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Liberia: A Rare Praise for the 54th Legislature as War Crimes Resolution Offers Hope for Victims’ Families

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MORE THAN FIFTY Legislators have attached their signatures to a resolution calling for the establishment of a war and economic crimes court for Liberia which should be climaxed before members of the lower house  go on their break.

ON THURSDAY, Rep. Larry Yanquoi(District No. 8 Nimba County) led a symbolic ceremony on Duport Road, at the site of the memorial honoring those massacred during the Liberian civil war.

AT THE MEMORIAL SHRINE, the Nimba County lawmaker who himself sought refuge in the community during the heat of the civil war, suggested that the resolution is on the way to a successful conclusion, leaving it up to the Senate and President George Manneh Weah to add their voice and seal of approval.

PRESIDENT WEAH, who has been a bit ambivalent about his stance on the establishment of the court, took many off guard this week, upon his return from the United Nations General Assembly, when he sought to distance himself from every pushing for a war crimes court.

IRONICALLY, THE PRESIDENT had prior to his departure for the 74th Session of the UNGA, won international praise for submitting a letter to the legislature, seeking advice on the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations that include the setting up of a war crimes court, marking the first-ever step toward addressing the legacy of its 14-year civil war that killed an estimated 250,000 people and displaced more than a million. 

IN HIS OWN WORDS, President Weah declared: “As President of the Republic of Liberia, I am committed to a holistic implementation of the National Consensus (recommendations of the dialogue) and 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 report, including the establishment of war and economic crime courts,” President Weah said in a letter to Speaker Bhofal Chambers. The President added that “accountability of past human rights violations are essential ingredients for sustainable peace and achievement of inclusive development”. 

THE SYMBOLIC ACT EXHIBITED by Rep Yanquoi and the more than 50 legislators Thursday is a clear indication that on this rare occasion, the lower house which has endured a lot of beating from the public over its lack of gravitas on issues of national concern, is taking a bold step aimed at offering hope for victims of the civil war.

WE ARE ALSO hopeful that the representatives’ peers in the upper house would follow through and ensure that the war crimes court becomes a reality.

A FAVORABLE ending in the Senate will now put the ball in the President’s court, to do what many Liberians have been craving – and what international stakeholders have been pushing.

This is the only way justice will see the light of day for those who lost family, friends and loved ones during a bloody period, many Liberians would prefer to forget. But even as some have become accustomed to forgiving, a war crimes court could allow an open field for grievances to be heard and families of victims can finally get a chance to face the perpetrators of war, just one final step en route to curbing impunity and sending a message that such gruesome acts that left many vulnerable to warlords, would never be allowed to show its ugly face in Liberia again.

FOR NOW, Rep. Yanqoui remains confident: “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.”

LIBERIANS SHOULD BE happy that the likes of Representative Yekeh Kolubah(District No. 10, Montserrado County), a former child soldier, is expressing his desire to see the court become a reality. “I am here to support the coming of the War Crimes Court and we will do all we can to ensure that the court evolves in this country,” Rep. Kolubah said Thursday. “We heard our President asking why now because we were amused by some of the very people especially President George Weah. This is why we want the court, so that we can tell the people how President Weah supported Model. All the football he played he supported us to bring war. Any attempt for this President to stop the War Crimes Court, we want them to arrest him to show the reason why he doesn’t want the War Crimes Court.”

THE LIBERIAN CIVIL CONFLICT which ran between 1989-96 and 1999-2003, led to massive loss of lives and widespread 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.

THE TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION Commission (TRC), which operated between 2006 and 2009, has recommended creating a war crimes court and bring those responsible for grave crimes committed to book.

ACCORDING TO HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, many of the TRC’s recommendations, including calls for a war crimes court, have never been carried out. The few cases involving civil war-era crimes have all occurred outside Liberia before United States and European courts. Authorities have been pursuing cases under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows national courts to try international crimes committed abroad, as well as for crimes related to immigration, such as lying on immigration forms.

THIS IS WHY it is important, more than ever before to ensure that all Liberians are on the same page – once and for all. This is the only way justice will see the light of day for those who lost family, friends and loved ones during a bloody period, many Liberians would prefer to forget. But even as some have become accustomed to forgiving, a war crimes court could allow an open field for grievances to be heard and families of victims can finally get a chance to face the perpetrators of war, just one final step en route to curbing impunity and sending a message that such gruesome acts that left many vulnerable to warlords, would never be allowed to show its ugly face in Liberia again.

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