OSAC Assessment – “Liberia Demonstrations Underscored Grievances & Limited Government Capacity”

Monrovia, Liberia – June 6, 2019: The United States Department of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security (OSAC) on Wednesday, June 5, 2019 issued an assessment on Liberia entitled Liberia Demonstrations Underscored Grievances & Limited Government Capacity

Executive Summary

“The Council of Patriots,” a coalition of five major Liberian opposition parties has called for large-scale “Save the State” demonstrations on June 7 to demand government reforms to improve living conditions and good governance as the country grapples with economic stagnation and widespread corruption. Although protest organizers have stated their non-violent intent and clarified that they are not calling for President George Weah’s resignation, many who oppose the demonstrations claim that they could serve as a ploy to force the President to step down just a year into his term. A number of civil society organizations have discouraged participation in the demonstrations, including Yana Boys and Girls clubs (panhandlers associations) and some religious leaders.

As routine, the government has augmented security in Monrovia. Pro-government actors might call on supporters to stage counter-rallies, which could increase the potential for clashes with security forces and rival protest groups. Local security force and emergency response to large-scale and widespread demonstrations remains largely un-tested in Liberia’s post-conflict era, and local capabilities are already limited. Reports indicate that the government and opposition leaders are engaged in negotiations, but it appears they have yet to reach an agreement.

Monrovia’s Capitol area will likely be the main gathering point for June 7 demonstrations, but protests could occur elsewhere in the city or the country. According to some estimates, participants could number in the thousands in Monrovia – a size which is unprecedented in Liberia’s post-conflict era. Sources suggest that protest leaders may have traveled throughout Liberia to promote support for demonstrations in other parts of the country as well. Large gatherings can materialize with little notice and escalate to violence in Liberia, and vigilantism and mob justice is common in Liberia particularly in rural areas. Members of the Liberian diaspora are reportedly organizing a June 7 protest in Washington, DC in solidarity, which could raise the profile of these protests and sustain their momentum.

Security managers should review their security measures and ensure they account for potential for protests to turn confrontational, be prolonged, and increase future tensions. The government’s reaction and demonstrators’ orderliness will play a major role in determining scale, duration, and escalation to violence of these protests. There are some private-sector concerns about the potential for June 7 to prompt sustained or recurring unrest, given their potential to tap into a confluence of economic and political trends that could cause potential regional spillover or prompt ghosts from Liberia’s conflicted past to reemerge.

Could Protests Transform a Political Turning Point into a Tipping Point?

Joint calls for demonstrations could mark the opposition’s attempt to galvanize rising and increasingly widespread popular grievances against the President and his party. So far, the central government has largely avoided addressing the looming protests publicly. The government has barred the media from reporting on the progress of government negotiations with the opposition. Open sources indicate that the government’s silence has augmented public anxiety.

The current president, George Weah, was elected in Liberia’s 2017 Presidential election, beating then-incumbent Vice President Joseph Boakai, in a run-off. Weah ran as an outsider and championed a platform of poverty reduction, economic growth, infrastructure development, and anticorruption. As a result, protests could serve as a one-year review of Weah’s performance in office and ability to meet his campaign promises. In addition, former VP Boakai is one of the leaders of “Save the State” protests; his active role in organizing the demonstrations could indicate his intention to establish himself as the opposition frontrunner for 2022 Presidential elections, as well as the opposition’s desire to continue sparring with Weah over the course of his first term. The 2017 election also marked the country’s first postwar peaceful transition of power, which could mean that sustained unrest against Weah could escalate into a referendum on the success of Liberia’s post-conflict democratic progress.

How unified the opposition becomes, and whether the coalition is able to galvanize widespread and sustained support remain to be seen. Unarticulated grievance-based and/or antigovernment movements can be prone to volatility and devolution; opposition leaders have provided participants with an outlet to express their grievances, but limited guidance on how to direct this expression. In such cases, score settling, scapegoating, predation, mistargeting, and/or indiscriminate violence could occur – all of which have implications for private-sector security, as they could lead to organized or ad hoc targeting as well as indiscriminate violence. In addition, there is concern that political elites could tap into criminal elements, youth gangs, vigilantes, and/or armed groups resurrected from Liberia’s past conflicts – any of which could morph into an armed political opposition.

Rising Economic Desperation Mixes With Unmet Expectations and High Crime

Liberia’s economic situation is the worst it has been in the past decade, as the country struggles with high unemployment, price inflation, and fuel price hikes which have caused commodities to skyrocket. The exchange rate has been the highest and most volatile it has been during peacetime. One of the largest foreign direct investors and employers in Liberia has announced layoffs due to lackluster profitability. The layoffs could result in backlash, and could hurt the nation’s economy even more. All of these developments exacerbate economic instability and desperation as Weah pushes economic growth and poverty-reduction agendas, which were major pillars of his 2017 presidential platform.

On May 28, Weah announced a massive reshuffle of the central bank – a move that could be an attempt to mollify the public in advance of June 7. Systemic corruption in government (including the central bank) has become a growing source of discontent under both the previous and current administration. In September, Liberians staged “Bring Back Our Money” protests after more than $100 million in newly printed bills vanished; and the suspicious incident undermined anticorruption efforts. Austerity may also be on the horizon for Liberia, which would impact Weah’s ability to meet his campaign promises and constrain public services further, likely resulting in public outcry.

Worsening poverty and a lack of any social safety net has led to upticks in crime and the proliferation of gangs, as people turn to illicit activities for sources of income. Opportunistic criminal actors may exploit periods of heightened uncertainty, particularly outbreaks of unrest and changes in security force posture, to expand their activities. The myriad of criminal elements also provides political leaders with potential armed wings to tap into for support, some may have access to weapons – albeit typically homemade ones. Crime generally increases during the rainy season (May-September) and has the potential to become more prevalent during periods of unrest. (For more information on crime trends, see Liberia’s OSAC 2019 Crime and Safety Report.)

Upcoming protest activity notwithstanding, the U.S. Department of State currently assigns Liberia a Level 1 Travel Advisory, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions in the country; however, there is a serious risk from criminality in Monrovia, and travelers should exercise increased caution in urban areas due to crime.

Liberia’s two civil wars between 1986 and 2003 destroyed 90% of its economy and damaged a large portion of its infrastructure, while the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak overburdened what infrastructure remained – particularly the country’s health system – and sapped revenue that could have driven development and furthered post-conflict recovery. Although increased international attention during the Ebola crisis brought a momentary uptick in private-sector presence and investment, this was primarily health- and emergency response-focused and largely disappeared with the end of the epidemic. International aid initially resuscitated Liberia’s economy, but systemic improvements have been lacking due to institutional weakness and corruption. The Liberian government continues to rely on international assistance for two-thirds of its expenditures; commercial investors driven off by the outbreak remain leery of re-entering the market, inhibiting economic diversification and capacity building.

