Liberia: To setup war crimes and economic war crimes court, an official of Government calls for a special TRC Report Board.
The major of the city of Monrovia, Jefferson Koijee, a key member of the ruling party, has called on the President of Liberia to establish a special TRC Report Board that will lead to the setting up of a war crimes and economic crimes court in the country.
Speaking to Liberians journalists on World Press Freedom Day, Jefferson who is the head of the youth wing of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change, CDC, of George Weah, recommended the inclusion of the Press Union of Liberia in said board.
“The President of Liberia should appoint a Special TRC Report Board led by the PUL and civil society representation for the full implementation of the TRC Report so that a War Crimes Court and an Economic Crimes court will eventually be set up to ensure that impunity in the land will be addressed and discouraged forever.” Koijee said.
The establishment of a war crimes and economic crimes court for Liberia is a cardinal issue that has called the attention of concerned groups nationally and internationally.
Thousands of Liberians have been demonstrating throughout the country, calling on Liberian President to establish a war crimes and economic crimes court.
President Weah, in a letter to the legislature dated September 12, 2019, wrote: “I … do hereby call on the National Legislature to advise and provide guidance on all legislative and other necessary measures towards the implementation of the TRC [Truth and Reconciliation Commission] report, including the establishment of the Economic and War Crimes Court.”
Human rights groups in and out the country organized a huge march in 2001 asking the Liberian parliament to pass a law that will make the establishment of the war crimes and economic crimes court compulsory, the lawmakers are yet to do so.
In recent years the momentum for a War Crimes & Economic Crimes Court for Liberia to help redress the wounds of the country’s civil war has increased, but its creation is far from certain despite the recommendations of the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2009 and continuous pressure from grassroots groups throughout Liberia.
For the past few decades, Liberia’s people have suffered untold human rights violations while perpetrators acted with near-complete impunity during the country’s multiple civil wars. Between 1989 and 2003, 250,000 Liberians died from the fighting, and thousands more were conscripted as child soldiers, raped, suffered loss of limb, and other traumatic experiences. Since that time, not a single war crimes trial has occurred in Liberia as part of the country’s judicial process.
The hearing will examine the legacy of Liberia’s civil wars on its people and economy, the structure and likely policy implications of a proposed War Crimes & Economic Crimes Court for Liberia, and grassroots efforts to secure rule of law in the country and meet victims’ needs.
“President Weah’s support for a war crimes court is an important step for victims and for helping to ensure the violence that brought so much pain and loss to Liberia will not happen again,” said Adama Dempster at CSO Human Rights Advocacy Platform of Liberia and the Secretariat for the Establishment of a War Crimes Court in Liberia. “This decision benefits the victims, the country, and the rule of law in Liberia.”
During Liberia’s armed conflicts from 1989-96 and 1999-2003, Liberians suffered widespread violations of international human rights and humanitarian law such as mass killings, rape and other forms of sexual violence, summary executions, mutilation and torture, and use of child combatants.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which operated between 2006 and 2009, recommended creating a war crimes court – the Extraordinary Criminal Court for Liberia – to try those responsible for grave crimes committed. Many of the TRC’s recommendations, including for the war crimes court, have never been carried out.
The few cases involving civil wars-era crimes have all occurred outside Liberia before United States and European courts. Authorities have been pursuing cases under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows national courts to try international crimes committed abroad, as well as for crimes related to immigration, such as lying on immigration forms.
“In the past few years we have made significant progress in cases abroad to try alleged perpetrators of Liberia’s wartime crimes,” said Hassan Bility at Global Justice and Research Project and the Secretariat for the Establishment of a War Crimes Court in Liberia. “But our people should have the chance to see justice at home. Liberia should work with the United Nations and other international partners to set up a court that can hold fair, credible trials.”
Liberians have held marches to campaign for a war crimes court, and petitioned the legislature to carry out the commission’s recommendations. Liberian, African, and international nongovernmental organizations have come together to campaign for justice in Liberia. In May several of the groups released a video appeal for the court, with statements from people of varied backgrounds who took part in a national conference on accountability in Monrovia in November.
The Liberian Bar Association added its support for a war crimes court in April. The Traditional Chiefs Council backed a war crimes court in early September. On September 6, the National Economic Dialogue, attended by 350 Liberians, including members of the government, political parties, youth, and civil society, recommended establishing the court.
In July, lawmakers attended a legislative conference on accountability organized by local and international groups. The joint committee of Liberia’s House of Representatives then put forward a resolution backing the court, which was immediately endorsed by nine lawmakers.
The groups urged the legislature to move ahead with a law to establish the court and request assistance from Liberia’s international partners in the effort, particularly the United Nations, as well as the European Union, African Union, United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and Sweden. There should also be greater involvement from nongovernmental organizations with expertise in war crimes courts.
Governments and international organizations have supported war crimes courts and developed expertise in recent decades in addressing challenges that often arise with them. Such expertise includes protection and support for witnesses and victims, security for judges and staff, assuring fair legal process, and educating the local population about the court.
“All eyes now turn to our national legislature,” said Aaron Weah at Search for Common Ground-Liberia and the Secretariat for the Establishment of a War Crimes Court in Liberia. “Some victims have been waiting more than two decades. The legislature should move ahead to establish the court without delay.”
The groups issuing this news release are: Advocates for Human Rights, Center for Justice and Accountability, Centre for Civil and Political Rights, CSO Human Rights Advocacy Platform of Liberia, Global Justice and Research Project, Human Rights Watch, Liberia Massacre Survivor Association, Search for Common Ground-Liberia, Transitional Justice Working Group, and the Secretariat for the Establishment of a War Crimes Court in Liberia.