Africa

Human Rights Watch Tells Liberia To Prosecute Past War Crimes

TRC Final Report

TRC Recommendations for Internationalized Domestic War Crimes Court

The international non-governmental organization dedicated to research and advocacy for human rights around the world Human Rights Watch (HRW) says the new Weah Administration in the West African nation Liberia “should take prompt steps to pave the way for fair investigation and prosecution of serious past crimes committed during Liberia’s brutal civil wars.”

President George M. Weah of Liberia

President George M. Weah of Liberia

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW) Associate Director of its International Justice Program Ms. Elise Keppler, “President Weah has a chance to make history by ensuring that Liberia’s victims at long last have a chance to see the people who committed crimes against them held to account.”

“Liberia,” she said, “has made important progress to advance post-conflict stability, but no one has faced justice in Liberia for the brutal crimes during that period.” The call to the new Weah Administration is an attempt by the international community and human rights advocates to pressure the authorities ib Liberia to hold accountable those who committed grievous atrocities during the Liberia civil crisis. An estimated 250,000 people died and nearly 1 million others were internally and externally dislocated due to the conflagration.

According to HRW, “…during two armed conflicts – 1989 to 1996 and 1999 to 2003 – horrific abuses were committed against civilians in Liberia. These included summary executions and numerous large-scale massacres; widespread and systematic rape; mutilation and torture; and large-scale forced conscription and use of child combatants. The violence blighted the lives of tens of thousands of civilians, displaced almost half the population, and virtually destroyed the country’s infrastructure.”

Former TRC Head Counselor Jerome Verdier

Former TRC Head Counselor Jerome Verdier

In July, 2017, the former head of Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), Counselor Jereome Verdier recommended that any incoming Liberian Administration should address the following:

“(i)That the future government of Liberia considers domestic prosecutions of domestic crimes including murders, and diverse theft cases and graft;

(ii) That the future government of Liberia establishes a committee that will review the Recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) with the mandate to prepare a timeline, modalities, strategies and how the full implementation of all the recommendations of the TRC can be accomplished in keeping with law as an advisory tool for government actions;

(iii)That the future Government of Liberia considers the establishment of a robust economic and financial crimes commission to pursue the long list of cases of economic crimes in Liberia and commence redress mechanisms ahead of the establishment of The War Crimes Court for Liberia;

(iv) That the future government of Liberia considers inculcating the values and culture of the rule of law into the socio-cultural and economic and commercial fabric of the Liberian society as a matter of high priority;

(v) That the future Government of Liberia also prioritizes national reconciliation efforts and initiatives to advance national healing and the transition agenda of restoring comprehensive peace, national unity and security to Liberia as a sine qua non for lasting peace, growth and development in Liberia…”

Counselor Verdier also recommended the following to the international community:

“i) That the international community considers continuing or expanding the sanctions regime on Liberian to include travel ban and financial sanctions on specific persons of interest and international arrests and deportations to ensure that there is no haven anywhere in the world for fugitives and alleged perpetrators of economic and war crimes in Liberia;

(ii) That the international community considers assisting Liberia with financial, technical and other forensic assistances in the recovery and repatriation of stolen wealth from Liberia;

(iii) That the international community considers reviving and supporting efforts towards establishing a special ordinary war crimes tribunal for Liberia to deal with war time atrocities and crimes committed in Liberia, that closure to that chapter of Liberia’s history can be done with dignity and respect for international norms and standards of justice and;

(iv) That the international community facilitate the accentuating of greater accountability in Liberia by commissioning an audit of all donors and development partners grants, aid and loans to Liberia during the period January 16, 2006 to January 16, 2018…”

Former President Charles Taylor

Former President Charles Taylor

Some perpetrators of war crimes in Liberia have been booked and are facing prosecution in the United States, Switzerland, the UK and Belgium. Chief among them is former rebel leader turned former President Charles Taylor who is serving a 50 year jail term in the UK.

No one has been charged and prosecuted in Liberia for alleged war crimes. HRW, in its letter to President George Weah, said, “…while supportive of the general approach, Human Rights Watch recommended that several elements of the proposal should be revised to ensure prosecutions of past crimes in accordance with international standards…” 

Liberia’s TRC, established in 2003 following the Accra Peace Conference, was to identify the root causes of the Liberian civil war and determine those who were responsible for committing domestic and international crimes against the Liberian people.

Former Liberian President Ellen-Johnson-Sirleaf-MS

Former Liberian President Ellen-Johnson-Sirleaf

The TRC, in its final report, recommended that Nobel Peace Laureate and former  President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and 51 others be blocked from holding public offices in Liberia for 30 years for helping to form and finance the country’s warring militias. That recommendation has not been implemented.

The international human rights advocacy group told the new Liberian government to,” As part of these efforts, the new government should revisit the TRC’s recommendations with a view to establishing a court with international assistance to fairly and effectively prosecute international crimes committed in Liberia.”

Ms. Keppler said, “…The countless victims of the unspeakable crimes committed in Liberia deserve justice for what they have suffered.The era of rampant impunity for international crimes should at last close.”

Map of Liberia

Map of Liberia

Some accused perpetrators and their supporters argue that enforcement of some recommendations of the country’s TRC contravenes the country’s Constitution.

A former rebel commander-turned-senator Prince Johnson from northeastern Nimba County, Liberia who is one of those named in the TRC Final Report as a “notorious perpetrator has accused the TRC of using his testimony to name him for war crimes saying. “… due process is what our Constitution requires.”

Senator Johnson has been named as a person of interest for the execution of several U.S. catholic nuns and one Linda Jury; an American citizen of the Hari Krishna faith in Liberia during the war.

Johnson and his rebel forces were also responsible for capturing, torturing and killing former President Samuel Doe in September, 1990.

Reports say international investigators are continuing to collect evidence against some of the major perpetrators for a possible indictment.

With the renewed focus on holding those accountable for their roles in horrific war crimes perpetrated in Liberia, The Weah Administration must now decide how it proceeds to avoid the risk of appearing weak and colluding in avoiding the prosecution of individuals who are some of its political allies and government appointees.

By Emmanuel Abalo

West African Journal Magazine