LIBERIA: OHCHR wants Criminal Accountability addressed – holds One-Day Transitional Justice Dialogue With CSOs

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The Deputy Country Representative of the Office of the High Commission On Human Rights (OHCHR) has called on civil society organizations in Liberia to focus more on criminal accountability when discussing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Recommendations.
Madam Pasipau Chirwa made the statement when she delivered a special remark at a one-day Transitional Justice dialogue with the Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG) actors, including civil society organizations, on Tuesday, March 19, 2024 at the One UN House in Sinkor, Monrovia.
The OHCHR Deputy Representative said, “So, there are gaps, and we now have waves of new commitment from the current administration in terms of them wanting to see through criminal accountability; it brings an opportunity for us to get together and to dialogue on how we can now have broad discussions on transitional justice,” noting that the danger of not having a comprehensive justice is that grievances will remain.
She told the TJWG that many people believe that those persons whose parents, siblings, friends or loved ones were killed during the Liberian civil conflict, have found solace in other thing that have partly healed their wounds and trying to move on, which is not true. “Though people say time has passed, the wounds and the losses are healed, and we have moved on, it is not true. People have not moved on. The wounds, they still bear them. So, it is important that when we are discussing transitional justice, with now the focus being on criminal accountability, that we enlarge the discussion that is not just criminal accountability.’’
Madam Chirwa observed that there is a whole range of mechanisms under transitional justice and criminal accountability that the State must abide by, saying, “They must make sure that there is comprehensive reconciliation, either through the Palava hut or whatever mechanisms, but that this transitional justice must be comprehensive.”

She, however, encouraged civil society organizations to maintain critical oversight to ensure that things are being done in a balanced manner, stressing that various actors in the process will have vested interest in the process.
“The State may have their interest, the members of parliament will have their interest, but there is a need for a sober voice to say that the role of the civil society has to be defined as we position ourselves,” observing that civil society actors must define their role in the current revitalized talk on transitional justice, on how they are going to network and collaborate, so that the issues of transitional justice and criminal accountability are brought to the national table for discussion.
“Again, civil society must see how you position yourself to advance all these things to make sure that we are addressing transitional justice in its totality,” she added.
“In terms of criminal accountability, what is each organization doing? It is important that we cover the whole country, because the whole country was subjected to the war. So, it is better that we share experiences and information on how we can better coordinate, moving forward. The issue of protection may arise,” the OHCHR Deputy Chief advised.

For her part, the Head of the Voice of the Voiceless, Madam Francess Greaves, promised that her organization will collaborate with other civil society organizations to ensure that the issue of transitional justice and criminal accountability are brought to the floor as they push for justice for those who lost their lives during the Liberian civil conflict.
“There have been serious discussions on transitional justice and criminal accountability in all quarters, and over time, we have recognized that there are people with strategic knowledge and information that need to be disseminated. We will work with them, especially women who bear the brunt of the war, to ensure that those who perpetrated heinous crimes during the war are made to account for their actions,” Madam Greaves pointed out.
The objectives of the TRC was to promote national peace, security, unity, and reconciliation, by investigating gross human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law, as well as abuses that occurred, including massacres, sexual violations, murder, extra-judicial killings, and economic crimes, such as the exploitation of natural or public resources to perpetuate armed conflicts, during the period January 1979 to October 2003; determining whether these were isolated incidents or part of a systematic pattern; establishing the antecedents, circumstances, factors and context of such violations and abuses; and determining those responsible for the commission of the violations and abuses, and their motives, as well as their impact on victims, and providing a forum that will address issues of impunity, as well as an opportunity for both victims and perpetrators of human rights violations to share their experiences, in order to create a clear picture of the past so as to facilitate genuine healing and reconciliation.
It was to also investigate the antecedents of the crises which gave rise to and impacted the violent conflict in Liberia, and conduct a critical review of Liberia’s historical past in order to address falsehoods and misconceptions about the nation’s past socioeconomic and political development; adopt specific mechanisms and procedures to address the experiences of women, children, and vulnerable groups, paying particular attention to gender-based violations, as well as to the issue of child soldiers, providing opportunities for them to relate their experiences.

Addressing concerns and recommending measures to be taken for the rehabilitation of victims of such violations, in the spirit of national reconciliation and healing, and compile a report that includes a comprehensive account of the activities of the Commission and its findings.
But following the close of its mandate, many of its recommendations have not been implemented by past governments, for which many citizens believe that those government officials who bear responsibilities for some of the atrocities during the war are influencing the lack of political will of the Johnson Sirleaf and Weah governments to establish the War and Economic Crimes Court in Liberia.
With the greenlight that the WECC will be established, they believe that the court will bring those responsibilities of the war to book and reconcile and heal the country.

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