Reemerging Ghosts from Liberia’s Conflicted Past Could Contest for Its Future

The legacy of Liberia’s civil wars continues to loom large in politics. Anti-government unrest could rekindle unresolved ethno-political tensions that may be exploited by political opportunists. There are concerns that Charles Taylor, Liberia’s president during both civil wars, maintains significant influence in Liberian politics, despite his conviction for war crimes and incarceration in the United Kingdom. Well-known associates of Taylor, including those who held key positions during his administration and were implicated in abuses, continue to hold prominent positions in Liberian politics. Such figures include Taylor’s ex-wife, who was Weah’s running mate and is now the Vice President; and Prince Johnson, an on-again off-again Taylor ally who won third-place in the 2017 presidential election, despite calls for him to be prosecuted for crimes against humanity. Prince later endorsed Weah in the run-off and continues to give him support. Johnson urged his followers not to join the opposition in protest, but they could participate in counter-rallies; however, this relationship may fray if Weah heeds more vocal calls for Johnson’s prosecution.

Large-scale, sustained unrest could present heavyweights from Liberia’s conflicted past with opportunities for intervention and posturing to exact concessions and expand of their influence. Liberia’s main political figures and parties – including Boakai, Taylor, and Johnson — maintain strong support bases often along ethno-political and geographic lines. What made Weah’s campaign successful was its broader appeal– which is now under pressure. As a result, there are concerns that “Save the State” could prompt power shifts and realignments that could disrupt current alliances and potentially undermine Liberia’s post-conflict trajectory, which has remained politically stable despite lingering tensions.

Sisters in Struggle: Liberia’s Woes Could Spill into Sierra Leone

OSAC has received a number of inquiries from private-sector organizations operating in Liberia as well as Sierra Leone due to constituent concerns about implications of June 7 protests on Liberia’s stability and potential for spillover into Sierra Leone. The two countries possess similar risk factors (e.g. lackluster economic performance, endemic corruption, and institutional weakness) and shared histories (e.g. interrelated civil wars and the Ebola outbreak).

In addition, President Julius Bio in Sierra Leone took office in 2018 as a successful opposition candidate by running on a poverty reduction and anticorruption platform but is facing economic challenges, similar to Weah.

On June 3, the UK government updated its advice for Sierra Leone warning of a general increase in demonstrations; such activities are probably not directly related to the June 7 protests in Liberia, but are likely fueled by antigovernment grievances over similar issues such as prolonged economic declines.

Successful demonstrations in Liberia could lead to copycat demonstrations in its neighbor. Ethnic and kinship ties also extend across Liberia and Sierra Leone’s shared frontier, which experiences high volumes of daily cross-border transit and commercial activity, rendering borders extremely porous. Such factors played major roles in the spread of Liberia’s second civil war into its neighbor. French guidance currently advises against non-essential travel along the border with Sierra Leone since March 2018 due to potential instability, despite improvements in the security environment.

Local Security Force Response

June 7 demonstrations could overwhelm host nation capacity including local security force response, emergency services, and medical infrastructure which are already limited – even in Monrovia where they are concentrated — due to years of under development and repeated crisis. Response in Monrovia and particularly outside the capital could become even more attenuated or delayed during June 7 protests. Security forces face chronic shortages in manpower, equipment, and training – particularly within the Liberian National Police (LNP).

This lack of resources stems from Liberia’s civil wars, after which its entire formal security sector — including military, police, and intelligence — was dismantled and reconstituted from scratch due to the prevalence of human rights abuses committed during the conflict. The UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) oversaw the reform of Liberia’s security and justice sectors, but fully withdrew from the country in 2018. Further government-driven capacity building in the security sector has been slow.

In response to possible unrest, security forces have set up frequent checkpoints in the city–particularly in upscale neighborhoods such as Sinkor while constituents have reported that shakedowns have become more common and aggressive. Checkpoints could proliferate around June 7, which could increase the prevalence of extortion. Public confidence and trust in Liberia’s security forces is extremely low, largely due to perceived corruption and ineffectiveness. Additionally, the government could implement movement restrictions and curfews if it perceives a threat to law and order.

It remains unclear how well Liberia’s security forces will be able to modulate their use of force – particularly in the face of largescale, multi-location gatherings and/or provocations (stone-throwing, barricading, rioting, and looting). To date, the Liberia National Police (LNP) has only had to manage localized demonstrations involving a few hundred, mostly-compliant participants including during the “Bring Back Our Money” demonstrations; “Save the State” participation may dwarf these earlier protests.

The UN Special Representative for West Africa expressed concerns about the capacity of Liberia’s security forces to handle longer term protests during his May 24-25 visit to support dialogue between the government and opposition leaders.

Heavy-handed response to the June 7 protests, or even the perception of such a response, may further erode confidence in security forces and enflame anti-government tensions; as a result, the margin of error for the government is narrow.

Maintaining cohesion and professionalism will be more difficult in rural areas of the country where security force densities are lower. Frequently, reinforcements from Monrovia must respond to even routine incidents. Police officers frequently end up becoming victims themselves when responding to incidents. Once reinforcements arrive, the victimized police officers may carry out reprisals. Due to limited police response, many communities have turned to vigilantism and extrajudicial measures. In the last two months, there have been at least two reported incidents outside of Monrovia in which vigilantes have targeted police, possibly signifying rising popular discontent with government responsiveness; security forces are often the most visible and accessible embodiment of the central government.

U.S. and Foreign Government Response

The U.S. Embassy has warned that while gatherings will start in the morning, protests could last into the next day. The Embassy has also advised personnel to avoid the area, including rescheduling flights in or out of Roberts International Airport on June 7 and 8, as traffic jams may affect travel to and from the airport (see June 3 security alert). The UK government updated its travel advice on May 23 to alert travelers of June 7 protests, and the Canadian government has incorporated similar changes. The U.S. Department of State currently assigns Liberia a Level 1 Travel Advisory, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions in the country, however travelers should exercise increased caution in urban areas due to crime; this guidance remains in effect.

Private-Sector Response

Security managers should monitor local information sources and networks for developments and review organizational risk assessments, contingency plans, and mitigation measures in case of outbreaks or sustained unrest. In the wake of U.S. government advice to avoid the airport, organizations should consider the criticality of air travel around June 7; some organizations have deferred travel around this time. Large gatherings and elevated security force presence may impede airport access and traffic flow around Monrovia and other locations affected by protests.

Given limited or even reduced local security and emergency response capabilities, organizations should review their duty of care to both foreign and local staff including what organizational resources they can provide to protect their personnel and operations. Ensure sufficient supplies including food, water, and fuel in case of prolonged unrest or disruption of commercial services; reports indicate that locals are stockpiling radios and food.

Contingency plans should include accountability protocols; shelter-in-place scenarios; use of redundant communications systems; crowd avoidance techniques. Many in-country private sector organizations have bolstered physical security measures to deter crime during the rainy season and are reviewing these in light of potential unrest. Private sector personnel in Liberia should expect a visible increase in local security force posture particularly around administrative buildings, key infrastructure including the airport, and major transit arteries. However, heightened security force presence may not mean increased ability to respond to incidents and emergencies.

Travelers may encounter more frequent checkpoints; review how to avoid security issues around checkpoints and road blocks, interact with security forces, and handle shakedowns during times of heightened tensions.

US Federal Government Disclaimer: The contents of this presentation in no way represent the policies, views, or attitudes of the United States Department of State, or the United States Government, except as otherwise noted (e.g., travel advisories, public statements). The presentation was compiled from various open sources and (U) embassy reporting.  

