The establishment of war and economic crimes court in Liberia seems to be facing some hurdles, while others are strongly in support of it.
At the just-ended Economic Dialogue held in Monrovia, part of their recommendations were the establishment of War Crimes court and Economic Court in Liberia.
President George Weah submitted the recommendations to the legislature for advice. In less than a month, overs 50 lawmakers are said to given their approval for its establishment.
But some lawmakers are not in support of it, thus creating some level of doubts about its establishment.
For instance, Nimba County Senator, Prince Johnson has opposed it saying its establishment would be against the Comprehensive Peace Agreement(CPA) signed in Accra, Ghana, in 2003. The CPA was the agreement reached by all belligerent parities in the Liberian conflict.
Conmany Wesseh’s concern
Besides Senator Johnson, Senator Conmany Wesseh of River Gee County also expressed his displeasure over its establishment. He told journalist recently at his capital building office that such court was against the spirit of the CPA.
Senator Wesseh continued: “I do not support anything which runs counter to the terms of the peace agreement that I signed onto as a guarantor and part of.”
Senator Wesseh was one of those in 2003 in Accra, Ghana that signed the peace agreement which ended the civil war in Liberia. According to him, the establishment of TRC was part of the agreement but said, information released by any party to the conflict was not to be used against them in any court of law for trail.
The TRC was set up and completed its work few years ago. One of their recommendations was the establishment of war crimes court.
According to article xiii of the peace accord, under Truth and Reconciliation Commission section, “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.
It further added, “In the spirit of national reconciliation, the Commission shall deal with the root causes of the crises in Liberia, including human rights violations. This Commission shall, among other things, recommend measures to be taken for the rehabilitation of victims of human rights violations.”
Senator Wesseh said, Liberians have been at peace for almost 16 years. “We have demonstrated that level of peace. Once we signed that peace agreement, more than 16 years now, we kept the peace and did not go back to war, so, unless somebody is going to tell me that we are failing to do the new thing that we need to.”
He said, part of the agreement was not to set up war crimes court. According to article xxxiv of the CPA, it called on the Transitional government at the time to grant amnesty.
“The NTGL(National Transitional Government of Liberia) shall give consideration to a recommendation for general amnesty to all persons and parties engaged or involved in military activities during the Liberian civil conflict that is the subject of this Agreement.”
Senator Wesseh further said, “I am one of them to say that we must assure to keep our country safe to go by the rule of law. Let us show justice . Again the agreement said, the TRC said whatever information you gave, it will not be used against them in a trial.”
“I am saying let us try to keep to that compromise. They were guaranteed that it was done in confidence. In such, it should not be used against them in a trial. Let us try to keep to that compromise. There is a cost factor to it establishing war crimes.”
He continued: “We must be prepared for the psychological, materials, physical and economy strength that would make it possible to set up this kind of court in the country. I am aware that no crime against humanity was amnesty, now if we are able to identify those people, you have to have the evidences that you will be carried to court,” Senator Wesseh stressed.
Senator Wesseh stated that there should be sufficient evidences in order to take those accused of war crimes to court, thus, the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) report cannot be used against those individuals because according to him, it was spelt out as ground rules establishing the TRC.
“Under the law, you cannot use evidences from the TRC hearing to take people to court because at that time the intention was that people should come and say the truth and if they did that it is not sufficient to be called crimes against humanity,” Senate noted.
Weah Questions the Court’s establishment:
But president Weah seems to be questioning the establishment of the court after he had spoken to the UN General Assembly recently. He has the power to either sign or veto it if it is passed by the legislature.
Upon his arrival from the UN last week, he said; “I do not understand what you want. If you do not understand my English, then you need to go back to my speech and then you read well,” he said.
He said, “You calling for war crimes court. Why at this time? I say why this time? We have economic issues, we are trying to develop our country. Why we focus on the war crimes court now?” he added.
“Why you did not focus on it 12 years ago? Those people that were part of the entire process of what happened to us, they left 12 years ago. So, why now? Is that what you want?
