President Weah’s statement before the World body indicating his readiness to proceed with the implementation of the TRC recommendations on accountability is receiving applause in diplomatic circles, this newspaper is informed. It is indeed a step forward; however his statement or declaration of intent should be operationalized and that would require a number of actions which, if taken, could lead to success.
The Daily Observer is not unaware of the pushbacks the President’s statement is receiving from certain quarters, amongst them, close political allies including the mercurial Prince Yormie Johnson, Senator of Nimba county. He has angrily reacted to the position taken by the Council of Traditional Chiefs in support of the establishment of a war and economic crimes court for Liberia and has also expressed displeasure at the stance adopted by President Weah in support of its establishment.
Senator Prince Johnson, according to a prominent citizen from Nimba (name withheld), has over the years benefitted from a residual siege mentality amongst the people of Nimba who, at the time, hailed him as a savior for his armed resistance to troops of the AFL who, at the time, were carrying out indiscriminate reprisal killings against people of ethnic Nimba origin. But those years have long gone by and today, people on both sides of the divide (Nimba and Grand Gedeh) do not harbor fears of one group attacking another.
Senator Johnson, recounting what he calls his heroic role played in delivering his people from former President Doe, in a blistering attack on the Traditional Chiefs warned, as he most often does, that holding individuals accountable for war crimes will bring great trouble to the nation. He is recorded in the TRC data base as one of the major perpetrators of war crimes and human rights abuse, all of which he has denied. There is however incontrovertible proof as recorded on video, that he sat before a wounded man whose arms were tied up very tightly with shoe laces, drinking beer and barking out orders to slice off the ear of his captive, former President Doe.
Additionally, according to the TRC report most of the killings the then Field Marshall, now Senator, carried out was done right in Monrovia against unarmed civilians and not at the battlefront. Quite naturally, the Senator appears apprehensive, apparently fearing that the curtains are closing up on him and in a last ditch attempt to fend off what appears inevitable. He is warning and conveying messages implicit with threats of a return to war. From the look of things, Senator Prince Johnson’s political alliance with the CDC may now be in tatters, given the current shift of things.
But President Weah should harbor no fear of a fallout with Senator Johnson and others of similar ilk, should he operationalize his pronouncements to establish a war and economic crimes court for Liberia. Why? It is because the broad masses of the Liberian people support his decision and he cannot afford to fail them. As stated earlier, the Daily Observer is not unaware of the kinds of unholy alliances being formed right under the eyes of this President to torpedo potential benefits this country as well as the current administration stand to gain from establishing a war and economic crimes court for Liberia.
In view of the foregoing, the Daily Observer advances the following suggestions as part of its contribution to the ongoing national debate. These suggestions have been informed by readers comments and analysis done by staff of the Daily Observer.
- President Weah should write a letter to the UN Secretary-General requesting assistance or the establishment of a war and economic crimes court as recommended in the TRC report. The letter should also indicate that this assistance be provided within the framework of an agreement between the UN and Liberia. Note that the agreement should be all inclusive, meaning it should include support for the Palaver Hut, Memorialization and Reparations. The Daily Observer recalls that former Sierra Leonean President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah wrote the UN Secretary-General requesting assistance to set up a war crimes court for Sierra Leone. Moreover, the UN Peace Building Fund provided significant support and even seed money to support Reparations for victims of the conflict.
- Issue a National apology on behalf of all previous governments for their failure to uphold and protect the rights of the Liberian people as a first step towards national reconciliation. This is what was expected of President Sirleaf but she failed to do so and now it’s yours to do, Mr. President.
- Enact legislation officially and legally dissolving the TRC and liquidate all outstanding arrears to Commissioners, vendors and other service providers. These are matters which have lingered much too long. President Sirleaf failed to do so to completion in apparent reprisals against TRC Commissioners. Now it has become yours to do, Mr. President.
- Hold appropriate memorial and atonement ceremonies for the dead. Thousands of people lie dead in unmarked graves around the country. Many of these people were victims of massacres and have not since been given befitting reburial nor adequately memorialized. One National Memorial erected perhaps at the Palm Grove Cemetery, etched with names of all those who fell during the conflict, should be studied.
- Set up the National Reparations Trust Fund and name the Board of Trustees to begin a process of validation of victims named and recorded in the TRC report and to begin determination of appropriate and relevant criteria for qualification. In the statistical section of that TRC report, victims are identified by county on a disaggregated basis, including sex.
- Set up the National Palaver Hut Commission and name its membership to begin the process of collating and transcribing witness testimonies, field reports and other relevant documents already archived.
- Last but not least, repatriate archived TRC documents from the US and regain possession and ownership of such national historical documents.
Note: These actions need to be carefully sequenced for maximum effect.