West African Journal Magazine

Is There An Alleged “Scheme” To Violently Disrupt June 7th Protest In Liberia?

Monrovia, Liberia – May 8, 2019: The West African Journal Magazine has heard and is in possession of an audio recording of a telephone call which discloses an alleged ominous scheme to violently attack and disrupt the June 7th peaceful protest organized by some Liberians under the banner of Council of Patriots. (COP).

 

Monrovia Mayor Jefferson Koijee
Monrovia Mayor Jefferson Koijee

The undated audio recording which cannot be independently authenticated is that of an unidentified female  informing an unidentified male on the other end of the call in which she states, “ …Please take it down. Jefferson Koijee have crossed  over 200 men at Lugatuo…They crossed over 200 persons yesterday…Lugatuo. They used a guy by the name of Steven,. His real name is Kesselly Mulubah. He is the one they used to bring the men in from Cote d’Ivoire. They intend to give them uniforms to attack protesters in the form of police officers…. I’m not in town. They just called me and give me the information and so I say let me call you right away so I can’t keep it to myself…,” the female is heard concluding the call on the audio recording.

Liberian-Ivorian Border Area

Liberian-Ivorian Border Area

The town of Lugatuo is a porous immigration crossing point between, Nimba County, Liberia and neighboring Cote d’Ivoire. Nimba County was the beach-head for Charles Taylor led rebels who launched an attack on Liberian soil in December, 1989. The devastating war led to the deaths of over 250,000 and the international and external dislocation of nearly 1 million others.

It is unclear if the release of the contents of the audio recording is diversionary or real. A source told West African Journal Magazine that the alleged scheme may also have others involved in the planning of the importation of the men from Cote d’Ivoire.

Jefferson Koijee is the current Mayor of the city of Monrovia and was appointed by President Weah when the new Administration took office over a year ago. He is a former Youth leader of the now ruling Congress For Democratic Change (CDC).

Earlier on Wednesday, four opposition political parties announced their support for the peaceful protest organized by the Council of Patriots (COP) and scheduled for June 7th. There have been some threats issued against the protesters and which have not been disavowed by the Government of Liberia. Organizers of the protest say they remain resolute and will exercise their constitutional right to protest against poor governance and the deteriorating economy.

Protest organizers say their action is not designed to call for the resignation of President George M. Weah but to demand redress for the deteriorating conditions in the country.

The contents of the audio recording are being discussed on various Liberia social media fora. Neither the Government of Liberia nor Mr. Koijee have responded to this development.

By Our Security Correspondent

West African Journal Magazine

Liberia: Top Security Official Reinstated At NSA

A senior security official at Liberia’s National Security Agency (NSA) has been reinstated. The Executive Mansion in Monrovia announced Monday that Deputy NSA Director Jones Blamo has been reinstated with immediate effect.

No reason was given for the reinstatement of Mr. Blamo who was suspended indefinitely in February.

NSA-LOGOSources indicated that the Liberian President took the decision following news of an “argument” between a Protocol Officer in the Office of the President Ms. Finda Bundoo and Mr. Blamo.

Mr. Blamo’s suspension was broadly termed as “administrative reasons”.

It remains unclear what exactly the “argument” was about and whether it was security related or personal. The Executive Mansion did not elaborate on reasons for the reinstatement.

Code named “202”, Blamo remains the number two at the NSA which is the lead intelligence agency of Liberia that reports directly to the office of the President.

By Our National Security Correspondent in Monrovia

West African Journal Magazine

Accused Liberian War Criminal Indicted In Switzerland: To Face Trial

Geneva, Switzerland, March 26, 2019: It appears that a former Liberian rebel and war actor will face prosecution in Europe, Switzerland after all.

Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber
Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber

The SWI swissinfo.ch – the international service of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) reports that after nearly five years of investigation, the country’s Swiss Attorney General has issued an indictment of Alieu Kosiah for war crimes he allegedly committed during Liberia’s back-to-back wars and his case will now goes to trial.

A statement from the Office of the Swiss Attorney General seen on Tuesday by the West African Journal Magazine says, “The defendant is accused of having ordered the murder respectively murdering or participating in the murder of civilians and soldiers hors de combat, desecrated a corpse of a civilian, raped a civilian, ordered the cruel treatment of civilians, recruited and employed a child soldier, ordered several pillages and ordered and/or participated in forced transports of goods and ammunition by civilians.”

Accused War Criminal Alieu Kosiah
Accused War Criminal Alieu Kosiah

Mr. Kosiah was picked up and detained in Switzerland since 2014 and he is the first person to be held for prosecution on charges brought by the Office of the Swiss Attorney General.

Following criminal complaints filed by several Liberians in 2014, the accused Mr. Kosiah was identified as a former rebel commander with the United Liberation Movement of Liberia (ULIMO). He has been a resident of Switzerland. The Attorney General then launched an investigation into criminal charges that Kosiah was responsible for committing war crimes in Liberia.

According to the Office of the  Swiss Attorney General, the collection of evidence against the accused was complicated by what it called the “lack of cooperation from Liberia and long period of time which had elapsed since the events in Liberia.”

About 25 witnesses have given testimonies to the Office of the Swiss Attorney General which has also received legal assistance from several international organizations.

Former Warlord Turned Senator Prince Y. Johnson
Former Warlord Turned Senator Prince Y. Johnson

Liberia was wracked by  horrendous civil wars in the 1990s. Various militias are accused of committing gross human rights abuses against unarmed civilians including the intentional dislocation of large sections of the populations.

Following the wars, belligerents agreed to the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) which completed its work in June, 2012, submitted its Final Report to the Liberian Government and among several recommendations called for the establishment of a War Crimes Tribunal to prosecute those identified as responsible for gross war and economic crimes.

But The Government of Liberia has been reluctant to implement recommendations of the TRC.

Accused Agnes Taylor and Tom Woweiyu
Accused Agnes Taylor and Tom Woweiyu

Some of those accused in the report including former rebel warlord turned Senator Prince Y. Johnson of the Independent National Patriotic Front (INPFL) have angrily rejected any attempts to bring them to justice and have vowed to resist the establishment of a War Crimes Tribunal in the West African country. The main rebel leader Charles Taylor turned former President Charles Taylor was forced from office, later arrested, prosecuted and convicted on 11 counts of aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity for supporting rebels who carried out atrocities in Sierra Leone in return for “blood diamonds”. He is presently serving a 50 year jail term.

The reluctance of the new Weah Government to commit to fully implementing the recommendations of the TRC, in spite of calls the local rights groups and the international community, has led to a campaign to support the establishment of a War Crimes Tribunal in Liberia.

President George Weah and Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor - File Photo
President George Weah and Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor – File Photo

Support for proposed Congressional House Bill 1055 is growing in the U.S. for the establishment of a War Crimes Tribunal.

Seal of International Justice Group
Seal of International Justice Group

Last week a rights groups including the Movement for Justice in Liberia (MOJL) and the International Justice Group (IJG) led supporters to the office of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and presented a statement in which they said, “… we are equally optimistic that Resolution 1055 will be a reality, War and Economic Crimes Court for Liberia will be a success story, and corruption and impunity will become history. It is only when we achieve these milestones, will we become an economically, socially and politically vibrant nation..”

