Liberia is facing increased pressure to bring to book individuals who have been accused of committing serious human rights abuses and economic crimes during the country’s civil war between 1989 – 2003 in which an estimated 250,000 people were killed and another 1 million others internally and externally dislocated.
Governing administrations including that of former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and incumbent President George M. Weah have literally brought the intense spotlight on themselves and the pressure to implement recommendations of the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Final Report which was submitted to the Johnson-Sirleaf’s Administration since 2009.
More disappointing is the fact that no one in Liberia has been prosecuted for their alleged criminal actions during the war.
Some supporters of the past President and now President Weah, including some of the accused, are justifying the refusal of government to do the right thing and address the “elephant in the room” – the outstanding issue of the implementation of the TRC recommendations and accountability for violations of the human rights of civilians and non-combatants.
In the eyes of the international community and those who stand on the side of justice, the culture of impunity in Liberia is pervasive and contributes to the cycle of violent depravity and criminal activity which sap the moral standing of Liberia and its people.
Also, the public face of national governance in Liberia is dominated by the same human rights violators and system of impunity. This ridiculous dispensation tells the international community and allied forces of justice, equal rights and morality that Liberia is not yet prepared to be a part of the civilized comity of nations where the country’s past barbarity and bloodletting are considered hindrances to full participation and respect.
The Webster-Merriam dictionary defines human rights as ” rights (such as freedom from unlawful imprisonment, torture, and execution) regarded as belonging fundamentally to all persons”.
The UN Human Rights Commission defines human rights as “…rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status.”
The undeniable expectation is that we, as human kind, are all equally entitled to our human rights without any discrimination; whether you live in Sweden, Argentina, North Korea or Liberia. These rights are all interrelated, interdependent, indivisible and God-given.
The Liberian civil war was a clear choice by some to exact and justify their brand of political, social or tribal domination on defenseless citizens through the use of arms, psychological and physical terror and violence. Some argue that the war was a justifiable armed response to threats against their survival by opposing warring elements.
But how does one justify the use of heavy combat and munitions in civilian areas or the targeting of innocent civilians who are fleeing conflict?
Why was it acceptable to attack peacekeepers for the sole purpose of driving them away because a military victory was imminent?
How does the intentional recruitment of vulnerable children through terror for combat and disposal stand up to scrutiny? When is it ok to plunder the common national resources of for personal wealth at the expense of devastatingly poor citizens?
The shameful reluctance of the Sirleaf government and delay by the new Weah Administration to stand on the side of addressing war and economic crimes in order to bring closure to the bloody chapter in national life is a reflection of the non-existence of a moral compass that is so critical to national unity and human decency.
Liberia is signatory to a host of international treaties, conventions and statutes which obligates it to comply with international law. In fact, Liberia was a signatory to the founding of the United Nations.
The United Nations Conference on International Organization (UNCIO), commonly known as the San Francisco Conference, was a convention of delegates from about 50 Allied nation countries which took place from 25 April 1945 to 26 June 1945 in San Francisco, California, the United States.
In 1963/1965, Liberia joined the UN Human Rights Council which is the successor to the original UN Commission on Human Rights.
Liberia has obligations under international law as a signatory who has ratified the Rome Statute which established the International Criminal Court (ICC) . The Court is an intergovernmental organization and international tribunal that officially sits in The Hague in the Netherlands and has the jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for the international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.
The basis for the establishment of a war crimes court and the prosecution of accused individuals are firmly rooted in the Final Report of the TRC. All Liberian fighting factions, as part of the Accra Comprehensive Peace agreement, subscribed to the establishment of the TRC mechanism.
Liberia, by becoming a party to international treaties, assumes obligations and duties under international law to respect, to protect and to fulfil human rights.
That obligation to respect means that Liberia must refrain from blocking, interfering with or curtailing the enjoyment of human rights by its citizens and others within its borders.
Liberia must be reminded that it is failing miserably in upholding its obligations to comply with international law by its refusal to hold accountable those named in the country’s TRC Report as being responsible for serious human rights violations.
The international community and Liberians at home remain resolute in the march to justice.
The intentional delay by the Liberian government to stand on the side of justice must have consequences including the realization that their unacceptable action is tantamount to obstruction of justice.
The expectation is that moral men and women with clarity of conviction in Liberia will stand for the voiceless, the dead and their families and the physically and psychologically scarred and follow the law and international obligations so that history will be kind to their legacies.
Liberia must act boldly to end impunity and exact justice and accountability now. It can be done!
By Emmanuel Abalo
West African Journal Magazine