Before President George Weah left Liberia to attend the United Nations General Assembly, it appeared there were two concerns that Liberians were grappling over — how well he would articulate the country’s economic and political situation to the international community and what commitment he would make to ensure that justice is served for the benefit of war victims in Liberia.
Upon commencing his speech, Liberians from all walks of life found themselves virtually glued to their radios and waited, with bated breaths, to hear what the President was going to say.
For those whose primary concern was about the eloquence and articulation of the President, he spoke well to their expectation; something that has generated headlines in newspapers and commendations on social media.
For those with concerns about justice and an end to impunity, their expectations were dashed repeatedly as the President, in two separate speeches at the UN, mentioned nothing about a commitment to justice but promised instead to engage in a series of national dialogues to restore total peace in our fragile environment.
Interestingly, the President admitted to the fragility of Liberia’s peace and the scars of human rights abuses many Liberians are bearing, reiterating his government’s commitment to bringing an end to corruption.
How then can President Weah’s acknowledgement of all these human rights abuses, including endemic corruption, and expression of his government’s commitment to fighting corruption be done in the absence of justice and the rule of law?
This newspaper, the Daily Observer, recalls that his administration has witnessed a very high wave of killings since he assumed office on January 22 this year. Recounted police reports published in local dailies have shown that in April alone there were 16 killings, including the killing of Journalist Tyron Brown and two police officers.
Just about a week ago, a woman was reportedly killed in Gbatala, Bong County, while reports of such an act have also emerged from Nimba, Montserrado and Lofa counties, respectively.
Some of these killings, in fact, have occurred as a result of mob action, which can be traced to the general loss of confidence in the country’s justice system and the critical and general lack of access to justice. Liberians have repeatedly complained about what they perceive as the sale of justice and impunity for perpetrators, a factor which can be linked to mob violence, rendering swift and often brutal justice to suspected criminals.
This brings us to the verse about justice from one of the books of the Holy Bible, Ecclesiastes, which states in chapter 8:11, “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to commit evil.”
What then, Mr. President, can be achieved from national dialogue when a cross section of Liberians are bearing the scars of crimes, including rape and murder, when those committing such evil acts are living luxurious lifestyles without remorse for their actions? Is this not a call to mob justice and disrespect for the rule of law?
The President has also committed to fighting and ending corruption in government. Against this pronouncement, the first major challenge facing President George Weah is the alleged “Missing L$16 billion” issue on which several government officials have given conflicting accounts.
This, coupled with the failure of the Weah Administration to audit the past administration, leaves the public to wonder whether President Weah is serious about what he says or whether his is simply political banter.
The Daily Observer agrees with former U.S. President Barack H. Obama (2014) that there is no way a country can achieve development, without justice, good governance and the rule of law. Further, genuine reconciliation cannot take place without the perpetrators confessing or acknowledging their faults as a precondition for forgiveness and perhaps reparations for victims.
Justice is a principle that calls for strict performance of moral obligation, or conformity to the principles of righteousness and rectitude in all things (Cambridge English Dictionary).
By this, a commitment to justice simply means setting the pace to do the right thing, such that both victims and perpetrators will settle their differences and reconcile.
Therefore, establishing a war and economic crimes court to prosecute cases related to human rights abuses and corruption is in no way an act of undermining peace, but a basis for bringing the equality, peace and unity that President Weah says he wants to usher into being.
Ignoring justice on the other hand would mean that impunity is the hallmark of this government as it was with the past administration. It will also serve to further undermine the fragile peace we currently enjoy and heighten the likelihood of a return to the dark days of a violent conflict.