Seal of Movement For Justice In Liberia
Seal of Movement For Justice In Liberia

Already, some supporters of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) led Government are accusing rights groups of supporting the “economic strangulation” of the Weah government by their statement to U.S. House Speaker Pelosi.

Several Liberian war actors including former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Tom Woweiyu, Agnes Reeves Taylor and Martina Johnson are facing international justice. Mohammed “Jungle Jabbah” Jabateh, a former ULIMO rebel commander, is currently serving a 30 year prison term on immigration fraud charges in the U.S.

Sealed indictments have been drawn up against some Liberians which have been accused of war and economic crimes in Liberia.

Political Map of Liberia
Political Map of Liberia

Others accused of committing atrocities and who fled the country are living under assumed names in parts of Africa, Europe and the United States. One of such persons is a former commander in the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) who, in the early days of the rebel invasion in Liberia, led a death squad that murdered a prominent Liberian architect and Mayor of the suburban city of Clay Ashland, Mayor Mr. R. Vanjah Richards. At the time, the Defense Ministry in Liberia said Major Johnson and his men “deviated from their mission”. Johnson later disappeared from Liberia.

West African Journal Magazine has been reliably informed by credible sources that the accused, Henry K. Johnson, is hiding out in the U.S.

International investigators say they will continue to pursue accused Liberia war and economic criminals and bring them to justice or bring justice to them.

By Our Correspondents in Europe, Liberia and the U.S.

West African Journal Magazine

 

 

 

How Liberia Lost Out As A Host Country For US Africa Command HQ

Liberia squandered a valuable opportunity in 2007 to host the headquarters of the U. S. Department of Defense (DOD) Africa Command known as AFRICOM.

AFRICOM

AFRICOM which is based in Stuggart, Germany says it maintains partnerships with African nations to strengthen security forces, counter transnational threats and respond to crisis in an effort to advance the interests of the United States.

It is one of six Geographic Combatant Commands that the U. S. maintains globally.

According to AFRICOM, “Along with regional partners, U.S. Africa command conducts military operations to disrupt, degrade and neutralize violent extremist organizations that present a transnational threat.

Operations set conditions for continued partnering to help African partner nations build the capacity they need to secure the region.”

According to the document seen by West African Journal Magazine, Liberian Legislative Committees lawmakers – Representatives and Senators, who were briefed by US Embassy officials at the time on AFRICOM “…expressed overwhelming support for the initiative and reiterated President Sirleaf’s request that Liberia be chosen as the new site of the headquarters…”

At the time, AFRICOM was actively seeking a continental base in Africa and the West African country expressed interest in being a host country.

Liberia -Some Strategic Characteristics

Geographically, Liberia is accessible through its southern coast via the Atlantic Ocean. It has a relatively young civilian population whose capacity can be trained to function in support roles. Liberia and Liberians have and maintain a “positive view” of the United States due to a very long period of mutual co-existence and collaboration in diplomacy, government, education, culture and economic matters.

Map of Liberia, West Africa

Additionally, it is in the strategic interest of the US to ensure the maintenance of a stable Liberia and the subregion.

In their enthusiasm, Liberian lawmakers at the time asked the U. S. diplomatic mission near Monrovia to assist them to, “counter arguments against AFRICOM and two legislators who also hold seats in the ECOWAS and Pan-African Parliaments agreed to lobby their African counterparts on behalf of AFRICOM.”

The US Embassy in Monrovia further briefed and educated the relevant Liberian lawmakers on the history, structure and function of AFRICOM and provided assurances to dispel the misconception that AFRICOM would “take over USAID”.

Richard Saah Gbollie

According to the documents, former Margibi County Representative Richard Saah Gbollie told U.S. Embassy officials that the Liberian Senate would ultimately be the ones to approve any agreement to host the AFRICOM headquarters and requested that some lawmakers travel to the US for further discussions on the issue with U. S. Congressional Armed Services And Foreign Relations Committees in Washington DC.

But US Embassy officials who saw the request as an attempt to get a “free trip” to the US discouraged the idea.

Senator Prince Y. Johnson

Senator Prince Y. Johnson, who is a member of the National Security Committee in the Liberian Senate told U. S. Embassy officials at the meeting that ECOWAS Parliament members, at their recent meeting, were concerned that hosting an AFRICOM Headquarters would make Liberia a terrorists target. Senator Johnson said he countered to his colleagues at the ECOWAS Parliament that “…AFRICOM’s fundamental role is to bring stability to the continent and ultimately help Africa fight global threats itself. The security brought by AFRICOM would help foster development… (C) Senator Johnson said the Liberian Special Security Services had been advising President Sirleaf not to offer to host AFRICOM because of an increased terrorist threat, but that they were the only GOL agency that felt that way.

Johnson said he would be willing to introduce a bill in the Senate to support AFRICOM because of the stability it could bring to all of Africa. He and the other Senators present agreed that they would introduce a formal resolution echoing

President Sirleaf’s offer for Liberia to host AFRICOM when the legislature reopens in January.”

Another former Liberian lawmaker and Pan African Parliament member Representative Eugene F. Kparkar of Lofa County in the briefing disclosed thatat their last Pan-African meeting, a colleague from Botswana called AFRICOM “anti-African Union measure” and “U.S. neo-colonialism.”

Representative Kparkar reportedly said he rebutted the position of the Botswana Representative and instead advocated for hosting AFRICOM on the African continent but asked that the U.S. undertake advocacy with other African countries.

Representative Rufus Gbeoir, a lawmaker from the Administrative District of Grand Gedeh County, who was the Chairman of the House Committee on Defense at the time, suggested a visit to AFRICOM’s headquarter in Stuggart, Germany “…to personally vouch for what AFRICOM is and is not and would have a better understanding of its mission.”

Former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

The confidential US document seen by West African Journal Magazine, and which is now in the public domain, revealed that although there was huge support, especially among lawmakers at the time, for hosting AFRICOM’s headquarters in Liberia at the time, they had to table the effort because of a tug-of-war between the Executive and Legislative branches of the Liberian government.

The U.S. Embassy, through its Ambassador in Monrovia at the time, sent a cable to the State Department in Washington DC and summarized that, “While we cannot get in the middle of this tug-of-war with the two branches, we need to recognize the complicated nature of the relationship of all these actors with checkered and sometimes violent pasts, and do our best to ensure that all parties feel part of the process. Whether or not an AFRICOM presence comes to Liberia, the legislators remain an excellent resource for us in the public relations effort on AFRICOM, both in Liberia and all over the African continent through the Pan-African Parliament and ECOWAS. They are eager and willing to help. It is in our interest to keep them involved.”

The U. S. Embassy cable which included a mention of Liberian lawmakers with violent past include former warlord turned Senator Prince Johnson of the former rebel Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL), former lawmaker Richard Saah Gbollie, a military police commander of the Taylor led rebel National Patriotic Front (NPFL).

Capitol Building in Monrovia

It is unclear if the Government of Liberia made further serious overtures to the U. S. Administration afterwards, given the enormous benefits of hosting a strategic ally.

