Will President Weah’s UN Address Give Hope to War Victims and Advocates Yearning for Justice?

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Flashback: President George Manneh Weah of the Republic of Liberia addresses the seventy-fourth session of the United Nations General Assembly (September 2019). | Photo: UN/Cia Pak

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.”

Both victims Rufus Kartee and Mabu Flomo sustained bullet wounds on their legs during the war

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.

5 COMMENTS

  1. The ‘Chameleon’ Accusation:

    What becomes of does who free Charles Taylor from jail in Massachusetts, USA? What accusation do we have for them? Well, I m here to say that if everyone could take the burden equally, we the people of Liberia will learn how to solve our problem. But when we decide to leave certain actors out, give them a free pass, and accuse people who we feel are potentially the source, then we are out for a merry go-round.

    The Western Countries played a significant role in the Liberian crisis. However; never a day I have ever see any Liberian asking how was Taylor free from a maximum prison in the USA and was labeled as a brake out. CNN, MSNBC, FOX and other American network said that Taylor broke jail in which Taylor himself denied. He vividly explained how he left the prison with the help of some ‘planted prison guards’. Taylor could not escape from that maximum prison without extended hands.

    If we know where our problems are manufactured, and decide to put stop to it before it land to us, we will avoid most of our problems. But if we decided to scapegoat certain individuals , and blame a few cherry picked individuals, we are in it for a long run.
    Example, the COVID 19 crisis. Other countries are bent on accusing China. The Chinese has maintained the spread of the virus more than all Western Countries combine. The death toll in the West are more than the rest of the world proportionally. Yet, certain Western Countries have decided to use China as a scape goat.
    Some of us in Liberia are doing the same thing. Mr. Yekeh Koulubah is accusing George Weah of financing one or two arm groups, where did he leaves EJS, Prince Johnson and others. When accusation like this sparks out, it is a ‘chameleon accusation’, it changes colors as it thrown to cherry picked individuals.

    The world is not what is use to be.

  2. So you are here to say that if everyone could take the burden equally, we the people of Liberia will learn to solve problem. You asked that beautiful question about Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Senator Prince Johnson and who else that was involved out there. But the troubling question is who or what is stopping the political potential of George as a Liberian in charged of government, so that the Liberian people can start solving their own problems ? There were calls for George to audit the corrupt regime of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. What or who is stopping him. The actors are still around and living well. Even traveling in and out of the country, with one giving speeches around the world.
    You that an African journalist asked an Asian Ambassador this question. Why do you people support and continued to support corrupt leaders and their regimes ? To that, the Ambassador say, that is the kind of leader you people elected for us to work with.
    So why put Liberia’s problem out there on others ? And so the question was asked, Will President Weah’s address to the United Nations give hope to solving our problem. And from your post, the answer is NO. Until all other political conditions are met. WHEN ?

  3. The question raised by the Daily Observer is, “Will President Weah’s UN Address Give Hope to War Victims and Advocate Yearning for Justice?”

    The answer is no. Why? Many Liberians previously thought Weah came to the presidency with clean hands. On the other hand, recent events have opened their eyes, and they now feel they were mistaken.

    Weah’s policies are not geared towards uniting the country. He is unable to rise above the party bickering and the continuous, clandestine incitement of his CDC henchmen to whip-up deadly election violence across the country. Moreover, he is unable to prove to the people in spite of the deep-seated socio-ethnic cleavages and other alarming vestiges of the deadly and protracted civil war, he can unite them as one people destined towards the achievement of a common goal.

    Weah came to office on a pro-poor theme, which was a theme supposedly coined to convince Liberians his political base was poised to bring a radical change to the direction the former Unity Party had charted for the country. Two major cardinal promises he made and according to him, they were meant to be in consistent with the pro-poor agenda was to pursue justice for the victims of war and to unite the country; also, his economic agenda would address the economic divide and improve the lives of the poor.

    Instead, poverty has dramatically increased under him and some world financial indexes now point to Liberia as being the number one poorest country in the world.

  4. To Donna Itoka,
    When EJS was in power how many international donations were made to the Liberian Government? You might know better than me. The Government of EJS received more financial funding in the history of Liberia only next to the PRC of Doe who receive 500 millions in 1982. The Liberian Government did only survive in tax revenues during the EJS administration, but massive donor funding.
    I m not a member of CDC nor any political party. However, weaponizing division in Liberia has always been the hallmark of politics. This is very wrong. Our problem in Liberia is those that caused damage to us, we are so afraid to tell them because of their international cozy contacts. That is an ‘Old Liberian’ idea that been driving us to no where.
    Thank you

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