Deputy Speaker Supports War Criminal Trials in Liberia But Wants Infrastructure, Legal Processes to be Setup

The Deputy Speaker argued that while the Liberian government needs to work with the international community to establish the legal framework, it cannot neglect its own responsibility he refers to as ‘national soul’ to support and give full “faith and effect to others.”

MONROVIA – Deputy House Speaker Cllr. J. Fonati Kofffa (District #2 Grand Kru County) has expressed his support for the establishment of a War crimes court in Liberia including the prosecution of war criminals, with a call for the requisite infrastructure and the legal procedures to be followed in order to legitimize and solicit funding for the process in the country.

“I’m in support of a war crime tribunal here but we must do first thing first. We must put in place the requisite infrastructure and legal instruments and solicit the needed funds in order to smoothly facilitate the prosecution of war crimes cases here in Liberia,” he said.

Cllr. Koffa believes that the country and its people will not be opposed to the prosecution of people who allegedly committed crimes against Liberians and violated International human rights protocols.

 The Grand Kru County lawmaker, however, insists that there are key issues of legal and infrastructure concerns that the country needs to address in setting the stage for the trial of crimes against humanity committed in Liberia during the war.

The Liberian legal expert and politician’s remark was prompted by the  transfer of the trial to Monrovia on February 15, 2021, a 51-year-old Sierra Leonean, Gibril Massaquoi, on allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity including murder and aggravated rape allegedly committed during the second phase of the Liberian Civil War between 1999 and 2003.

The Pirkanmaa District Court in Finland at the beginning of the trial on Thursday, February 4, 2021, following years of delays for witnesses and the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic began hearing into the case with claims and counter-claims ensuing between State Prosecutors and Defense lawyers over doubted charges brought against defendant Massaquoi.

The investigation into Massaquoi began when evidence of his alleged war crimes were presented to Finnish law enforcement by Switzerland-based Civitas Maxima and it’s Liberian based sister organization, the Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP) headed by Hassan Bility.

Recently Fonati, the Grand Kru County lawmaker who is quoted in a local daily expressing his support for a war crimes court in Liberia, told journalists that he supports the full implementation of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Report, as supported by the United States Congress 1055.

Fonati equally believes that transitional justice is not necessarily hunting perceived persons of human rights violations but a matter of ensuring an established legal and infrastructure process supported by Liberians to see that those bearing the greatest responsibility for war crimes are brought to account.

“I’m in support of a war crime tribunal here but we must do first thing first. We must put in place the requisite infrastructure and legal instruments and solicit the needed funds in order to smoothly facilitate the prosecution of war crimes cases here in Liberia.”

Cllr. J. Fonati Koffa, Deputy Speaker (Grand Kru, District 2, CDC)

The Deputy Speaker argued that while the Liberian government needs to work with the international community to establish the legal framework, it cannot neglect its own responsibility. He refers to it as ‘national soul’ to support and give full “faith and effect to others.”

Fonati stated that the remedy to resolving Liberia’s long running issues of transitional justice is in giving full support to the Implementation of the TRC road-map highlighted by the United States Congress joint resolution 1055.

The Justice Ministry in Monrovia is tight-lipped on its knowledge of the transfer of Massaquoui to Monrovia for trial. While some advocacy groups and war victims, as well as Liberian National Bar Association, have been exerting pressure on the George Weah Administration to ensure the implementation of the TRC recommendations, the government continues to renege on responding to the demand of Liberians. But prior to his ascendency, President George Weah assured the nation that he would bring justice for victims of the war.

Concerning what seems to be a surprising transfer to the country, the Deputy Speaker said:  “I don’t think the quest by Finnish authorities to transfer the trial of the Sierra Leonean man to Monrovia is intended to embarrass the government of Liberia. However, there is a lack of infrastructure that needs to be addressed in order to give ‘free, fair, and transparent’ justice for both perpetrators and victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity. So then, I continue to say, Let’s follow the path of the TRC recommendations.”

Relating to allegations over the emergence of tension between neighboring Sierra Leone and Liberia, with the hosting of Gibril Massaquoi’s war crimes trial in Monrovia,  Cllr. Koffa said he believes that the governments of Sierra Leone and Liberia do not intend to shield war crimes but remain fully supportive to the international community’s quest to ensuring that those held liable for the greatest war crimes and crimes against humanity are brought to justice.

“I’m not sure the government of Sierra Leone is in favor of war criminals, neither am I sure of the Sierra Leonean government attitude towards the trial. Certainly yes, former President Charles Taylor was prosecuted for crimes committed in Sierra Leone, however, the most important thing is ‘we cannot forget Liberia war crimes for crimes committed in other countries’. A crime is a crime, and if we are to entertain these things especially on our soil, let us ensure that those who committed atrocities in Liberia are brought under the ambiance of Justice and let’s follow that path legislatively to do that in Liberia.”

He added: “I’m not aware that the Legislature has had any oversight in this transfer of the trial, neither am I aware that the Executive has had negotiations on this matter. However, I would hope that a Finnish court sitting in Finland cannot transfer a case of such nature to the Liberian authorities without knowledge of the Liberian authorities. That would be mind-boggling. But even so, what is the purpose of the trial. Is it a short trial or a trial to make someone feel good? Or an attempt for sustainable justice to ensure that all those who bear the greatest responsibility of war crimes and crimes against humanity are brought to justice? And when you do that, the Liberian TRC implementation just cannot be forgotten.”

However, this is not the first time the Grand Kru County Lawmaker has spoken on the issue of the TRC Report and the call for the establishment of a War Crimes court in the country.

It may be recalled Rep. Koffa on the State Radio ELBC in October 2019, said there is a need of a process that would ensure a proper and substantive prosecution and retribution on what has happened during the country’s bitter past.

“I will move for a model of the International criminal court. We cannot by-pass it or shortcut it as this will be resulting in more harm than good.”

The Liberian Legislature is yet to pass a statute that would make the court a nationally binding instrument and until that can be done, the Deputy Speaker argued that the prosecution of any Liberian will be somehow illegal.

He called for additional training of the judicial actors, adding that lawyers also need to be trained. “The most important thing is that we need a statute that will do that.

 The constitution says the Supreme Court is the highest appellant body of the country. In this regard, the Deputy Speaker added, “If you bring a War Crimes Court here and arrest someone and they file for it to be dismissed for some reasons it’s going to our supreme court, and they will decide and normally it takes five years for them to make a decision.”

Speaking further Rep. Koffa said if the issue of War Crimes are to become a success story, Liberia must have the ability to absorb what those decisions will lead Liberia into.

“We need the support of our International partners with the cost and Management as they cannot shy away.”

“Look at our past record, we cannot prosecute corruption, how will we be able to prosecute war crimes? We need to put in place the infrastructure and be assured of funding first and foremost.”

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