Liberia: Speaker Backs Restorative Justice For War Crimes Accused

Liberia House Speaker Bhofal Chambers

The Speaker of Liberia’s House of Representatives has reinforced the George M. Weah Administration’s stance against the establishment of a war crimes court in the West African nation to prosecute those who may have committed atrocities and economic crimes during the country’s civil war.

Appearing on the VOA’s Day Break Africa program on Monday morning, Speaker Bhofal Chambers, said the 2003 Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement stipulates for restorative rather than retributive Justice following completion of the work and submission of the Final Report of Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) since 2009.

The Liberian House Speaker said, based on the Accra Peace Agreement “…the arrangement was that there should be peace and reconciliation in Liberia. There should be restorative justice versus retributive justice. And we who go to conventions and international discussions, where there are treaties, it’s only fair to work out those details and those details must be followed to the letter…”

The Britannica website defines Restorative Justice as a “response to criminal behaviour that focuses on lawbreaker restitution and the resolution of the issues arising from a crime in which victims, offenders, and the community are brought together to restore the harm…”, while the authoritative website also defines Retributive Justice as a “response to criminal behaviour that focuses on the punishment of lawbreakers and the compensation of victims.

In general, the severity of the punishment is proportionate to the seriousness of the crimes…”

The philosophy of Restorative and Retributive Justice is found in ancient law codes from the Near East around 2050 BC. 2000 BC and the well known Babylonia Code of Hammurabi in 1750 BC.

Pressed on terms of the Accra Peace Agreement regarding the establishment of a war crimes court in Liberia based on the TRC recommendations, Speaker Chambers emphatically stated that was not the agreement parties subscribed to.

Asked if Liberia is being pressured by the international community to set up a war crimes court, the third in line to the Liberian Presidency denied that international colleagues, ECOWAS, UN, AU and some friendly local diplomatic missions in Liberia were calling for the setting up of a war crimes court in Liberia.

On last Friday, New York Republican Representative Daniel M. Donovan Jr. introduced a Congressional Resolution which calls for the establishment of a war crimes court.

“…More than that, the Liberian people are the people who, should perhaps, set their agenda. If they want the clock to be set back, it will be their decision. But obviously we are reminding our compatriots that when we are in an arrangement, what we agreed upon must be followed,” Speaker Chambers held.

In response to assertions from the Liberian House Speaker in his VOA interview, the former head of Liberia’s TRC Counselor Jerome Verdier said the Speaker “did not understand the provisions of the Accra Peace Agreement and I believe he hasn’t read the TRC Act. The TRC Act domesticated the provisions of the Accra Peace Agreement.”

Former Chairman of Liberia TRC Counselor Jerome Verdier

Counselor Verdier who now serves as Executive Director of the newly formed rights advocacy and research organization the International Justice Group (IJG) countered further that, “and there is no provision in there [Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement] that calls exclusively for restorative justice. And what he doesn’t understand also is that restoring justice is not a process mutually exclusive from the criminal justice process. It is a component of the criminal justice process. It is a component; or an offshoot of the criminal justice process. The Speaker is mistaken or he is trying to intentionally embellish impunity for what he calls restorative justice”.

With the recent apprehension in France of an alleged Liberia war actor, Kunta K., Counselor Verdier disclosed that there is heightened awareness of the need for justice in Liberia and says there are efforts currently underway to indict alleged perpetrators of war crimes in Liberia.

Former Rebel Warlord Turned Senator Prince Y. Johnson

The former head of Liberia’s TRC specifically named a former warlord and current lawmaker from Nimba County Senator Prince Y. Johnson as one of nearly 100 notorious war crimes perpetrators who may be indicted.

The current Liberian government has repeatedly side-stepped questions on its commitment to the establishment of a war crimes court to prosecute alleged perpetrators who are accused of committing some of the most heinous atrocities during Liberia’s civil war.

President George Weah, a former UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador at a news conference at the UNICEF -Liberia Office in Monrovia on April 23, 2004, took a stance for the prosecution of warlords.

Liberian President George. M. Weah

Ambassador Weah added in his call at the time that those to be prosecuted include warlords and military commanders of the various belligerent groups who, for their own selfish gains, brought children into the conflict.

But the Liberia leader has now had a change of heart and is no longer advocating for justice against warlords.

At a recent meeting with opposition leaders in Monrovia, a statement attributed to President Weah said he expressed unwillingness at prosecuting alleged perpetrators since, according to him, they are current government decision makers and that Liberians were all inter-related.

The President has come under heavy criticisms for his lack of commitment to implementing the recommendations of the TRC Final Report.

Supporters of the President defend his stance on non-establishment of a War Crimes Court citing the fragile peace condition in the country and potential for a return to instability.

Map of Liberia

President Weah is expected to travel to New York later in September to give his first address to the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Political observers say his address will be the first real opportunity to hear the official position of the Weah Administration which is under heavy local and international pressure to establish a prosecutorial mechanism for dealing with war and economic crimes in the West African country.

By Emmanuel Abalo

West African Journal Magazine