By Cyrus L. Gray
State of the Nation
The Liberian economy is shrinking daily, mostly because of uncertainty. Grant that the UN drawdown, slump in international commodity price and other cash-flow minimizing events going into 2018 started the decline, but the change of government and the first few bold but inconclusive economic initiatives by the new government have ushered an atmosphere of uncertainty not good for business. Widespread perception that the new officials have gone on a spending spree buying homes and expensive tools even outside Liberia does not help. Two major loan schemes for nearly US$1Billion on which months of tangible and political capital were expended seem to have shadowed out; the suspicion of unauthorized printing of currency and alleged thief of LD$15.5 Billion, be it founded upon fact of falsehood, has left a gaping hole in the confidence of the people and the owners of capital. As a result, dozens of missteps that would otherwise be excusable for an infant government are now glorified into scares of dooms day nearing. All this while the ability of the ordinary people to make a reasonable living is increasingly grueling, daily. People are hurting, at least for that, there is no dispute.
In the wake of the economic reversals pervading the country, a voice is rising among a large segment of the population, both in the country and the diaspora, and among key international stakeholders, for a final reckoning; the establishment of a War and Economic Crime Court, to hold accountable those responsible for the violation of International Humanitarian Laws (IHL) and the pillaging of the resources of the country under the canopy of war. The trauma of war is manifest every day in the violent outburst of youths when motor accidents occur, mob executions of accused thieves in public spaces and the massive invasion of illicit drug culture among the youths, a by-product of the war.
There are some who are asking, “Why now? Why wasn’t the same pressure brought to bear on President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf for a War Crime Court?” President Sirleaf would not have implemented the punitive recommendations of the TRC; she did not have the fortitude to hold herself accountable. (To her credit, she did implement some of the less controversial items). That should be expected, but President Weah is not anchored by the same weight. When asked about the War Crime Court on his return from France over the weekend, President George Weah, answered in such a manner as to make a disparity between the War Crime Court and his New Economic Plan, the Pro-Poor Policy for Prosperity and Development. I get the impression that key policy makers believe it is either War Crime Court or Economic Development. I think this is a misread; we can have both. In fact, the former will lift the latter.
Crimes Against Humanity
We need not argue that heinous crimes were committed in Liberia that fall under the definition of crimes against humanity. Non-combatant men, women and children were killed on account of their ethnicity, some past disputes and, in some cases, for the heck of it. In countless places in the country, including St. Peter Lutheran Church, Duport Road, Fendall, Po River Bridge, Gbarnga, Buchanan, Yekepa, Zwedru, Greenville, Caldwell, Monrovia, hundreds of thousands of people were maim, drowned, decapitated, hearts taken from bodies while the victim was still alive, eaten and youths drugged and conscripted into battle to heartlessly do the dirty works of their masters. Liberians witnessed militias rip open pregnant women and extract their fetuses while dancing to their war songs in amusement and fanfare. Daughters and wives were forcefully taken from their families and made into sex slaves; some never to be seen again. Militias and their warlords commonly celebrated their cruelty by displaying skulls of their victims on their cars and even using their intestines as the line for their gates. Whole towns and villages were wiped out; people seeking rescue in God’s church were mutilated and many were stripped of their dignity. This does not begin to capture the depth of cruelty burdened on the innocent people of Liberia. For one to suggest that asking those who have been accused of such cruelties to have their day in court is unreasonable and untimely falls flat in the face of reason.
