Once again, President Weah’s address to the United Nations General Assembly currently convening in New York, where he was expected to provide an update on ongoing developments in the country, as well as to make a case for continued development assistance to Liberia, has fallen short of expectation.
For the past few years since his ascendancy to office, human rights groups have been hoping that President Weah would keep his promise to implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) contained in its official Final Report submitted to the Government of Liberia in 2010.
Those recommendations were/are intended to foster reconciliation by having perpetrators of economic crimes and crimes against humanity account for their actions. Former President Sirleaf, during whose tenure the report was submitted, failed to act on its recommendations or did so in half-hearted measures that amounted to wasted efforts.
It is for this reason that the public and the international community welcomed the idea of a George Weah Presidency with hopes that he would have struck a blow against impunity by ensuring that the recommendations were implemented. Those hopes were premised on the popular perception that President Weah did not come to office with excess baggage of Liberia’s 14-year conflict, meaning he was not known to have links to any of the warring factions.
In its report the TRC documented tens of thousands of violations, which is more violations recorded than any previous truth commission anywhere in the world. These documented violations, to which officials of the past and present government have turned a blind eye, represent the experiences of about twenty thousand Liberians who reported to the TRC although the universe of victims is much larger.
The 17,160 statements analyzed by the TRC contain information about 86,647 victims and 163,615 total violations. Total violations include 124,225 violations suﬀered by individual victims, 39,376 suﬀered by groups, and 14 by institutions. The violations were grouped into 23 categories including forced displacement, cannibalism, rape and murder.
Additionally, the information generated by the TRC which is disaggregated by sex shows 46,188 female victims which account for 37.2 percent of total violations reported, while the figure for male victims stands at 76,905 males, accounting for 61.9 percent of total violations and the figure for unknown victims by sex stands at 1132, accounting for 0.9 percent.
Accordingly, twenty-three types of violations (crimes) were identified as having been committed during the period of conflict. The type and percent accounting for each violation is also clearly identified in the report.
Amongst these violations, “Force Displacement” stands out as the highest, accounting for one-third (1/3) — 36 percent of total violations — while 28,000 killing violations were recorded, accounting for 17.1 percent of total violations and ranking as the second highest recorded violation. Ranking third in order is “Assault” standing at 13,222 victims and accounting for 8.1 percent.
Next and ranking 4th in order at 8 percent is “Abduction” accounting for 13,045 victims; fifth in ranked order at 4.7 percent is “Looting”, accounting for 7,619 victims followed by “Forced Labor” accounting for 7,560 victims and ranking at 4.6 percent of total violations.
According to analysts, the quantitative analytical account presented to the TRC can, “identify patterns and trends of violations experienced or perpetrated by the statement givers collectively and together, the aggregate group of statements can magnify the voices of victims and provide a body of empirical data that can help in processes of acknowledgement, accountability, understanding and closure.”
But closure appears a long way off because, after nearly three years, victims of the Liberian civil war are still awaiting a response from the government of Liberia to their plight. Aside from the physical wounds and scars that many people bear, the shock and trauma of those events that may appear to lie buried deep within the subconsciousness could very well be deceptive.
Victims long for at least some recognition of their status as victims of a war which they did not invite upon themselves. It can be recalled that the Disarmament, Demobilization Rehabilitation and Reintegration (DDRR) program for ex-combatants served to create a widespread perception among local people that those who wrought so much havoc on their lives were being rewarded through the provision of educational opportunities and even cash while the victims of the conflict were left to their own devices.
The TRC recommended the implementation of a Reparations program to address the needs of victims. Even a formal apology by the sitting President to the Liberian people for the state not having defended and protected their rights, though recommended, has not been forthcoming. And in all this, the Liberian people have received absolutely no guarantees that the egregious abuse of human rights experienced during the civil conflict will never be repeated.
Today impunity looms large in the land. This can be seen in the ostentatious lifestyles of officials of this government which is made possible by corruption of the runaway kind. Even notorious criminals including convicted armed robbers are routinely released from prison believably on the instruction of higher-ups
Additionally, the Liberian people are bearing witness to the recruitment of former rebels and ex-rebel generals into the ranks of the national security forces. A number of these unsavory elements have been seen actively engaged with the Liberia National Police(LNP) in putting civil demonstrations around the country especially in Monrovia.
What officials of this government appear not to be mindful of is the power and destructive force of pent-up emotions and frustrations of a people which can be unleashed as a result of a loss of faith in their leaders and institutions. The current wave of fraud including voter trucking in the ongoing Voters Roll Update (VRU) process is provocative and is already inciting violence.
The fact that these acts of violence, which have gone with impunity, tend to suggest that President Weah may not even be mulling a request to the UN for assistance in establishing a war and economic crimes court for Liberia. His address to the UN General Assembly, which should have provided him a perfect opportunity to make Liberia’s case for Criminal Accountability, has turned out to be another lost opportunity.