum that would address issues of impunity as well as an opportunity for both the victims and perpetrators of human rights violations to share their experiences in order to facilitate genuine healing and reconciliation.
He said the TRC was duly established, concluded its hearings and produced a final report in 2009. Weah said that the report called for the establishment of an extraordinary criminal tribunal to prosecute those identified as having committed gross violations of human rights and economic crimes between 1979 and 2003.
“It is important to note that the TRC report also recommended the use of a conflict-resolution mechanism that has been traditionally used in Liberia, called the “Palava Hut” mechanism, whereby in various district meetings conducted by community elders, perpetrators could publicly request forgiveness from their victims and where the aims of restorative justice could be served,” President Weah said.
Restorative justice is a system of criminal justice which focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community at large.
President Weah said support for the establishment of a war and economic crimes court has also been voiced by many international organizations as well as some of our international partners.
“We are at a loss to understand why the clamor for the establishment of the war and economic crimes court is now being made, almost a full decade after it was first called for; and during which time, no such pressure was brought to bear on the government that grew out of the Accra Peace Accord,” President Weah said.
Nevertheless, he said his government is a listening administration and has been paying keen attention to the voices of the people.
“What I have discerned from the citizens’ cries is that it is important to bring closure to the wounds from the 14 years of Liberia’s brutal civil war, and that we need to agree on a mechanism that would guarantee the sustenance of peace, stability, justice and reconciliation as well as enhance our prospects for economic recovery.”
Considering the importance of this matter, he added, “I have already begun consultations with our members of the Legislature — the representatives of our people — and we intend to have a broader engagement with the judicial system and with our strategic international partners and organizations, to determine pertinent issues such as legal framework, timing, venue, and funding.”