The demand for accountability is a cardinal part of reconciliation and national healing. It is justified under both domestic and international law. Liberia is a signatory and state party to the Geneva Conventions, Vienna Convention and all the International Humanitarian Laws (IHL) and protocols regarding, among other things, the conduct of war and the treatment of civilians and those who surrender in armed conflict. Like International Humanitarian Laws (IHL), the recommendation of the TRC has binding effect on the Government of Liberia and there are consequences for non-compliance. The TRC is an Act of the Legislature; it is Liberian Law. There is another argument that the Comprehensive Peace Initiative Agreement (CPA) signed between the Liberian warring factions, the very warlords who perpetrated the atrocities, granted amnesty to the perpetrators. Self-amnesties are kinds of amnesty promulgated by persons or governments while in position of authority, purporting to protect themselves from prosecution once they relinquish their hold on power. Both self-amnesty and domestic Legislation for amnesty promulgated to unhook alleged violators of International Humanitarian Laws (IHL) are not respected under International Law.
Torture, ethnic cleansing and most provisions of International Humanitarian Laws (IHL) which perpetrators, in the case of Liberia, have been accused fall under peremptory norms in international law or “jus cogens.” A peremptory norm is a fundamental principle of international law that is accepted by the international community of states as a norm from which no derogation is permitted; they are compelling laws that cannot be set aside or pardoned, recognized as a whole as being fundamental to the maintenance of the international legal order. They include the prohibition of genocide, maritime piracy, enslaving in general, torture, refoulement and wars of aggression and territorial aggrandizement, among others.
Relying on the principle of “Pacta sunt servanda,”Article 26 of the Vienna Convention bars state parties to the convention from invoking provisions of their internal laws as justification for failure to perform obligation to prosecute and punish crimes under the Geneva Conventions, Vienna Convention and other conventions to which the state is a party. For example, many of those accused of crimes under the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) proffered the argument that the Lomé Accord which ended the Sierra Leone Conflict granted amnesty to the warlords but their claims to immunity were summarily denied by the court.
Already, many who committed war crimes in Liberia have been brought before courts and made accountable in jurisdictions other than Liberia. Charles “Chucky” Taylor was tried in a Florida court for crimes committed in Liberia and sentenced to 99 years imprisonment. His father, former President Charles Taylor was handed to the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) by the Government of Liberia, represented by its Solicitor General Cllr Taiwan Gongloe; so to suggest that Liberia does not ascribe to the International War Crimes Court is ludicrous. Former President Johnson Sirleaf’s failure to occasion the implementation of the recommendations of the TRC was predicated purely on the principle of self-preservation. She was unwilling to rollout a program that bar her and other co-accused in positions of power from public office for thirty years. If renewed pressure on the Government of Liberia for a War and Economic Crime Court, including a recent US Congress Resolution in support of Justice for victims of the Liberia Civil War, is anything to go by, one need not be a rocket scientists to know that the quests for some form of accountability for War and Economic Crimes committed in Liberia will not dissipate. Government’s continued rejection of the notion of War Crime Court puts Liberia at odds with the key international players in a battle we, a poor and dependent country, cannot win. We may as well ride the wind.
Leveraging Calls for War & Economic Crimes Court
Every problem brings with it an equal opportunity. My advice to the Government of Liberia is that we leverage the situation and use the international quests for a War and Economic Crime Court to attract the support for our economy necessary to gender growth and the upliftment of the lives of our impoverished population. Every post war country that submitted to the demands of the international community for accountable was economically strengthened through the programs of direct economic support. Germany, Japan, Italy, Rwanda, South Africa, Vietnam, and next door Sierra Leone, are examples.
Instead of fighting against the inevitable, the Government of Liberia needs to go back to the Recommendations of the TRC and the Virginia Declaration of the Liberian National Conference ( June 19, 2009) out of which most of the TRC recommendations were taken, and identifying those programs that have the highest potential of fostering reconciliation, unity and economic relief, and begin negotiations with international stakeholders with the hope of establishing a War and Economic Crime Court on Liberian soil concomitant with international provision of support for all the identified programs recommended by the TRC and the Virginia Conference.
Some of the recommendations for which the government should seek international support in pair with the establishment of a War and Economic Crime Court in Liberia include:
- That those who died as a result of the conflict be memorialized by monuments and multi-purpose halls erected in the name of victims at all sites of massacres.
