About 20 human rights groups have written President George M. Weah requesting him to investigate and prosecute those connected to the commission of atrocities during the 14-year civil war.
The rights groups put their request forward on January 21, 2018, a day to Weah’s inauguration, in an open letter to the President.
The groups called upon President Weah “to fulfill Liberia’s obligations to investigate and prosecute wartime atrocities” and urged him to “make accountability a priority for your administration and ensure the protection of Liberian human rights defenders, particularly those working on accountability initiatives.”
Liberia endured two back to back civil wars from 1989 to 1997 and 1999 to 2003, during which some diplomatic sources estimate up to 250,000 were killed, with more than half the country forcibly displaced.
A report by Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) released in June 2009 found all sides responsible for serious violations of domestic and international law, including war crimes, crimes against humanity, widespread and systematic rape and sexual slavery, torture, use and recruitment of child soldiers, and mass executions of civilians.
Although the TRC recommended the establishment of an Extraordinary Criminal Tribunal in Liberia to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of serious violations of international criminal and humanitarian laws, the only prosecutions to date have been outside of Liberia.
Hassan Bility, executive director of the Monrovia-based Global Justice and Research Project and one of the authors of the open letter, said: “Justice must be one of the cardinal points of the President’s new agenda. There must be justice for war crimes; otherwise there will be no lasting peace in Liberia.”
Bility, a former journalist and torture survivor of the civil war, helped initiate the arrests of several Liberian perpetrators in Europe and the U.S. in partnership with the Swiss based NGO, Civitas Maxima.
“Recent cases such as the conviction of Jungle Jabbah in Philadelphia and the indictments of other alleged war criminals in Europe and the U.S. have shown that prosecuting war criminals will not reignite the civil war in Liberia, as has often been feared,” said Nushin Sarkarati, senior staff attorney at the Center for Justice and Accountability. “It is time to bring these examples of justice home, and make ending impunity in Liberia a priority.”
Advocacy for prosecution of war criminals after the Liberian civil war began when former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, one of the key players, took over the war ravished country as President.
Former President Sirleaf in her confession during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearing said she provided US$10,000 to convicted former Liberian President Charles Taylor for humanitarian purpose, but her account was challenged by former wartime colleague Thomas Jucontee Woewiyu, who said her financial contribution far exceeded what she admitted to.
Charles Taylor headed the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) at the time the former President made the donation; something that is a contradiction of the meaning of her donation as claimed.
The quest for establishment of a war crimes court in Liberia began with Mulbah Morlu, a strong stalwart of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) of George Weah. Morlu has since abandoned that quest. However, the San Francisco based Center for Justice and Accountability continues to lead the drive to bring Liberian war criminals to justice.
The Center for Justice and Accountability is an international human rights organization dedicated to deterring torture, war crimes, crimes against humanity and other severe human rights abuses around the world through litigation, policy advocacy and outreach in pursuit of truth, justice and redress for victims and survivors.