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EDITORIAL: An Issue of Credibility: War Crimes, CBL Blip Puts Liberian Presidency in a Bad Light

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A LEADER’S WORDS should always be a mark of bond and a commitment to those under his reign. In the case of President George Manneh Weah however, words and pronouncement these days have suddenly become a passing breeze in the ears of those on the opposite end of power, consistently hoping and praying for the footballer-turned President to do what he says he would do – and put his words into action.

A TYPICAL WAY of life for a typical politician.

SUCH IS THE CASE of the issue at the Central Bank of Liberia where President Weah continues to drag his feet on his own words at a major financial institution lingering in a state of uncertainty as the economy continues to plunge.

THE PRESIDENT came to his own conclusions on May 29, 2019 when he announced a timeline for Mr. Patray to take his bow from the bank. “The Executive Governor is scheduled for age-related mandated retirement in the next three months. During that period, we will work to transition the bank to a new management.”

THAT DEADLINE came and went by without the slightest sign of Mr. Patray’s exit. 

THE PRESIDENT’S office, forced to comment in the wake of mounting concerns over the delays in Mr. Patray’s departure, declared last month that the President will settle the uncertainty at the CBL this month.

WE ARE HOLDING the President’s office feet to the fire by issuing a reminder about what was said; what the public was told and what the President made poignantly clear when he delivered his Annual Message last January.

IT SAYS SOMETHING when the head of a nation speak to his people. It reinforces a sense of belief and a conscious awareness of the expectations and realities many riding on the shoulders of leadership anticipate when promises of such nature are made.

IN FACT, it becomes a matter of credibility when a leader fails to do what he promises he would do, when a leader, openly and knowingly make pronouncements that he suddenly finds he cannot see through. 

FOR PRESIDENT WEAH, this is one promise that borders the sanctity of what is real and what is fiction and what those entrusting him with the gavel of authority expects.

LONG BEFORE Mr. Weah even contemplated a run  for the Liberian Presidency, he was a strong advocate for the establishment of a war crimes court in Liberia. 

THEN AN INTERNATIONA FOOTBALL star, Mr. Weah in 2004, said all the right things – and made international headlines when he called for the formation and establishment of a War Crimes Court in Liberia to arrest and prosecute all “warlords” for recruiting and arming children in Liberia.

ACCORDING TO MR. WEAH, who was then a United Nations Ambassador, the tribunal when established, should be given the authority to identify, locate, arrest and prosecute all those who committed heinous crimes during the devastating and bloody war in the country.

Addressing a news conference held at the UNICEF-Liberia headquarters in Monrovia on 23rd April 2004, Mr. Weah made specific reference to warlords who forcibly recruited, trained and armed the Liberian children to participate in the 14-year arms conflict. “Those who armed the children and committed heinous crimes against them should be brought to book”, the UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador noted, adding that those to be prosecuted include warlords and military commanders of the various belligerent groups who, for their own selfish gains, brought children into the conflict.

AS PRESIDENT, Mr. Weah has suddenly developed amnesia, telling journalists covering his arrival from his controversial address to the United Nations Tuesday he never opted for a war crimes court.

PRESIDENT WEAH, in his presentation at the UNGA, in New York admitted that his government is a “listening administration” and will pay keen attention to its people. “What I have discerned from their cries is that it is important to bring closure to the wounds from the 14 years of Liberia’s brutal civil war, and that we need to agree on a mechanism that would guarantee the sustenance of peace, stability, justice, and reconciliation, as well as enhance our prospects for economic recovery,” he said. 

ON TUESDAY HOWEVER, the President sang a different tone, stressing that instead of being focused on establishing war and economic crimes court, his leadership is more concern about finding a way to fix the already crumbling economy. “Since we came to power, I have never one day called for the War Crimes Court. You the journalists called for War Crimes Court, Liberians are calling for war crimes court, both the victims and perpetrators are calling for war crimes court.,” President Weah stressed.

MOVING FORWARD, President Weah reechoed concern over the incessant pressure piling on his administration for the establishment of War and Economic Crimes Court as compared to his predecessor, Ellen Johnson.

THE PRESIDENT ASKED: “You calling for war crimes court and I said, why this time when we have economic issues and trying to develop our country. Why should we focus on the war crimes court now, when we did not focus on it 12 years ago? Those people who were part of the entire process of what happened to us lead for 12 years, so why now, is that what you want?”

THE AUGUST 2003 ACCRA Comprehensive Peace Agreement set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Liberia, which onward called for the establishment of the courts. But two years into Mr. Weah’s term, backers of the courts are arguing that he’s the right person to implement the TRC report because he played no part in the civil hostilities.

THOSE COMING up with all the excuses in the world to give Mr. Weah a soft landing on this issue, simply lack the understanding of why so many gravitated toward his quest for the presidency from the moment he decided to throw his hat into the political ring.

MORE IMPORTANTLY, many forget how international stakeholders led by Human Rights Watch hailed the President recently when he took a major step to bring justice for atrocities committed during Liberia’s civil wars by endorsing a war crimes court by submitting a letter to the legislature, dated September 12, 2019, in which he  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.”

“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 which lasted from 1989-96 and 1999-2003, many Liberians suffered 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.

SADLY, Mr. Weah, a champion former footballer has now surrounded himself with culprits of the dreaded civil war to ruin his legacy and an advocacy which once made one of the few rare voices for a nation haunted by war and destruction that killed thousands.

MR. WEAH, THE PRESIDENT, LIKE leaders and rulers before him, is now allowing some bad seeds and bad apples to dampen his presidency, one mistake after another – amid a sea of glaring contradictions and shades of inconsistencies.

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