By Caroline Bowah Brown
I remain an advocate for justice and truly want accountability for the heinous crimes committed in Liberia. Yes, I do but I am also of the opinion that doing so must be thought through carefully. The search for truth and justice must be carried out without jeopardizing the fragile peace we enjoy in this moment. It must be done while ensuring our safety.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia was established to promote national peace, unity, security and reconciliation and hold perpetrators accountable for the atrocities committed. About eleven years ago, the Commission completed its work and handed over its report to former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for implementation. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf made no overtures towards implementing the recommendations of the TRC. The UN and other international organizations took no action against Madam Sirleaf for her failure to do so. In fact, she was awarded several accolades from the same international community; one of them being the Nobel Peace award and later the Mo Ibrahim Award after she stepped down from political office. What double standards. The international community was extremely tolerant towards her government and no pressure was mounted on her to implement the recommendations of the TRC.
As part of its support to the peace process, the UNMIL was under obligation to ensure the Liberian Government implement the recommendations of the TRC report. According to the 1st United Nations Security Council 1509 (2003) that established the mission, it was mandated to “support all parties to cease all human rights violations and atrocities against the Liberian population, and stresses the need to bring to justice those responsible.” After 15 years, the UNMIL closed down its Liberian operation without achieving one of its key mandates, which was to support the Government to bring to justice those responsible for committing atrocities in Liberia.
Shortly after the election of the new Government of President Weah, there have been increasing calls for judicial accountability for war crimes from various sources including social media and other spaces. Similarly, on July 5, 2018, Human Rights Watch put out a statement supported by Seventy six Liberian, African, and international non-governmental organizations demanding the Liberian government “undertake fair and credible prosecutions of international crimes committed during its two civil wars”. The statement was submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Committee.
On September 8, 2018, the US Congress introduced a resolution for the full implementation of the TRC recommendations. Interestingly this is the first concrete action taken by the US government since the completion of the TRC’s work. No such action was ever taken during the tenure of Madam Sirleaf’s government. This makes one wonder why after more than eleven years they choose this moment to begin to pursue the implementation of the TRC recommendations. What does the US Congress aim to achieve, what is the real motive for this action? In the first place the new government is still in its infancy and only now starting to organize itself and implement the mandate given to it by the Liberian people. For me, it is too early and not timely for the US Congress to burden the Liberian government with such demands. We vividly remember how the US Embassy shut its gates and watched from the Atlantic shore while millions of Liberians were being killed, raped, tortured etc. If Liberia is forced to implement these recommendations, is the international community and the US in particular, ready to create the conditions to guarantee our safety and stability? What commitments are they making if Liberia once again finds herself in a state of instability while implementing the TRC recommendations?
Bearing in mind that some of the alleged perpetrators hold a great deal of power and have amassed personal wealth, it is important to consider how this power and influence might be used to resist the TRC implementation. The risk of such a process destabilizing the country is high and this is the reason why such a process should have been conducted while the UNMIL force was still stationed in Liberia. The UNMIL mission could have supported the judicial accountability process before their mission ended.
In closing, it is important for the Government of Liberia to be very clear about how the leadership wants to proceed with the non-judicial and judicial process for transitional justice in Liberia. They must be in the driver’s seat and show the Liberian people that they mean to act on this in a measured and responsible way. Many are hurt, many need reparations and many need to be reconciled.
As I write this I am reflecting on a day in 2003 when we had nowhere to run and I had to carry my one year old baby and choose which of our few belongings to carry. Today he is 16 years old and will soon be completing high school. I imagine a bright future for him. This future can only be guaranteed by a peaceful country. This is the aspiration of many Liberians. We do need closure to this chapter. Of course we need justice but it must NOT be detrimental to the fragile peace. We look forward to the Government position on this and it must not be driven by an international agenda. Never again!
Ms. Caroline Bowah Brown is an Economist, Gender Specialist and a leader in civil society movement in Liberia and currently serves as the Country Director for medica Liberia, and a lecturer at the Department of the Economics, University of Liberia. In 2008, Ms. Brown was appointed by Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to serve as member of the Veterans Bureau. Most of her work is in the areas of gender, peacebuilding, security sector reform and transitional justice. She has a Masters Degree in Economic Policy Management from Makerere University in Uganda.