Appraising Prince Johnson’s Stance Against Political Violence and Support for An International War Crimes Tribunal 

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Adversity, they say, lurks at every corner of human endeavor and the perennial challenge is how to turn adversity into prosperity. Such has been the situation surrounding the TRC report and the implementation its recommendations. Dogged by controversy since its release in 2009, and virtually ignored by the past government, the report appears to be riding the crest waves of time with its highs and lows.

Now, support for implementation of its recommendations appear to be on the rise with calls for accountability coming from a highly unlikely source, an individual indicted in the TRC report but who has, from the onset, strongly opposed its recommendations on accountability. That individual is none other than the mercurial former warlord with a fierce reputation and to who has been attributed claims of extra judicial killings. And he is none other than Prince Yormie Johnson, now Senator for Nimba County.

During the past week, Senator Johnson had made a few muted comments on the current wave of violence, especially political violence taking place in the country often with virtual impunity. Now it appears Senator Prince Johnson has taken an ‘about turn’ and is now calling for accountability, not in the form of a war crimes court as envisioned by the TRC but, as he put it, an international tribunal or better still, a UN tribunal. Unbelievable indeed, but true — Prince Johnson, in effect, now supports the establishment of an international tribunal to try those accused of committing war crimes.

This is a significant development and one which should be encouraged. But Senator Johnson’s utterances also tend to suggest that the demonstrated reluctance of House Speaker Bhofal Chambers and other leading officials of this government to countenance the establishment of a war crimes court may not necessarily be to shield their political ally Prince Johnson from criminal accountability but to shield other perpetrators, as well, who now appear locked, stock and barrel in an unholy embrace with this government.

Now Senator Prince Johnson has broken his silence on the ongoing wave of political violence in the country, not only expressing his disfavor but also questioning the motives of those arousing passions and fanning the flames of violence. And it appears, from his statements, officials of this government have been seeking to stifle his open opposition to the mindless violence being perpetrated by elements elements of the ruling party, the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), by threatening to have him arraigned before a war crimes court.

But Senator Johnson, apparently unwilling to “die twice before his real death” as they say cowards often do, and as his recent utterances suggest, apparently did find himself hard pressed to prove the raw courage he once exhibited on the battlefield. And this is exactly what he appears to have done, by calling the bluff of CDC officials. He condemned the wave of violent attacks being perpetrated by their supporters against political opponents, questioned the motives of those encouraging the violence, and has expressed support for the establishment of an international criminal tribunal for Liberia to try perpetrators of war crimes.

Senator Johnson’s stance is indeed welcome, and he must be commended along with fellow Senators who have expressed strong opposition to what appears to be orchestrated and state supported violence. Thanks to the media for keeping the issues alive, especially New Narratives reporters for continuing to report and highlight issues of justice and accountability.

Their reports are indeed helping to raise public awareness and consciousness about the exigency of addressing imperatives for justice and accountability in Liberia. Now that the Senator has expressed his support for accountability for past atrocities, advocates for justice and accountability should apply concerted efforts to seek Legislative endorsement of the draft legal framework prepared by the Liberia National Bar Association for the establishment of a war crimes court for Liberia.

Additionally, every effort should be applied to ensure wide dissemination and enhanced public understanding of TRC recommendations concerning accountability. In this regard, the role of the media cannot be overemphasized. This includes, formal and informal media and the use of tracts in the various indigenous languages.

Advocates would also do well to engage the Executive branch of government, especially President Weah. He needs to understand just what accountability is about and, how lapses, feigned or real, in the implementation of accountability measures could harm not only the image of his government, but could trigger off a chain of events over which he may have no control.

President Weah should not lose sight of the potential and possible damaging consequences which the recent spate of violence orchestrated by CDC elements could have on his government. Moreover, he should realize that he cannot afford to be remiss about the imperatives of justice and accountability especially the need to address impunity.

The urgent need to address impunity is highlighted by the violent attack on the Deputy Inspector Police allegedly on the orders of CDC Executives, as well as the violence in District #15 and the recent violent attack on District#15 opposition candidate Telia Urey.

From all indications, it is now high time for Justice and Senator Prince Johnson’s recent utterances, if they are anything to go by, should constitute a wakeup call signaling to all and sundry that now is the time for action and now is the time to pass the draft legislation on the establishment of a war and economic crimes court for Liberia and deal impunity a death blow.

But “Charity”, we should be reminded, “begins at home”. We should let down our buckets where we are, meaning we can begin the assault against impunity by bringing to book perpetrators of the violence in Logan Town, the violent assaults on Telia Urey and Deputy Police Inspector-General, Marvin Sackor.

Senator Prince Johnson’s statements have indeed placed the buck squarely at President Weah’s doorsteps and he needs to respond accordingly.

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