Leading Grand Gedeh Civil Society Groups Support War Crimes Court
Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County – Few places would likely feel the impact of a war crimes court more than Grand Gedeh, the home of slain Liberian president Samuel Kanyon Doe. Bordering Nimba County, where the civil war began, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report found that there were 12 different massacres committed in the county alone, putting the Grand Gedeh amongst the places here human rights violations and killings were prevalent during the conflict.
Report by Tecee Boley, New Narratives Senior Justice Correspondent
Tribal solidarity has been one of the most talked about hindrances to the establishment of a war crimes court in the future. But in spite of their tribal connections, heads of leading civil society organizations in Grand Gedeh are calling for full implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recommendations, including the prosecution of alleged perpetrators of violations during the conflict.
“My kinsmen can go before a court of competent jurisdiction. It is not that the war crimes court is coming as a blanket, that everyone that goes there will be bundled up and thrown in prison,”said GarleyMarh, the head of the Civil Society Community in Grand Gedeh in an interview with FrontPageAfrica earlier this year.
“It is about saying what lead you to take part in the conflict. If you are a Krahn man and you fought justifiably, you can get a lawyer defend you. People should not fear for the war crimes court,”he said.
Marh said the issue of whether a war crimes court should be established has become a “household debate” across the county.
Members of the younger generation are also weighing in on the debate.
“We are discussing the future of our unborn generation. If they see that people were prosecuted because of what they did in the past, then crimes will be minimized in their days,”said DeKonteeTenty-Zweh, a youth leader in Grand Gedeh.
“There are people who joined the war to help people. But if you join instead of helping, you harmed people then you should be judged. People will have the opportunity to clear their name,” said Tenty-Zweh.
Protectors or Perpetrators?
While prominent sons of the county claim they took up arms to defend their Krahn kinsmen and women, theTRC report listsmany of them among the “Most Notorious Perpetrators” of human rights violations and war crimes and recommends they be prosecuted.The most prominent of those listed are: George Boley, a representative in the legislature, who led the Liberia Peace Council (LPC)and was deported from the United States in 2012 for his alleged recruitment of child soldiers during the conflict; Thomas Yaya Nimley, who headed the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL); and the late Roosevelt Johnson, who led the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO).
The Commission’s Report found ULIMO and MODEL responsible for 7 percent of the crimes reported to it, respectively and the LPC was found to be responsible for about 10 percent.
In other quarters, growing calls for the establishment of a war crimes court have faced strong resistance. Former warlords such as Prince Johnson, who led the rebel group, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia and is now serving his second term as a senior senator of Nimba county, often reminds the people of Nimbathat he protected them during the war. “My people believe I am a hero while others think I am a devil. When they were being killed, I stood for them,”Johnson said on arecent trip to Nimba.
Advocates face threats
Grand Gedeh is not the only county with prominent sons on the TRC’s list and where people are calling for the establishment of the war crimes court. FrontPageAfrica found earlier this year some of Nimba’s prominent sons were in favor of a war crimes court.
President of the Liberia Bar Association and human rights lawyerTiawonGongloe and human rights advocate, Hassan Bility, have both been backing the establishment of the court, regardless of the number of their kinsmen who have been accused ofcommittingwar crimes.
But they have had their own share of threats coming from their kinsmen. Human Rights lawyer, TiawonGongloe, whois a Mano from NimbaCounty, an ethnic group that shares ties to Johnson’s Gio ethnic group, is still defiant despite receiving threats from Johnson, the most notorious perpetrators according to the TRC.
“When I faced Prince Johnson I told him ‘you are a killer,’” Gongloe said. “I don’t feel threatened by Prince Johnson. I hear he threatens me or he says words that sound threatening but I don’t feel threatened by them. I am not afraid to do the right thing.”
Hassan Bility, of the Global Justice and Research Project, a Liberian organization that documents war crimes in Liberia, and helps build legal cases against alleged perpetrators, has also received threats from within the Mandingo community. These threats have extended to his 14-year-old daughter.
“A lot of people threaten me. People from the same county and same ethnic group threatened to kidnap my daughter — that was my worst fear,” said Bility. “I received a call on my phone that they were going to do so. I ran on her campus to be sure she was okay. The teacher kept asking if everything was okay. When I saw her, I said it was. They feel that we should be loyal to our tribes first.”
Back in Grand Gedeh William B. Quiwea, a civil society advocate and Project Officer, for ARKONDEH, a word that means‘our heritage’ in Krahn said the court will expose those who committed atrocities under the guise of defending their people. It will also be a way to hold those who committed atrocities against Grand Gedeans accountable.
“People came from other parts of Liberia to come and harm us here,” said Quiwea.“Let all of them face the full weight of the law. All of them! You say you came to overthrow Samuel Doe, but he was not in our town and villages. He was in Monrovia. You left [Monrovia] and came here to kill people. Let all of them go!”
This story was a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project. Funding was provided by Australian Aid. The funder had no say in the story’s content.