By Joaquin M. Sendolo
Campaigners for justice and rights advocates have renewed their calls to President George Weah to assure the UN General Assembly and Liberians in his speech today that he would take tangible steps towards addressing the issues of justice and reparations for war victims.
In recent days, victims and rights defenders have aired their views expressing how the Liberian Government after war has prioritized perpetrators under different programs giving them the opportunities for financial empowerment.
In Gbarnga, Bong County where the Independent Human Rights Investigators (IHRI) with support from the African Transitional Justice Legacy Fund (ATJLF) met with war victims to explain the component of the Truth and Recommendation Commission’s recommendation about reparations, Arthur Bondo, a who lost his arm during the 1992 Octopus War between the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) and the ECOWAS Ceasefire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), said “Under the DDRR (Disarmament, Demobilization, Rehabilitation and Reintegration) program, fighters who committed crimes against us were resettled with financial packages and other opportunities, but victims of crimes are left without any attention from the international community or the government.”
Benedict Kollie, an amputee, expressed frustration over his condition which, he says, was not caused by himself, but was a result of the war. “Bullet hit my foot while running away from war. When people see me, they make mockery of me and present me as one of the former fighters. This gives me bad feelings and since some of us got wounded, we continue to suffer while those who made us like this are enjoying the resources of this country,” Kollie said.
In Buchanan on September 19, victims of rape and torture also assembled under the invitation of IHRI and expressed that the Liberian Government and politicians remain insensitive to the pains they are undergoing but can only value them during an election period.
“They raped us free in this country and killed our families and no one is paying attention to us,” a participant said.
“See how rape is increasing in the country. People did these things to others during the war and went free, and because they went free others are seeing it as a way of life today. Without justice, I don’t see peace here, but war will return,” said Lahai Sesay.
The leader of the Lutheran Church Massacre Survivors Group, Marcus Quoigoah and the rest of his members are of the concern that the government should address the plights of survivors including Rufus Kartee, Bobby Sirleaf, Linda Yormie and others who still have wounds affecting them from the July 29, 1990 massacre.
Adama Dempster, head of the Independent Human Rights Investigators and Secretary of the Civil Society Human Rights Advocacy Platform, has been in the vanguard of advocacy for justice for war victims and constantly engaging the government to make real its commitment to the Un Human Rights Commission to address past crimes committed during the civil war and implement the recommendations of the TRC.
Dempster says the government’s failure to commit itself to addressing past human rights violations and to implement the TRC recommendations will stall the progress of the country and increase crimes in the country.
Since the Liberian civil war ended 17 years ago, the need for justice has not been of a greater concern than now.
As President Weah addresses the UN today for the third consecutive year, advocates and war victims are hoping yet again that the President will inform the world body about his commitment to address the issue of justice and reparations for victims of human rights violations in the country.
The President, while serving as UNICEF Ambassador and as a leader of the political opposition in Liberia during the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration, is on record for suggesting that: “The only solution to the problem in Liberia is the establishment of a war crimes court to prosecute warlords and those that committed crimes against humanity.”
However, since Weah ascended to the helm of national leadership on January 22, 2018, not much has come from him with respect to his vow and suggestion for justice for the country’s thousands of war victims. In 2018 when he addressed the United Nations General Assembly, he emphasized that Liberians need reconciliation to foster development without any reference to the promise of justice. In 2019, the President also addressed the UN and asked the world body to help put security in place and decide where the court would be seated. However, upon his return to Liberia from delivering that promising address at the UN in New York, when journalists asked him about the issue of a war crimes court, the President said: “Why now? Why only my administration? Why couldn’t you ask the past administration that spent 12 years in power for a war crimes court but me? Liberians can choose between development and war crimes court.”
The reluctance of President Weah to make real his promise to war victims has generated a concern that he might not have hands as clean from the war as he claims. His admirers have presented him to the public as one Liberian who did not participate in the brutal civil war that devastated the country entirely.
However, Montserrado County District #10 Representative and former NPFL General, Yekeh Kolubah, had said on public radio that President Weah was one of the financiers of the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) Rebel group that launched an attack in 2003 in the south-eastern part of the country.
Representative Kolubah has persistently challenged President Weah to prove him wrong and, if he does, Kolubah said he would resign from his position as a Representative. Since he threw out this challenge about two years now, the President is yet to respond to the challenge.
The down-play of justice after the civil crisis has led war victims with different horrible experiences to continue to live with the psycho-social trauma in the absence of reparations recommended in the TRC Report. The TRC was the instrument agreed upon by warlords, sponsors of war and civil society and women groups in Ghana, where the Accra Comprehensive Peace Accord was signed in 2003.
War victims, rights advocates, and United Nations officials have mounted pressure on the Weah Administration to create the means for accountability in the 14-year civil war.
Yacoub El Hillo, former UN Resident Coordinator to Liberia, warned while in the country that Liberia has the potential to progress but cannot be done in the absence of accountability for past human rights abuses committed during the war. US Ambassador-at-large for War Crimes, Stephen Rapp, who participated in a justice conference last year in Monrovia, warned that the progress of Liberia will hinge on its ability to account for human rights abuses during the war. UN Human Rights Commission Representative to Liberia, Dr. Uchenna Emelonye in 2019 also warned that Liberia’s post-war opportunity to make progress after war is tied to accounting for what happened during the war.