‘War Crimes Court not Subject to Any Statute of Limitations’

Cllr. Jonathan T. Massaquoi

Since the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) seek to hold accountable those guilty of some of the worst crimes during the 14-year civil war, as well as for economic crimes, the establishment of the War and Economic Crimes Court has faced considerable setbacks.

It has been unable to gain the support of the Government of Liberia with arguments and counter-arguments about whether the country needs such a court, as opposed to a Palava hut reconciliation model. Others argue that the operation of statutory limitations could prevent the investigation of war crimes and the prosecution of the suspects and would constitute a violation of the obligation to do so, meaning that after more than 14 years, those accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity are time limit and should not be made to account for the atrocities.

The principle that statutes of limitation do not apply to war crimes is set forth in Article 97 (b) of the 1986 Constitution.

That article states that “No court or other Tribunal shall entertain any action whatsoever instituted against the Government of Liberia whether before or after the coming into force of this Constitution or against any person or persons who assisted in any manner whatsoever in bringing about the change of Government of Liberia on the 12th day of April 1980, in respect of any act or Commission relating to or consequent upon.”

But, a senior lawyer of the Supreme Court Bar has contrary views to the argument of the statute of limitations and the Palava hut recommendation. 

In an interview with the Daily Observer newspaper, on Friday, July 9, Cllr. Massaquoi argued that “it is a well established custom and belief that war crimes and crimes against humanity are not barred by limitation”.

Cllr. Massaquoi was however quick to mention that the statute of limitations does apply to other crimes.

According to Massaquoi, Liberia signed up to various international protocols to the effect that individuals guilty of war crimes could be subject to prosecution at any time, without regard to any statute of limitations. 

“Are we saying that with the death of 250,000 and with thousands more having been mutilated and raped, children conscripted by ruthless warlords must not be made to account for their actions?” Massaquoi wondered. “How do we expect the world to take us seriously when we are trying to ignore the accountability of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the civil war? Are we saying there should not be any case to provide some justice for victims of the war?” Massaquoi asked. “It must not be forgotten that there has still been no accountability for these crimes in Liberia itself.”

According to him, it is now time that the Liberian authorities urgently established a criminal court to try crimes under international law and ensure those responsible are held to account.