AFRICOM’s Headquarters did not make it to Liberia nor Africa and remains in Stuggart, Germany where it coordinates Education and Training, Threat Assessments, Pandemic Response, Deployment Assistance, Military Partnership and Foreign Military Sales, etc. for the 53 countries in Africa.

By Emmanuel Abalo

West African Journal Magazine

Liberia: Deputy NSA Director Suspended For “Time Indefinite”

Monrovia, Liberia- February 8, 2019: A major dismissal has gone down at the National Security Agency (NSA) in Liberia.

Suspended NSA Deputy Jones Blamo

West African Journal Magazine was tipped off late Friday morning that the Agency’s Deputy for Operations one Jones Blamo had been suspended for “time indefinite”.

The suspension decision was reportedly just taken by Liberian President George M. Weah after he was informed of the argument which happened a week or so ago, the source said.

According to an inside source at the NSA, Mr. Blamo’s suspension was for “gross insubordination” to the Office of the President and reportedly “arguing” with a Presidential aide and protocol officer in the office of the President Ms. Finda Bundoo.

It remains unclear what exactly the “argument” was about and whether it was security related.

Since the dismissal is a personnel matter,West African Journal Magazine is unable to independently confirm the reason for the dismissal of the top security official.

The NSA official, code named “202” was appointed shortly after the inauguration of the Weah Administration in January, 2018.

Our source disclosed that Blamo had been suspended prior with a “warning” but it is unclear why and when.

On its website, the biography of now suspended Deputy Blamo indicates he has 14 years of law enforcement experience in:

  • Security Operations /Privacy Principles
  • Law Enforcement & Public Safety
  • Criminal Investigations
  • Presidential Motorcade
  • Individual Protection
  • Firearms Safety & Handling
  • Defensive Tactics, etc

The National Security Agency (NSA) is the lead national intelligence agency of the West African country under the direct authority of the office of the President.

Headquarters of NSA in Liberia

According to Liberian historians Dr. Elwood Dunn, Carl Patrick Burrowes and Amos J. Beyan in their publication, Historical Dictionary of Liberia, “On May 20, 1974, an act repealing sub-chapter D of Chapter 1, Part 1 and subchapter B of Chapter 22, Part II of the Executive Law in Relation to the EAB and the NBI, and creating the NSA was approved.

The NSA was left as the only agency solely responsible for gathering national security intelligence, but having to conduct special investigations, whenever the need arises.”

According to its website, “The National Security Agency (NSA) is  a political government intelligence institution that is solely tasked with the gathering/collection, analyzing and dissemination of national security information for decision/policy makers including the President of the Republic of Liberia.…”

By Our National Security Reporter and Correspondents In Monrovia, Liberia

West African Journal Magazine

Liberia: Media Say President Must Keep Free Speech Pledge Real

Monrovia, Liberia: January 1, 2019  – After experiencing a difficult relationship with the George Weah’s government during the first year of his six-year mandate, Liberian journalists have unanimously agreed that inflammatory statements from several officials harm the President’s repeated pledge to support press freedom and free speech in the West African country.
Logo of Press Union of Liberia (PUL)
Campaigners for press freedom and free speech hailed Weah after pledging in his first inaugural speech last  January, to guarantee those basic tenets of democracy.
But his actions sooner than later went contrary to that pledge when Weah labeled government critics including journalists as “enemies  of the state.”
Weah’s charge went against journalists that reported plain constitutional breaches and probable corruption. 
Cabinet ministers failed to declare their assets on schedule in keeping with law while Weah himself reportedly declared his last July 26 after accountability campaigners coerced him.
His declaration, however, remains under seal and contravenes his pledge of government transparency.
Cabinet officials including Finance Minister Samuel Tweah, accused of shady financial deals, have joined the anti media chorus, vowing “to weaponize” (sic) supporters against critical journalists.  
As if these attacks against  the independent press and Mr. Tweah’s  sworn refusal to advertise in independent newspapers, all aimed to frustrate journalists, were not enough, the country’s Information Minister Eugene Nagbe dismissed the journalists umbrella organization the Press Union of Liberia as “useless”.
Liberian Journalists At A Recent General Meeting – File Photo
In response to what Union executives call Nagbe’s “unethical comments,” they promptly suspended his traditional “honorary” membership after the Minister vowed not to apologize, saying that he would challenge the legality of his suspension in court.
Meanwhile, Liberia journalists experienced a “catch-22” scenario last Friday when President Weah, perhaps unaware of a previously scheduled PUL mass meeting, called Union members to disabuse their apprehension.
According to our correspondent in Monrovia, President Weah told the willing few who attended his meeting that “as a friend of the media I will always support press freedom… No journalists will go to jail during my administration.” But he warned that “journalists must always have their facts together and correct. “
As the bulk of Liberians is viewed as a gullible public that can quickly disown rights advocates and campaigners for justice and fair play, it would be unsurprising for media practitioners to sooner than later become cagey about their aggressive reportage.
Liberian Journalists Meeting President George Weah – File Photo
One media executive quoted long time multi party democracy rights advocate and politician the late Gabriel Baccus Matthews who warned decades ago about Liberians: “When you remove their roasted palm nuts safely from the fire, they hail you; but if your fingers get  burnt, they’ll say he looked for it.”
Tepitapia Sannah
Bureau Chief, Africa
West African Journal Magazine

Dutch Supreme Court Upholds Gus Kouwenhoven’s Conviction; Extradition Pending

The Hague, Netherlands December 18, 2018 – The AP is reporting that the Supreme Court in the Netherlands has upheld the conviction of the notorious Dutch arms smuggler Gus Kouwenhoven – a long-time associate of former rebel turned ex-President of Liberia Charles Taylor.

Former Liberian Warlord Charles Taylor
Former Liberian Warlord Charles Taylor

Kouwenhoven who operated the Oriental Timber Company (OTC) in Liberia was convicted in 2006 of international arms and timber smuggling including supply of cars, weapons,  and ammunitions to the main rebel group National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) in exchange for access to timber, diamond and natural resources of the poor West African country during its devastating civil war in 1990s. He appealed that conviction and was cleared.

However, new evidence surfaced on which the Dutch national was convicted again early 2017 and sentenced to 19 years  in prison.

In his 2016 book on conflict diamonds entitled, “ The Lion That Didn’t Roar: Can The Kimberly Process Stop the Blood Diamonds Trade?”, author Nigel Davidson wrote that, “…The Netherlands utilised its national war crimes legislation to initiate a prosecution about the related issue of so-called ‘conflict timber’. Although not a conflict diamonds prosecution as such, the war crimes legislation was used to prosecute timber trader and Dutch national Gus Kouwehoven. Reminiscent of the conflict diamonds problem, Kouwehoven allegedly provided financial assistance through is logging activities to human rights violators. Kouwenhoven was charged with war crimes for his role in the conflict in Liberia, as well as breaching United Nations sanctions. The indictment alleged that in at least four locations, Kouwenhoven committed, directly or indirectly, the killing, inhuman treatment, looting, rape, severe bodily harm, and offences against dead, sick or wounded persons. Machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades were used in an attack that made no distinction between active combatants and civilians…”

A Dutch Magisterial Court in 2006, however, did not find Kouwenhoven criminally liable for the alleged crimes. An Appeals court in 2008 overturned the decision and ordered him re-tried and he was subsequently convicted.

