The Gibril Massaquoi War Crimes Trial: A Truly Watershed Event in the Annals of Liberian History

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The ongoing trial of war crime indictee Gibril Massaquoi may not be garnering the kind of public attention it rightly deserves probably because of the restrictions that prevent direct public access to ongoing proceedings.

From indications so far, it appears that prosecution witnesses may be experiencing difficulty recalling events and dates accurately. In one instance for example, accused Gibril is placed at the Waterside Bridge in Monrovia and others at locations outside Monrovia in the interior.

According to informed sources, recalling history, during the April 14, 1996 outbreak of fighting in Monrovia, Taylor’s NPFL forces and Kromah’s ULIMO forces were pitted against the ULIMO-J forces of Roosevelt Johnson and those of George Boley’s LPC. Accordingly, it is possible that Taylor’s forces, which included RUF elements, counted Gibril Massaquoi within its ranks during that period.

And it was that combined force that was in control of the Waterside area, including West Point, in 1996 as well as during the 2003 battle for Monrovia. In 2003, Taylor’s forces including RUF fighters were pitted against LURD and MODEL. Taylor’s forces were in control of central Monrovia including Waterside and West Point. And the involvement of or presence of RUF elements  within the ranks of the national security apparatus was at the time an open secret.

Whatever the case, the ongoing trial of a war crime suspect by a Finnish court, a foreign jurisdiction, for acts committed on Liberian soil, is indeed a watershed event, although few Liberians may recognize it as such.

Even fewer Liberians may know that the Liberian Government under the leadership of President George Manneh Weah cooperated with the Finnish government and acceded to requests to allow Finnish investigators to conduct investigations here on Liberian soil in order to amass evidence against Gibril Massaquoi.

His comeuppance, though belated, is welcomed. And it sets a precedence, the significance of which cannot be dismissed. Slowly but surely the wheels of justice which at a point had appeared to have come to a grinding halt, is now turning.

For the past decade or more since the TRC submitted its Final Report to the Legislature in 2010, progress on implementation of its recommendations have been stalled.  Critics of the TRC have argued that the Recommendations stood no chance of being implemented primarily because President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had been indicted in the report.

And true to form, according to informed sources, President Sirleaf did all she could to impeach the credibility of the TRC report, having failed to make a convincing case of her innocence and non-involvement in the destructive 14-year carnage.

Rather, sources say,  she conveniently ignored it and sought ways in which the recommendations especially those concerning accountability could be skirted around. But the passage of time notwithstanding, increasing calls are coming forth from the public to have the TRC recommendations on criminal accountability fully implemented.

Over the past year, for example about 50 members of the House of Representatives passed a resolution calling on President Weah to establish a War and Economic Crimes Court for Liberia. This constitutes about two-thirds of the membership.

According to sources the resolution was sent to the Senate for concurrence but has since lingered there. Now there are hopes that with the coming in of newly elected senators, it appears more likely than not the Senate will give its concurrence.

The Bill will then be sent to President Weah for his signature which he may veto but which could pass eventually if it is sent back to the President and, should he waiver for more than 5 days, the Bill will then become law.

But there are those who hold the view that President Weah, fearing potential and possible destabilization attempts by his coalition partner the NPP  in case he signs the Bill into law, may  not likely do so owing to such fears.

Instead the government, according to sources, is going to maintain the position held by former President Sirleaf that the establishment of a war and economic crimes court for Liberia will open old wounds and derail development efforts.

Critics of this postulate however argue that for twelve (12) years, golden opportunities that availed for transformation of the country were squandered amid outright theft of public money by officials of that government which went with impunity.

In this regard, they maintain that impunity and corruption including theft of resources poses a greater threat to our national development objectives and aspirations than that posed by prosecution of war and economic criminals.

That point underscored, it must not be forgotten that aside from recommendations on criminal accountability, there are a host of other recommendations including recommendations on Reparations, Memorialization, Institutional reform and the Palaver Hut which is a traditional form of justice and accountability.

It should also be underscored that there are unpublished volumes of the TRC report which should and ought to be published to give finality to the report. The unpublished volumes include witness testimonies and narrative accounts, transcripts of public hearings, county investigative field reports, etc.

As things currently stand, there are rising public fears that if nothing is done or the delay in bringing other perpetrators to book would mean that some accused major perpetrators may die of natural causes without ever having to face justice according to a survivor of the 1990 Lutheran Church massacre.

He mentioned the cases of INPFL rebel commander Samuel Varney and George Dweh, who he said have died from natural causes without having their day in Court. Further, according to the massacre survivor (name withheld), ULIMO leader Alhaji Kromah is ailing and could also receive his eternal summons before having his day in court. In his view, the trial of Gibril Massaquoi is just the beginning of sorrows for those who once held sway over the people by the barrel of a gun. It is truly indeed a Watershed event in the annals of Liberian history.

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