- That individual reparations be granted to victims of Liberia’s civil crisis in the form of psychosocial support, educational scholarships, micro-loans, livestock support, agricultural support, and food aid.
- That community reparations be granted to affected populations in the form of centers for psychosocial support, support to communal farming, and priority rehabilitation of roads, schools, and health facilities.
- That community leaders should be empowered to use “under the palava hut” management to deal with all those that have acknowledged their wrongs and are seeking forgiveness.
- That political appointments be based on merit.
- That a national culture center be established to promote Liberia’s diverse culture.
- That welfare centers be created to provide care to those who can no longer provide for themselves, including the elderly, mentally disturbed or mentally handicapped.
- That vocational education be provided to adults in the form of literacy and skills-training programs.
- That youth receive pre-technical qualification trainings in order to seek employment.
- That the curriculum for children and youth be updated to include reconciliation, peace-building, human rights, and patriotism.
- That more recreational opportunities be created for children and youth.
- That more rehabilitation centers for deviant youth be established.
- That a Peace and Reconciliation Commission be established to oversee, support, and encourage reconciliation activities throughout the country.
- That a National Peace and Reconciliation Conference be held annually, rotating between all 15 counties.
- Establish a special judiciary review committee to monitor the government’s progress on implementation of these and other TRC recommendations
- That the economy be Liberianized and local businesses protected
Support for the establishment of a war crime court in Liberia, including the construction of the court, training and employment of hundreds of Liberians and the implementation of the measures listed above will require hundreds of millions of dollars that will serve to augment the weakening Liberian economy. The acceptance by Liberia of the establishment of the court will increase confidence in justice and the rule of law in Liberia. The Government may ask for international security, should it determine the need for additional security presence. The return of the international force will not only increase security but add new energy to the economy in terms of the additional cash flow affiliated with the large number of expatriate workers in the country. Handled properly, Liberia’s acceptance of the War and Economic Crime Court and the other recommendations will strengthen the Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD) and catapult the Liberian economy back into the high growth trajectory.
Non for Self, But Country
My recommendation to leverage may come across as blunt and insensitive to those who have been accused. Far from that; I believe in the presumption of innocence, an aged old legal doctrine ascribed in the Latin “ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat,” meaning, the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies. Those so accused must be brought before a court of competent jurisdiction where they will have the chance to confront their charges and defend themselves, even at the expense of the sponsors of the War and Economic Crime Court, in cases where the accused are incapable of footing his own legal fees.
Occasioning the court and leveraging the other growth centric programs are but small sacrifices every citizen can make to the betterment of country. For those, including my Uncle, Sen. Prince Y. Johnson, who are edgy about the prospects of a War Crime Trial and who have spent countless hours grand standing their patriotism and love for country, this is their moment to show that patriotism and be remembered for something good. Inscribed over the chapel door at the US Naval Academy at Annapolis is the Latin phrase: “Non Sibi Set Patraie.” Let me admonish those who are being cowed into fear of a War and Economic Crime Court to adopt this motor: “Not for Self, but Country.” Let’s embrace the War Crime Court and kick impunity and all its attending vices out of Liberia.
Read my new book, The FOG – War, Love & Country, about my experience in the Liberian Civil War and my take on reconciliation and national unity, informed by experience of other post war countries.
About the Author
Cyrus L Gray, Jr., is the Author of the Negro Nation (www.amazion.com), the International Shipping Guidelines; and Publisher of the New Liberian Magazine (renamed LIB BUZNEY). His new book, “FOG (A Story of War, Love and Country)” will be published in December 2018 with first rollout in Monrovia. As a day job, he is a Logistics Business Development Consultant with Core competence in Air and Seaport Development. His recent work was Co-Consultant for the crafting of the Economic Analysis of the Mesurado Fishing Pier (Oct. 2018) at the Freeport of Monrovia, for Liberia’s National Aquaculture and Fisheries Authority (NaFAA). He can be reached at: [email protected]