Charles Taylor Fighters
Charles Taylor Fighters

At the time of Mr. Kouwenhoven’s arrest last December in South Africa, the Executive Director of Global Witness, in a press statement said, “The arrest of Gus Kouwenhoven marks a banner day for the people of Liberia and those around the world who suffer at the hands of companies that trade in conflict timber and minerals. The message to those that trade guns for resources and profit from international crimes is that the rules of the game are changing. You will be found and you will go to jail…”

“Gus” as he was known in Liberia, was a business fixture at the once famed Hotel Africa Hotel in the northern western Liberian suburb of Virginia.

“Years of dogged work by the Dutch government, and now the South African authorities, are paying off and are finally bringing an infamous criminal to justice. Global Witness applauds their efforts. Charles Taylor has already been sentenced and imprisoned. Kouwenhoven now faces a similar fate,” the Global Witness official said last December.

Mr. Kouwenhoven, now residing in South Africa who was appealing his second conviction but with the Dutch Supreme Court’s decision, he is now awaiting extradition to the Netherlands.

Political Map of Liberia
Political Map of Liberia

His lawyers argued before the Dutch Supreme Court that the Kouwenhoven could not be prosecuted because of am amnesty granted to him by former President Taylor in 2003. That argument was rejected by the Court and his conviction upheld.

Over 250,000 Liberians were killed in the country’s civil war and another 1 million others were displaced internally and externally by the bloody conflict. Charles Taylor himself was convicted of charges by the Special Court for Sierra Leone sitting in the Hague in May, 2012. He is currently serving a 50 year prison sentence in the UK.

In Liberia, the Administration f President George M. Weah is facing international and domestic pressure to establish a war crimes court to prosecute those accused of gross human rights abuses and economic crimes.

But the Weah government has said that the establishment of such a court is not a priority.

By Emmanuel Abalo

West African Journal

 

OPINION – Liberia: LEVERAGING THE WAR & ECONOMIC CRIME COURT

State Of The Nation

The Liberian economy is shrinking daily, mostly because of uncertainty. Grant that the UN drawdown, slump in international commodity price and other cash-flow minimizing events going into 2018 started the decline, but the change of government and the first few bold but inconclusive economic initiatives by the new government have ushered an atmosphere of uncertainty which is not good for business.

Political Subdivision Map of Liberia map
Political Subdivision Map of Liberia

The widespread perception that the new officials have gone on a spending spree buying homes and expensive assets even outside Liberia does not help. Two major loan schemes for nearly US$1Billion on which months of tangible and political capital were expended seem to have shadowed out. The suspicion of unauthorized printing of currency and the alleged stealing of LD$15.5 Billion, even if untrue, have left a gaping hole in the confidence of the people and the owners of capital. As a result, dozens of missteps that would otherwise be excusable for an infant government are now glorified into scares of dooms day nearing. All this, while the ability of the ordinary people to make a reasonable living is increasingly grueling, daily. People are hurting, at least for that, there is no dispute.

In the wake of the economic reversals pervading the country, a voice is rising among a large segment of the population; both in the country and the diaspora, and among key international stakeholders, for a final reckoning; the establishment of a War and Economic Crime Court, to hold accountable those responsible for the violation of International Humanitarian Laws (IHL) and the pillaging of the resources of the country under the canopy of war. The trauma of war is manifested every day in the violent outburst of youths when motor accidents occur, mob executions of accused thieves in public spaces and the massive explosion of an illicit drug culture among the youths, a by-product of the war.

There are some who are asking, “Why now? Why wasn’t the same pressure brought to bear on President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf for a War Crime Court?” President Sirleaf would not have implemented the punitive recommendations of the TRC; she did not have the fortitude to hold herself accountable. (To her credit, she did implement some of the less controversial items). That should be expected, but President Weah is not anchored by the same weight. When asked about the War Crime Court on his return from France over the last weekend, President George Weah, answered in such a manner as to make a disparity between the War Crime Court and his New Economic Plan, the Pro-Poor Policy for Prosperity and Development. I get the impression that key policy makers believe it is either War Crime Court or Economic Development. I think this is a misread; we can have both. In fact, the former will lift the latter.

Crimes Against Humanity

We need not argue that heinous crimes were committed in Liberia that fall under the definition of crimes against humanity. Non-combatant men, women and children were killed because of their ethnicity, some past disputes and, in some cases, for the like of it. In countless places in the country, including St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, Duport Road, Fandell, Po River Bridge, Gbarnga, Buchanan, Yekepa, Zwedru, Greenville, Caldwell, Monrovia, hundreds of thousands of people were maimed, drowned, decapitated, hearts taken from bodies while the victim was still alive, eaten and youths drugged and conscripted into battle to heartlessly do the dirty work of their masters. Liberians witnessed militias rip open pregnant women and extract their fetuses while dancing to their war songs in amusement and fanfare. Daughters and wives were forcefully taken from their families and made into sex slaves; some never to be seen again. Militias and their warlords commonly celebrated their cruelty by displaying skulls of their victims on their cars and even using their intestines as toll gates. Whole towns and villages were wiped out; people seeking rescue in God’s church were mutilated and many were stripped of their dignity. This does not begin to capture the depth of cruelty brought on the innocent people of Liberia. For one to suggest that asking those who have been accused of such cruelties to have their day in court is unreasonable and untimely falls flat in the face of reason.

Liberia Civil War Injured Victims
Liberia Civil War Injured Victims – File Photo

The demand for accountable is a cardinal part of reconciliation and national healing. It is justified under both domestic and international law. Liberia is a signatory and state party to the Geneva Conventions, Vienna Convention and all the International Humanitarian Laws (IHL) and protocols regarding, among other things, the conduct of war and the treatment of civilians and those who surrender in armed conflict. Like International Humanitarian Laws (IHL), the recommendation of the TRC has binding effect on the Government of Liberia and there are consequences for non-compliance. The TRC is an Act of the Legislature; it is Liberian Law. There is another argument that the Comprehensive Peace Initiative Agreement (CPA) signed between the Liberian warring factions, the very warlords who perpetrated the atrocities, granted amnesty to the perpetrators.  Self-amnesties are kinds of amnesty promulgated by persons or governments while in position of authority, purporting to protect themselves from prosecution once they relinquish their hold on power. Both self-amnesty and domestic Legislation for amnesty promulgated to unhook alleged violators of International Humanitarian Laws (IHL) are not respected under International Law.

Former Warlord Turned Senator Prince Y. Johnson
Former Warlord Turned Senator Prince Y. Johnson

Torture, ethnic cleansing and most provisions of International Humanitarian Laws (IHL) which perpetrators, in the case of Liberia, have been accused fall under peremptory norms in international law or “jus cogens.” A peremptory norm is a fundamental principle of international law that is accepted by the international community of states as a norm from which no derogation is permitted; they are compelling laws that cannot be set aside or pardoned, recognized as a whole as being fundamental to the maintenance of the international legal order. They include the prohibition of genocide, maritime piracy, enslaving in general, torture, refoulement and wars of aggression and territorial aggrandizement, among others.