A number of people were said to have supported the Liberian civil war. Former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf admitted to supporting the war when she appeared before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission(TRC) few years ago. She told the commission behind camera that she contributed US$10,000(Ten thousand United States dollars) towards the war.
President Weah said due to the recommendations, he submitted the documents to the legislature for action.
“So, we sent it to the legislature so Liberians can talk about it. I want to give them an opportunity for them to talk about it instead of Everyday disturbing the peace of this country. Now, you have a reason now to go and sit in your palaver hut and talk about it; so the perpetrators and victims can meet. So, I open the forum for you,” he added.
According to records, there are over 50 lawmaekrs who have signed for its establishment.
The resolution was expected to have been discussed on last Friday but reason for which it was not placed on the agenda is jet to be established.
On Thursday, October 3, 2019, the Joint committee of the House of Representatives of the Liberian Legislature Resolution on the establishment of the War and Economic Crimes Court visited the Du-Port Road Waterside Memorial Site.
The Du-port Road Waterside has a memorial site where dead bodies collected from streets during the civil unrest were dumped.
This site has been there for many years, but was modernized during the presidency of former Liberian President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who constructed monument which will be referenced in many years to come.
The program at the Du – Port Road Waterside was extended by war victim’s community, members of the Human Rights and Justice Campaigners.
The Joint Committee in their resolution expressed its full support for the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation recommendations including the establishment of an Extraordinary Criminal Court in Liberia and commits to working with President George M. Weah for court’s establishment.
At the event, Representative Larry Younquoi told members that they needed to inform the public about the work that has been done.
“We are supposed to have 49 signatures but we have 51 now – with still an opportunity for a few to be added before we close Friday. So, we didn’t feel we needed to sneak it under the floor of the House; we wanted to publicize the work that we have done especially in the wake of ambivalence of the President who haven’t told the Liberian people that he was prepared to take action by writing the plenary to advise him as to the implementation of the TRC report, including the establishment of the war crimes court,” he said.
He continued: “So, that Liberian people will know that the House of Representatives has taken a decision and we know that the Senate will concur and we will give a resounding yes to the President to go ahead and establish the court. If he needs a copy of such law from this committee, we are blessed with a copy which we have been vetting, even with the support of other people that have vast knowledge in it. So, our gathering here is to tell the world that the joint committee has completed its work and has spoken to colleagues, more than 52 persons have signed on it. So, it’s almost like a done deal.”
But district number four representative Rustonlyn Suacoco Dennis who requested for the document to be placed on the agenda for deliberation, was unhappy after she realized that it was not on the agenda.
Later, she told journalists that she was disappointed in the way in which the speaker conducted in the affairs of the house.
“By our procedure, during the adoption of the agenda, we can still inject items that were mistakenly left out of the agenda, that’s what I did today. To my utmost surprise, when we raised that in our amendment, disappointingly in impunity Liberia, it was rejected by the movant because he was deliberately mandated by Speaker Chambers who is a former advocate of the War and Economic Crimes court; who verbally insulted [former President] Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf,” she said.
But she was not disappointed in her quest, saying that she was hopeful for it to return to the floor on Monday.
But late Friday, Speaker Bhofal Chambers announced that members of the Legislature needed sufficient time to consult their constituents before taking any decision for the establishment of the war and economic crimes court.
After he spoke, he removed request from the agenda of the house even though over fifty law makers have endorsed the establishment of the court.
Speaker Chambers said; “The whole plenary has endorsed the letter of the President that we will go to our various constituencies and discuss the matter with every Liberian. Because in a participatory democracy we cannot leave anyone out.”
He went on to say; “We do not want duplication and redundancy purposes, we run this place based on system and procedures. If other people form the agenda, I am the one who organize it. We have exhausted all that we ought to do. It is just a matter of telling our colleagues thanks.”
As part of what is contained in the resolution expected to be passed before lawmakers go for their agriculture break is Section 48 of the TRC Act that provides: ” The Head of State shall report to the National Legislature within three months of receipt of the report of the TRC and on a quarterly basis thereafter as to the implementation of the commission’s recommendation”.