As calls mount for the establishment of a War and Economic Crimes Court for Liberia, this newspaper recalls that in 2004, well over a decade before he first unsuccessfully contested the Presidency in 2005 which he subsequently and successfully won in 2017, President George Weah way back then called for the establishment of a War and Economic Crimes court for Liberia. At a UNICEF sponsored event in 2004, he declared, in his own words: “Those who armed the children and committed heinous crimes against them must be brought to book”.
High and very fine sounding words indeed they were back then. His words were greeted with huge applause particularly when he said a War and Economic crimes court, when established, should identify, locate and prosecute the warlords who were responsible for committing crimes against humanity. No one at the time, especially those in the international community had ever fathomed that those high-sounding words were intended more as a play to the galley than a well-considered opinion which he had vouched publicly.
Well, fast forward to 2019, almost 15 years later, George Weah, now Liberia’s President George Weah, appears to have lost his footing on this all-important issue concerning the establishment of a war and economic crimes court for Liberia. At his swearing-in ceremonies in January 2018, he did hint at his support for accountability, However, some 10 months later in November, he noted “We all have different minds and views on this issue. Some are calling for a war crimes court; others are calling for reconciliation. What we need to do is to find out what we need as a people”.
It can be recalled that in July 2018, at a meeting of the UN Human Rights Committee at which Liberia was represented, the Committee expressed grave concern that none of the alleged perpetrators of war crimes and gross human rights abuse had been made to account for their actions. The Committee further observed that Liberia needs to ensure accountability for crimes committed during the 14-year civil war by initiating a process which would lead to the establishment of a war and economic crimes court, which should be included in its report to the Committee in 2020.
The issue was further highlighted by Uchenna Emelonye, Country Representative of the UN High Commission for Human Rights who told a National Justice Conference in held in Monrovia on November 9, 2018 that “a postwar society that does not promote justice and accountability does not properly heal without scars”. And he emphasized that it is “the position of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights that all actors, led by the government, must ensure accountability for past crimes.”
Also, in November, the US House of Representatives passed H. Res. 1055 to reaffirm strong US-Liberia ties and called for full implementation of the commission’s recommendations, which includes the establishment of a War and Economic Crimes court. But such calls have been buffeted by supporters of this government who, like their predecessors, have charged that the establishment of a War and Economic Crimes Court for Liberia will be akin to reopening old wounds which could lead the nation back to conflict. Some have even called for a referendum on the matter.
But a referendum is unnecessary because, under Article X of the TRC Act, “All recommendations shall be implemented. Where the implementation of any recommendation has not been complied with, the Legislature shall require the Head of State to show cause for such non-compliance.” Moreover, experience from several countries around the world (South Sudan, Libya, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo etc,) shows that in the absence of guarantees of non-repetition, the lack of justice could spur future abuses of human rights.
To the contrary, there is strong and compelling evidence that fair transparent and credible trials can enhance the building of the rule of law which tends to lead to lasting and sustainable peace. This was reechoed in a 2004 UN report on transitional justice and the rule of law which states the following:
“Experience in the past decade has demonstrated clearly that the consolidation of peace and the immediate post-conflict period, as well as the maintenance of peace in the long term, cannot be achieved unless the population is confident that redress for grievances can be obtained through legitimate structures for the peaceful settlement of disputes and the fair administration of justice.”
The report further noted that “prosecutions against people implicated in crimes in Liberia and arrests of leaders of warring parties linked to serious violations in the United States and Europe have not resulted in a recurrence of violence. When the Special Court for Sierra Leone convicted former president Charles Taylor, who led the NPFL, there was also no violence reported in Liberia”.
It is against this backdrop that the Daily Observer welcomes the initiative undertaken by the House of Representatives Committees on Claims and Petitions, Judiciary, Good Governance and Government Reform and Ways, Means and Finance and the National Bar Association which is drafting the legal document for the establishment of the Court.
According to a front page story carried in the July 18, 2019 edition of the Daily Observer, this conference is being convened nearly a year following the National Justice Conference held in Monrovia on November 9, 2018 and the passage of US House of Representatives Resolution 1055-115th on November 13, 2018 reaffirming US-Liberia ties and support for democracy and the full implementation of the TRC report.
According to Civitas Maxima, the conference is organized in collaboration with the administration of the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, the Secretariat for the Establishment of War Crimes Court in Liberia, and the Global Justice and Research Project and it has been organized at the behest of the House of Representatives Committee on Claims and Petitions, Judiciary, Good Governance and Government Reform and Ways, Means and Finance.
The Daily Observer extends a very warm welcome to Professor Olympia Beko, head of the international criminal justice unit of the human rights law centre, University of Nottingham, and her team.
It is now time for Justice!