Relying on the principle of “Pacta sunt servanda,”Article 26 of the Vienna Convention bars state parties to the convention from invoking provisions of their internal laws as justification for failure to perform obligation to prosecute and punish crimes under the Geneva Conventions, Vienna Convention and other conventions to which the state is a party. For example, many of those accused of crimes under the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) proffered the argument that the Lomé Accord which ended the Sierra Leone Conflict granted amnesty to the warlords but their claims to immunity were summarily denied by the court.

Already, many who committed war crimes in Liberia have been brought before courts and made accountable in jurisdictions other than Liberia. Charles Chucky Taylor was tried in a Florida court for crimes committed in Liberia and sentenced to 99 years imprisonment. His father, former President Charles Taylor was handed to the Special Court for Sierra Leone(SCSL) by the Government of Liberia, represented by its Solicitor General Cllr Taiwon Gonglor; so to suggest that Liberia does not ascribe to the International War Crimes Court is ludicrous. Former President Johnson Sirleaf’s failure to occasion the implementation of the recommendations of the TRC was predicated purely on the principle of self-preservation. She was unwilling to rollout a program that bars her and other co-accused in positions of power from public office for thirty years. If renewed pressure on the Government of Liberia for a War and Economic Crime Court, including a recent US Congress Resolution in support of Justice for victims of the Liberia Civil War, is anything to go by, one need not be a rocket scientist to know that the quest for some form of accountability for War and Economic Crimes committed in Liberia will not dissipate. Government’s continued rejection of the notion of War Crime Court puts Liberia at odds with the key international players in a battle we, a poor and dependent country, cannot win. We may as well ride the wind.

Leveraging Calls for War & Economic Crimes Court

Every problem brings with it an equal opportunity for finding a solution. My advice to the Government of Liberia is that we leverage the situation and use the international quest for a War and Economic Crime Court to attract the support for our economy necessary to gender growth and the upliftment of the lives of our impoverished population. Every post-war country that submitted to the demands of the international community for accountability was economically strengthened through the programs of direct economic support. Germany, Japan, Italy, Rwanda, South Africa, Vietnam, and next door Sierra Leone, are examples.

Instead of fighting against the inevitable, the Government of Liberia needs to go back to the Recommendations of the TRC and the Virginia Declaration of the Liberian National Conference ( June 19, 2009) out of which most of the TRC recommendations were taken, and identify those programs that have the highest potential of fostering reconciliation, unity and economic relief, and begin negotiations with international stakeholders with the hope of establishing a War and Economic Crime Court on Liberian soil concomitant with international provision of support for all the identified programs recommended by the TRC and the Virginia Conference.

Liberia TRC
Liberia TRC

Some of the recommendations for which the government should seek international support in pair with the establishment of a War and Economic Crime Court in Liberia include:

  • That those who died as a result of the conflict be memorialized by monuments and multi-purpose halls erected in the name of victims at all sites of massacres.
  • That individual reparations be granted to victims of Liberia’s civil crisis in the form of psychosocial support, educational scholarships, microloans, livestock support, agricultural support, and food aid.
  • That community reparations be granted to affected populations in the form of centers for psychosocial support, support to communal farming, and priority rehabilitation of roads, schools, and health facilities.
  • That community leaders should be empowered to use “under the palava hut” management to deal with all those that have acknowledged their wrongs and are seeking forgiveness.
  • That political appointments be based on merit.
  • That a national culture center be established to promote Liberia’s diverse culture.
  • That welfare centers be created to provide care to those who can no longer provide for themselves, including the elderly, mentally disturbed or mentally handicapped.
  • That vocational education be provided to adults in the form of literacy and skills-training programs.
  • That youth receive pre-technical qualification trainings in order to seek employment.
  • That the curriculum for children and youth be updated to include reconciliation, peace-building, human rights, and patriotism.
  • That more recreational opportunities be created for children and youth.
  • That more rehabilitation centers for deviant youth be established.
  • That a Peace and Reconciliation Commission be established to oversee, support, and encourage reconciliation activities throughout the country.
  • That a National Peace and Reconciliation Conference be held annually, rotating between all 15 counties.
  • Establish a special judiciary review committee to monitor the government’s progress on implementation of these and other TRC recommendations
  • That the economy be Liberianize and local businesses protect

Support for the establishment of a war crime court in Liberia, including the construction of the court, training and employment of hundreds of Liberians and the implementation of the measures listed above will require hundreds of millions of dollars that will serve to augment the weakening Liberian economy. The acceptance by Liberia of the establishment of the court will increase confidence in justice and the rule of law in Liberia. The Government may ask for international security, should it determine the need for additional security presence. The return of the international force will not only increase security but add new energy to the economy in terms of the additional cash flow affiliated with the large number of expatriate workers in the country. Handled properly, Liberia’s acceptance of the War and Economic Crime Court and the other recommendations will strengthen the Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD) and catapult the Liberian economy back into the high growth trajectory.

Non for Self, But Country

My recommendation to leverage may come across as blunt and insensitive to those who have been accused. Far from that; I believe in the presumption of innocence, an aged old legal doctrine ascribed in the Latin “ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat,” meaning, the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies. Those so accused must be brought before a court of competent jurisdiction where they will have the chance to confront their charges and defend themselves, even at the expense of the sponsors of the War and Economic Crime Court, in cases where the accused are incapable of footing his own legal fees.

Liberian Voters At Rally Town Market jpg
Liberian Voters At Rally Town Market – File photo

Occasioning the court and leveraging the other growth centric programs are but small sacrifices every citizen can make to the betterment of country. For those, including my Uncle, Sen. Prince Y. Johnson, who are edgy about the prospects of a War Crime Trial and who have spent countless hours grand standing their patriotism and love for country, this is their moment to show that patriotism and be remembered for something good. Inscribed over the chapel door at the US Naval Academy at Annapolis is the Latin phrase: “Non Sibi Set Patraie.” Let me admonish those who are being cowed into fear of a War and Economic Crime Court to adopt this motor: “Not for Self, but Country.” Let’s embrace the War Crime Court and kick impunity and all its attending vices out of Liberia.

Read my new book, The FOG – War, Love & Country, about my experience in the Liberian Civil War and my take on reconciliation and national unity, informed by experience of other post war countries.

About the Author

Cyrus L. Gray
Cyrus L. Gray

Cyrus L Gray, Jr., is the Author of the Negro Nation (www.amazion.com), the International Shipping Guidelines; and Publisher of the New Liberian Magazine (renamed LIB BUZNEY). His new book, “FOG (A Story of War, Love and Country)” will be published in December 2018 with first rollout in Monrovia. As a day job, he is a Logistics Business Development Consultant with Core competence in Air and Seaport Development. His recent work was Co-Consultant for the crafting of the Economic Analysis of the Mesurado Fishing Pier (Oct. 2018) at the Freeport of Monrovia, for Liberia’s National Aquaculture and Fisheries Authority (NaFAA). He can be reached at: cyrus.grayii@gmail.com

US Lawmakers Signal Major Support For War Crimes Court In Liberia

Washington DC – November 14, 2018:  In a strong signal against the perpetuation of a  pervasive culture of impunity in Liberia since the end of the brutal back-to-back civil war that brought the West African nation of Liberia to its knees, the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday, November 13, 2018 passed Resolution 1055 “to reaffirm strong U.S.-Liberia ties and call for full implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Recommendations.

