On Friday, April 21, the world witnessed a historical event in The Hague where a Dutch businessman, Gus Kouwenhoven, was convicted by the Dutch Appeal Court and subsequently sentenced to 19 years for smuggling arms to fuel the Liberian war. According to the verdict, Kouwenhoven, who during the regime of former President Charles Taylor, operated the Oriental Timber Company (OTC), was convicted as “an accessory to war crimes” for selling weapons to Mr. Taylor between 2000 and 2003 in defiance of United Nations Arms Embargo against Liberia at the time.
The decision to prosecute and convict this Dutch man does not only serve as a precedent to those who may want to go against the UN mandate, but it also expresses to the world the significance of justice and its power to heal psychological wounds that are inflicted on people during war. We thank the Global Witness and others who pursued the case and arrived at this result.
The biggest question: Where is Liberia with justice in its own case? It is quite unfortunate that our country, the majority of whose people claim to be believers in God, will accept to give blind eye to justice and find pleasure in corruption, ritual killings and hypocrisies; forgetting the scripture that says “To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice” (Proverbs 21:3). Sierra Leone, where ten years of brutal war was fought, saw justice as a means of healing the people. It established a United Nations-backed war crimes court wherein those that committed heinous crimes, including Liberia’s own Charles Taylor, were prosecuted and convicted. Since this tiny West African country completed prosecution of war criminals, it has remained peaceful and more united. Not only are the people there enjoying peace and unity, people with evil intent now fear that their deeds will lead to their prosecution and punishment.
For this so-called Christian country built on “Christian principles,” its war players called for establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) for fear that if a war crimes court were established, they will be convicted and may not have the opportunity to pay themselves for killing Liberians.
The victimized Liberians, on the other hand, accepted this idea that was meant only as an open escape route for perpetrators of war crimes. They feared that establishing a war crimes court would plunge the country into another war. Liberians also backed their decision to accept the TRC with this idiotic statement, “Let bygones be bygones.” Above all, we went on to reward war criminals and players with power, disregarding this biblical warning, “Whosoever rewards evil for good, evil will not depart from his house” (Proverbs 17:13). As evidently seen, the decision to give power to war criminals and players gave them the grounds to steal our resources to benefit themselves and their families, and to boast of committing even more atrocities here.
Well, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was accepted, granted! But what has become of the recommendation of this TRC Report since it was submitted in 2009? The Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA), approved in Ghana in 2003, gave the TRC Commission enormous power to address issues of impunity, national unity, and reconciliation as conditions for lasting peace. On June 30, 2009 the Commission presented its final report to the National Legislature to act upon and then sent same to the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Some of the simple recommendations excluding the ones that choked the President herself and others included reparations for affected communities and palava hut discussions. Since these recommendations were submitted, however, the Liberian Government and its Independent National Human Rights Commission (INHRC) are yet to fully implement them, but repeated a lot of what led to war in this country. Even President Sirleaf, in her final Annual Message, this year, admitted to her failure to reconcile Liberians and to fight corruption. Thank God and the poverty-stricken citizens of Liberia for upholding the peace in this country!
This Editorial is purposely intended to remind Liberians that without justice there can be no genuine peace and security in any land, and because the Dutch know the significance of justice, they have set the example for Liberians to emulate. Will we?
Time is running out or, many may admit, time has indeed run out for the Sirleaf administration to fulfill the CPA mandate, or even to reconcile the country. Are these not a fundamental part of the legacy she was expected to have left behind? What is going to happen now?