No Crime Goes Unpunished: Commending America as Perpetrators of Liberian Conflict Get Boot

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IN THE PAST SEVERAL YEARS, The United States of America has been quietly enforcing a strong push in hopes of bringing those linked to war crimes in Liberia to book.

THE ARREST, TRIAL AND IMPRISONMENT of Chuckie Taylor, the deportation of George Boley, former head of the Liberia Peace Council rebel group and the recent arrest of Mohammed Jabateh, aka Jungle Jabbah, a former fighter of the United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO) has added to a growing list of former figures of the conflict that led to the killings of scores of Liberians for over two decades.

MOST RECENTLY, it was reported that Mr. Jeffrey Gbatu, a former member of the original 17-member People’s Redemption Council that ended more than a decade of Americo-Liberian rule was arrested and is awaiting deportation to Liberia.

WHILE MANY LIBERIANS remain baffled over the mixed messages being sent by the U.S. regarding its actions against key figures of the civil war, Liberia’s traditional stepfather deserves commendation for at least holding some feet to the fire regarding atrocities committed during the conflict period.

BETWEEN 1989 and 2003 Liberia was engulfed by civil war. More than 200,000 people died, state structures collapsed, and a million people were displaced from their homes. Despite 13 peace agreements, brief ceasefires and attempts at forming new governments—including the election of Charles Taylor as President in 1997—fighting continued.

IN 2003, the conflict subsided with the 2003 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in Accra, Ghana. Shortly before the CPA was signed, former President Taylor resigned and went into exile in Nigeria. He is currently serving a 50-year jail term by the International Criminal Court (ICC) after he was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Sierra Leone.

THE AFTERMATH of the war saw two main transitional justice processes undertaken: Truth-seeking and security system reform (SSR).

THE TRC began work in 2006, conducting extensive investigations and many public hearings, collecting nearly 20,000 statements, and nearly 800 testimonies.

THE TRC’S JUNE 2009 report contained some controversial recommendations, such as barring 49 persons—including President Johnson-Sirleaf—from holding public office for 30 years for their roles in the conflict. Public reaction to this has overshadowed other important recommendations by the TRC.

SINCE THE REPORT was released, several local and international organizations have been pressing for the government of Liberia to enforce the recommendations.

AMONG THE KEY advocates was Karin Landgren, the former United Nations Secretary General’s Special Representative to Liberia who declared in 2012: “Five years after the release of the TRC report, it is important to review progress in implementing its recommendations”.

PRESIDENT ELLEN JOHNSON SIRLEAF, in her first quarterly report to the Legislature on progress in implementation of the recommendations of the TRC, On 10 March 2010, highlighted the importance of the TRC report, calling it “essential for achieving justice, reconciliation and continued economic, social and political rehabilitation of Liberia.”

SADLY, LIBERIA PALES in comparison to other countries who endured a similar warpath. Rwanda for example has made inroads in bringing some of its perpetrators of war to book.

FOR EXAMPLE, when the South African government was in the process of reviewing a judicial decision to grant refugee status to a former Rwandan general and suspected war criminal, Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, in June 2010, Rwanda took notice and fought against it.

LIBERIA’S FAILURE TO undertake similar initiative is bad for its post-war transition from war to peace.

PERTRATORS of human rights abuses and conflict will continue to go free and feel invincible if countries which went through conflicts continue to allow perpetrators to slide.

A CASE IN POINT is President Yahya Jammeh of the Gambia, renowned for his engagement in various human rights abuses is among a handful of African rulers advocating against the International Criminal Court going after war criminals, joining South Africa and Burundi, which withdrew from the court earlier this month.

All but one of the 10 investigations launched so-far by the ICC has taken place in African countries, leading some in Gambia to believe it was ignoring crimes in other countries.

THE GAMBIAN GOVERNMENT’S ARGUMENT that many Western countries, at least 30, have committed heinous war crimes against independent sovereign states and their citizens since the creation of the ICC and not a single Western war criminal has been indicted, does not hold water for a variety of reasons.

MOST IMPORTANTLY, such arguments serve as excuses by corrupt and brutal leaders and rulers to soften the bed in case they have to appear before the ICC in the future.

FOR LIBERIA, too many people have died, innocently killed by holders of gun who maimed, tortured and ended the lives of so many good and decent people.

TODAY, LIBERIA IS PAYING the price with a brain drain that is denying the country of some of its smartest, an education system that is a mess and a country in virtual darkness due to the lack of consistent electricity.

TO ITS CREDIT, Liberia has taken some steps by adopting several national strategies that advance TRC recommendations including the Strategic Roadmap for National Healing, Peace building and Reconciliation, and the Agenda for Transformation. These, and other related reform initiatives, include economic empowerment and poverty reduction, the National Palava Hut Programme, the Whistle Blower Act of 2012, decentralization of political and economic power, constitutional review, justice sector reform, and Police reform, promotion of good governance and the rule of law, and the establishment of the Independent National Commission on Human Rights.

ON PAPER, THESE MOVES ARE GREAT but they will mean nothing if we as Liberians refuse to take the lead in identifying the root cause of our conflict and leaving those responsible for wanton killings to go scot free.

SHOULD ANOTHER conflict erupt tomorrow, we can expect to see the circle of violence continuing because those who committed atrocities in the past were not made to pay for the crimes against their fellow human beings.

THIS IS WHY it is important to embrace the action of the US and hope that Liberia in due course will dedicate some time and space to implementing the TRC findings for this is the only way we can truly find peace as we continue our transition from war to peace.

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