Liberia: House Votes to Hold Constituency Engagements Over War Crimes Court Establishment

MONROVIA — House Speaker Bhofal Chambers has constituted a special committee to spearhead anationwide consultation by members of the House of Representatives over the establishment of a war crimes court in Liberia.

The Committee is headed by Rep. Dowohn T. Gleekia (District #6, Nimba County), the Chairman of the Committee on Peace, Reconciliation and Religious Affairs and co-chaired by Rep. Thomas P. Fallah of the Ways, Means and Finance Committee. 

The Speaker’s action followed a motion filed by Rep. P. Mike Jurry of Maryland during Thursday’s sitting, calling for each member of the House to consult their constituency before deciding whether to back the call for setting up the court or not.

The motion was filed after an acrimonious debate on a report calling for the establishment of the court.  The report was submitted by Rep. Rustonlyn Suacoco Dennis (District #4, Montserrado County) last week Tuesday but was seized by the Speaker.

In her communication to plenary, Rep. Dennis pleaded for the endorsement of a report from the joint Committee on Claims and Petition, Good Governance and Judiciary.

The report, which focuses on a pro- war crimes court resolution signed by over 50 members of the House in 2019, was crafted during the leadership of Rep. Dennis as Chair of the Claims and petition Committee, but was not submitted until she was replaced by the Speaker.

Since then it has been languishing in committee room. However, using her legislative privilege, she wrote plenary, calling for the endorsement of the joint committee’s report and its recommendations.

But the current chairs on the Committees on Judiciary, Rep. Kanie Wesso (GbarpoluCounty) and the Chair on Claims & Petition, Rep. Gonpue Kargon complained that the report should have been submitted to them before forwarding to plenary.

In the midst of the argument, Speaker Chambers seized the motion without disclosing when it will –resurface on the floor.

However, he placed it on the agenda on Thursday, August 19, but to the dismay of several war crimes court advocates like Rep. Dennis, Plenary voted in favor of a motion, allowing each member of the House to go back to their district and consult with their people before making a determination on what has been the hottest debate of recent in Liberia’s political landscape.

It can be recalled that in October 2019, Speaker Chambers seized a pro war crimes court resolution signed by two-third members of the House. The Speaker, defending his action says, the establishment of the court is a contentious issue that requires more consultations with members of their constituents.  Since then, he has not placed it on the House’s agenda for discussion. 

The resolution, championed by Rep. Dennis when she served as Chairperson of the Committee on Claims and Petition and Rep. Larry P. Younquoi (Nimba Co. District #8), Chairman on Governance, had earlier been endorsed at the Duport Road Memorial in Paynesville, hosting the remains of thousands of massacre victims of the civil war. 

There have also been several legislative instruments submitted to the House of Representatives, including a bill crafted by the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA), establishing the court to try people who committed war and economic crimes during the war.

Despite sustained effort being exerted by wide range of people from diverse backgrounds – local and international, the government of President Weah, like its predecessor, continues to snub the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendation, which, among other things, called for the establishment of an extraordinary tribunal to prosecute all those who bear the greater responsibilities of the civil war.

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