War Crimes, Impunity & the Liberian Tragedy

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WAR CRIMES investigator, Dr. Alan White and Cllr. Jerome Verdier, erstwhile chair of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission struck a poignant point at the All Liberian Diaspora Conference held in Silver Spring, Maryland at the weekend, hitting home what many Liberians widely believe is responsible for the recurring cycle of impunity, since the end of more than a decade of civil war: The massive presence of perpetrators of war in government, resisting the establishment of War and Economic Crimes Court for Liberia.

BOTH MEN addressing the conference, took turns detailing the crux of Liberia’s post-war reconciliation dilemma. “The people that you have right now, that in positions in the current administration and are also around the country that are not being held accountable; it is certainly a sore that’s festering. But I know there’s a real quest for justice and accountability,” Said Dr. White.

CLLR. VERDIER, AGREED: “Some would want it to appear as if there should be a debate as to whether there should be a war crimes court or not. It is not a debate but we have resistance by people who are in authority, who want to benefit from corruption and impunity and they believe that the war crimes court should not be established in Liberia. The citizens have been clear about it, they want justice. And justice is not just for ourselves but justice is for victims as well.”

IN RECENT MONTHS, Senator Prince Y. Johnson, still living on past glory of his war days boasted: “My people believe I am a hero while others think I am a devil. When they were being killed, I stood for them.” 

THE WARLORD-TURNED Senator did not stop there. “Go grab Prince Johnson, you won’t be able to even come close,” Johnson told his Monrovia congregation recently. “You won’t even catch me because the resistance you will receive from young guys will be maximum, uncontrollable and ungovernable.” 

SENATOR JOHNSON vowed to mobilize young men from Nimba to take up arms and join him in the forests to resist the establishment of the court.

SADLY, THERE ARE some Liberians in support of Senator Johnson and many others in government, simply because they are friends, acquaintance, family or friends.

THE TRUTH of the matter is, thousands die at the hands of warlords like Senator Johnson, in a senseless civil war.

THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER, is some are actually hoping that Liberians look the other way and allow perpetrators of war to walk free.

THE PAINFUL stories of the war are endless. 

CLLR. VERDIER RECALLED the case of Musu Massaquoi, a former president of the Liberia Marketing Association, who was killed in Grand Cape Mount County for nothing. “She was killed because she was a rich indigenous woman. How did she become rich? how did they perceive her as being rich? She was the president of the marketing association. So, she organized marketers, market women to engage in independent business – and what were they doing? There were 500 of them established around the country – and as they made their profits, they shared with one another. She was killed in Cape Mount because they thought she was rich.”

THE FORMER TRC chair also recalled the story of a woman in Lofa, whose entire family was killed by rebels, who turned her into a sex slave.  “This woman told us the story of how rebels took turns with her for sex and made her wash their clothes – after they had killed her husband and children. She’s a woman who had three children and a husband, the rebels entered and killed all of them in front of her. As if that wasn’t enough, those who took over the town, made her their wife. She said ‘every night, they would sleep with me, I will not know who will be the man coming but every night, it’s one man after another  – and all the faces I recognized, they were the rebels and men who were holding gun in our community. Besides that, my body wasn’t enough for them, I had to work for them, I had to wash their clothes, and I cooked for them, every day.’

CLLR. VERDIER WONDERED: “What sort of evil is that? And people say, they want to debate whether people should be punished or not; whether we should have justice in Liberia?  There will be justice in Liberia.”

THERE WERE MORE. Yatta Alison, Tecumseh Roberts, Tilma Gardner, Robert Toe and a host of others, killed at the hands of Johnson.

THE LIST IS ENDLESS. Jackson F. Doe, Gabriel Kpolleh, Sam Dokie and many others died at the hands of either Charles Taylor’s men or Prince Johnson’s men. Others, at the hands of Samuel Doe or his guards and soldiers.

WHEN AUTHORITIES briefly held Mr. Logan Davies, Director of the Seaport Police and a former rebel general of Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front, last week, there were some Liberians coming to his defense.

IT SEEMS, former President Charles Taylor is the only guilty culprit of a civil war that killed thousands and sent scores into exile. 

YET, MANY are today wondering why Liberia continues to struggle to fully recover from its brutal war.

THE FAILURE OF LIBERIANS to yearn for justice and its government to implement the findings and recommendations of the TRC speak volumes about how much value Liberians have for each other and the lives of those killed for unknown reasons.

AS DR. WHITE asserted at the weekend, Sierra Leone has done what it needed to do to address issues relating to its civil war. Liberia’s decision to move at a snail pace, offers a chilling but scary statement that some within our midst, really do not value life. 

IT WAS ONLY yesterday that many wailed and displayed the bodies of their friends and loved ones at the gates of the US embassy at the height of the war, asking for help; it was only yesterday that many fast and prayed for the war to be over because too many people were dying. 

FOR THOSE gone, too soon to the great beyond, the memories remain entrenched in a nation apparently unwilling to fight and seek answers as to why many fell to premature deaths at the hands of some of the most brutal warlords, now walking in our midst and being paid by taxpayers as officials in government.   

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