Flag of Liberia
Flag of Liberia

As part of the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2003, all belligerents in the Liberia conflict agreed to the establishment of a  Truth or Reconciliation mechanism to investigate “perpetrators of massacres, sexual offences, murder, economic crimes, extra-judicial killings, and all incidents of gross human rights abuses and violations from January, 1979 – October 13, 2004. The aim of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which began work in earnest 2006, was to “promote national peace, security, unity and reconciliation”.

Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement ARTICLE XIII: TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION

  1. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission shall be established to provide a forum that will address issues of impunity, as well as an opportunity for both the victims and perpetrators of human rights violations to share their experiences, in order to get a clear picture of the past to facilitate genuine healing and reconciliation.
  1. In the spirit of national reconciliation, the Commission shall deal with the root causes of the crises in Liberia, including human rights violations.
  1. This Commission shall, among other things, recommend measures to be taken for the rehabilitation of victims of human rights violations.
  1. Membership of the Commission shall be drawn from a cross-section of Liberian society. The Parties request that the International Community provide the necessary financial and technical support for the operations of the Commission.
Former Fighters In Libera - File Photo
Former Fighters In Libera – File Photo

The TRC completed its work and submitted a Final Report to the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf Administration in 2009. However, the Government of Liberia has failed to take the necessary steps for implementation in spite of local and international urgings to address gross human rights abuses and economic crimes committed by major actors; some of whom serve in high positions in the current Liberian government.

The UN, Germany, the United States, European Union and local non-governmental organizations have made private and public representations to the George M. Weah Administration on the matter but without success so far.

Liberian diaspora civic groups and individuals and international human rights organizations including the International Justice Group (IJG) have been vigorously  lobbying the U.S. and European governments for support for the establishment of an accountability mechanism like the War Crimes Court. International war crimes investigators who traveled to Liberia over the years to collect first-hand evidence from victims and eyewitnesses have presented their findings to the U.S. government including lawmakers to make the case for passage of the resolution which supports the establishment of a war crimes tribunal in Liberia.

IJG Principal Deputy Executive Director Luigi Spera
IJG Principal Deputy Executive Director Luigi Spera

The Chief Investigator of the International Justice Group (IJG) Mr. Garretson Al Smith who played a key investigatory role which helped with the passage of U.S. House of Representatives Resolution 1055 said, “this is a major step in the accountability process for those who are accused of committing war crimes in the West African nation.”

Prior to the vote on the Resolution, the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee Ed Royce stated that, “ …The Africa Subcommittee worked across party lines and alongside the international community and the people of Liberia to apprehend the notorious warlord Charles Taylor. Today, he remains behind bars. In 2003, the Government of Liberia, rebel groups and political parties signed a comprehensive peace agreement.

A Truth and Reconciliation Commission was created, which recommended the establishment of a war crimes tribunal to ensure justice for the people of Liberia. Unfortunately, however, this war crimes tribunal has never been established, although Liberian government figures and activists alike have continued to call for one. This resolution repeats this important call.”

According to the U.S. lawmaker Representative Royce, “…We have turned the page on this horrific chapter in Liberia’s history. In March, the U.N. peacekeeping mission there officially ended. It is not often we get to celebrate the successful end of a mission, and we remember the 202 peacekeepers that lost their lives to bring peace and stability in the region…”

Former Warlord Prince Y. Johnson

In a recent interview on a local radio station in his home county of Nimba in northeastern Liberia, a former militia leader turned Senator Mr. Prince Y. Johnson threatened those calling for his arrest. “If you were to come to arrest me, I will fight you. You know why? The same crime you want to arrest me for is the same crime Taylor committed. When you said you killed my ma, you then compensated Taylor with the Presidency. You paid Taylor to be President of Liberia…,” Johnson angrily said in the interview.

Sen Prince Y. Johnson Photo Courtesy News Dawn Newspaper
Sen Prince Y. Johnson Photo Courtesy News Dawn Newspaper

He cited calls to arrest and prosecute him for alleged war crimes as “selective justice” and defended his role as a fight to save his kinsmen who, he said, were being massacred by the Samuel K. Doe regime. Johnson and his militia were responsible for snatching former President Doe from the base of the Peacekeeping Force on September 9, 1990, after killing nearly 70 members of his entourage during the late President’s visit there. Doe was later tortured, killed and his body mutilated by rebel fighters loyal to Johnson.

The former warlord said Parliament in Liberia passed an Amnesty law for all acts committed between 1990 – 2003 and defiantly added, “ If you want, come catch me. The resistance you will find from young guys…it will be maximum, uncontrollable and ungovernable…”

Liberia’s TRC Final Report

Liberia’s TRC Final Report recommended the prosecution leaders of warring factions for “…human rights violations, including violations of international humanitarian law, international human rights law, war crimes and egregious domestic laws of Liberia and economic crimes…”

Liberia - TRC
Liberia – TRC

Those recommended for prosecution include now jailed former rebel leader turned former President Charles G. Taylor of the National Patriotic Front, (NPFL), Prince Y. Johnson of the Independent National Patriotic Front (INPFL), Alhaji G.V. Kromah of United Liberation Movement of Liberia (ULIMO-K) and Dr. George S. Boley of the Liberia Peace Council (LPC).

Other former warlords named for prosecution in the TRC Final Report were Thomas Yahya Nimley of the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) and Sekou Damate Konneh of Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD).

Rebel Leaders Roosevelt Johnson of ULIMO -J faction and Francois Massaquoi of the Lofa Defense Force (LDF) pre-deceased the TRC Final Report.

US – Liberia Relations

US Representative Ed Royce
US Representative Ed Royce

The U.S. wields significant economic power and influence in Liberian matters and the House Resolution is expected to force the hand of the Weah government to implement the TRC Final Report or it will face further international isolation and sanctions. The Liberian Administration is already facing a crushing economic deterioration and has been unable to access international loan facilities.

The Weah government is said to be frantically seeking unconventional avenues to solicit loans and lines of credit to keep it afloat amidst rising local economic discontent and pressure to deliver much needed relief.

In his prepared remarks before passage of the House Resolution on Liberia, Chairman Royce noted that, “Much more needs to be done to crack down on corruption and create a more conducive environment for trade and economic investment. The government must ensure policies are in place to encourage businesses to invest, grow and create jobs. But this resolution affirms the U.S. commitment to continue to partner with Liberia to support civil society, rule of law and good governance. We stand by the Liberian people in their continued efforts for a more prosperous and democratic Liberia…”

Liberia Campaigners for War Crimes
Liberia Campaigners for War Crimes

On last Monday, hundreds of Liberians marched in the capital Monrovia in support of victims and survivors of the war and presented a petition to the Government of Liberia, the United States and international partners in which they called for the setting up of a war crimes court.

The Weah Administration Liberia has not officially responded to the U.S. House Resolution.

By Emmanuel Abalo

West African Journal