-Proposes national peace dialogue at UNGA
Human rights campaigners including war and economic crimes court proponents were left fazed when President George Manneh Weah in his address at the United Nations General Assembly carefully skirted issues of accountability for perpetrators of gross abuse of human rights abuse and economic crimes committed during the country’s 14-year civil war as well as those who continue to loot the country’s resources.
Prior to taking the world stage on Wednesday at the UN General Assembly in New York, over 80 local and international organizations at a press conference in Monrovia had urged President Weah to commit his administration to support the establishment of war and economic crimes court in Liberia.
Major campaigners including human rights lawyer Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe, Danieletta Sleyon of the Foundation for Human Rights and Democracy, Hassan Bility, Director of Global Justice and Research Project, and Adama Dempster, Secretary General of the National Civil Society Human Rights Advocacy, crave the President’s indulgence to seek justice for the many victims of the civil crisis.
Credible international voices that appealed for the ending of impunity in the country included UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed and the United Nations Human Rights Committee, a body of independent experts that monitor the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
Delivering his address during his debut appearance at the 73rd UNGA in New York on Wednesday, President Weah said his administration would rather prefer to initiate a series of National Peace Dialogues to heal the nation’s wounds to bring lasting peace and unity.
The President indicated, “Our people continue to bear the scars of conflicts. We therefore intend to initiate a series of national peace dialogues throughout the country.”
He added, “We must restart these difficult conversations at the local level and include our youth so that they — and we — do not repeat the costly mistakes of the past.”
Suggesting that the war and economic crimes court would foster division among Liberians, President Weah noted that his agenda to lead the country is not of division but rather of unity. “Our agenda is not one of division but rather an agenda that intends to provide an enabling environment for a united people to be able to benefit and prosper from the economic dividends of peace,” he said.
President Weah said that a nation that has experienced civil crisis must never take peace for granted or forget the long shadow that years of conflict still cast over their lives. “We must, therefore, realize and appreciate that ours is still a fragile peace,” he said.
He noted that through frank exchanges at the national dialogue will be essential steps in obtaining lasting peace in the country.
But human rights lawyer, Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe and many others who share the view that Liberians should not keep silent on the abuse of their human rights and that no well-meaning Liberian, President Weah included, should condone impunity for perpetrators of egregious domestic crimes and gross violations of human rights, may have felt let down by President Weah’s speech, which completely ignored local and international concerns about the deepening entrenchment of impunity in Liberia.
“I believe that we will be proud that our President will say to the world that there will be accountability for those who took part in the war and that is the way human dignity will be restored,” Cllr. Gongloe said on Tuesday. He added that if President Weah demonstrates that he harbors sympathy for or is in solidarity with war criminals, it would undermine the credibility of his administration.
However, immediately upon the delivery of his address, social media erupted with various opinions of Liberians about how the President had performed—whether or not the President addressed the issues close to the heart of the Liberian people.
While proponents of the CDC administration appeared overwhelmed by what they claim to be the “marvelous” articulation of the President during his speech, some critics said the President balked on issues of global concern or contributed little or nothing to debates, merely making the rounds on the global front.
According to human rights activist, Alfred Kiadii, “he promoted no issue of importance to the Global South. Clearly, he trotted out lies about a pro poor agenda which means different things to different government officials. Indeed, it was minutes of wasted time and presentation of a laundry list of fantasies with no framework to achieve a thing,” Kiadii stressed.
Kiadii indicated that if Liberia is to be relevant on the global stage, it should provide its perspective on unfolding global issues. “The stage before Weah was a unique opportunity to promote South-South cooperation,” he said, adding that the President refused to speak on one global thematic issue.
“He said nothing about Syria, nothing about the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, nothing about climate change, the migrant crisis in North Africa and Europe, and the rise of populist governments in Europe. His speech was the height of mediocrity,” Kiadii noted.
Other critics contend that as the world is already apprised of the fact that the President has a L$16 billion financial crisis at home, therefore mentioning that as his cursor to tackle corruption would’ve been the icing on the cake according to sampled views on the President’s debut appearance at the UN General Assembly.
Steven Barnie Freeman said, “I have seen a lot of comments regarding Mr. Weah’s speech. But if you are measuring Mr. Weah’s competence, preparedness to govern, discernment of sound fiscal policies and ability to uphold the rule of law, in order to transform Liberia, improve the living conditions of our people by a scripted and robotic speech, then my goodness, is the bar that low?
“I would hope we broaden our horizon and expect so much more from our elected officials and, judging from the feedback on this speech, anyone could give a speech that invokes a standing ovation, but ultimately it is whether one is capable of cultivating policies that can be put into action to change lives.
“Mr. Weah’s speech at the U.N. may have awakened and inspired you, but we must begin to ask ourselves, has he demonstrated the sort of skills you’d like to see from your leader? No matter what that answer is for you, know that the Liberian people, especially those that voted this president into office expect action oriented results that transcend mere speeches.”
For Jeremiah Ray Parker, President Weah’s performance was “awesome”, for a first timer. “He left an impression that made me feel like a proud Liberian being represented on the World’s stage. He looked confident, fully prepared and unfazed by criticism of his presentation. Line by line, George Weah nailed it; occasionally looking up to emphasize a strong point in his speech.
“This was a well-penned speech, which he did not rush; allowing his audience to grasp the message he was advancing. At the end of it, I balled up my fist and clenched my teeth with a shout of YES!. My President had made me proud,” Parker said.
He continued, “But hardly will the dust of this commendable performance settle, when the president returns home to face a problem that is testing his leadership — news of the alleged disappearance of L$16 billion dollars, which recently caught the attention of the entire world, but nothing is impossible. If the President can demonstrate the same level of maturity and leadership seen the past couple of days here at the United Nations, maybe, maybe, he’ll bring calm to the thousands of his countrymen still seeking answers.”