Liberia: Cummings Calls for War and Economic Crimes Court to End Impunity

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MONROVIA – President George Weah’s lackadaisical response towards the mounting calls for the need to end impunity and hold people accountable for war and economic crimes, in the view of one of his fierce political rivals, Alexander B. Cummings, makes one believe that he is either benefiting from the criminals or seeking special favors from them.

The Alternative National Congress (ANC) political leader lamented the recent chastisement by the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia over the election of the Nimba County Senator, Prince Y. Johnson’s election to head the Senate’s committee on Defense and National Security and the retaining of economic sanctioned Varney Sherman of Cape Mount County as the Chairman on Judiciary. He termed the United States’ reaction as an “international disgrace”.

“Giving people justice and ending impunity are not issues over which any responsible government ought to wait to be publicly chastised by international partners. These are things responsible governments do to cleanse the soul of a nation and to keep countries secure, stable, and peaceful,” Cummings said.

In its rebuke of the Senate, the U.S. Embassy in a statement indicated that Senator Johnson’s gross human rights violations during Liberia’s civil wars are well-documented; his continued efforts to protect himself from accountability, enrich his own coffers and sow division are also well known. 

The United States further questioned the seriousness of the Senate for elevating Senator Johnson to that level and without hesitation stated that it would not work with Senator Johnson, neither Senator Sherman.

Senator Johnson is recorded in the TRC Report as one of the individuals who committed numerous atrocities during the war. He also stands accused of humiliating and killing former President Samuel K. Doe.

The irony of Mr. Johnson’s civil war atrocities is often based on his justification that Samuel Doe and his Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) killed innocent citizens of Nimba. Thus, he and his men had to fight to defend the people of Nimba. However, a lot of those killed by Johnson and his INPFL were civilians, and not combatants. More importantly, a lot – if not all of those victims were not involved in any atrocity against the citizens of Nimba. Some were arrested and executed in Monrovia by Johnson or his forces.

Despite the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s conclusions that atrocity crimes and serious violations of international law were committed, the Liberian government continues to waver over the creation of a recommended war crimes court to hold perpetrators to account. Some see an accountability mechanism as an essential step for Liberia to heal from the wounds of the past and to address Liberia’s culture of impunity. Others, however, worry that a court will reignite old tensions, that it could be misused for political purposes, and that it would be too costly given Liberia’s struggling economy.

Cummings who wants to be President of Liberia come 2023 when President shall be finishing his first term, urged the Weah-led government to stop putting individuals above the law.

He added that people must be held accountable for the accountable for crimes, are practices that have kept the country and its citizens backward for far too long.

Cummings: “This is why I support the establishment of a war crimes court, and a court on economic crimes. These courts will help us find justice for victims. Hopefully, they will lay painful memories of loved ones, and innocent souls to deserved eternal rest. I believe they will also lift the weight off the shoulders of accused persons who believe themselves to be innocent or wrongly accused. A court is not just a place to seek punishment. It is a place to find the truth, to award justice, and to set the innocent or wrongly accused, free.”

The ANC political leader says the though the court will help Liberians heal and reconcile, it should not be limited to the crimes committed during the war but it should have the jurisdiction for the trying of current and future crimes such as “stealing from the people, and passing deals that cheats Liberia and Liberians.”

Cummings again refused to be on the same page with President George Weah who believes that the country must rather focus on economic and infrastructural development rather than a court that would “divide” Liberians further.

Cummings: “I also know that turning a blind eye to crimes in the name of peace will give us no peace. And so, even if it is hard – even if it scares us – we must find the way to do it. We must also find the help we will need to do it. But in the end, we must do it for ourselves, and for our children.

We have to change, if we will become a country that will give justice fairly and blindly to all who seek it. From rape and the acceptance of bribes by judges and other public officials to crimes against humanity and stealing from the Liberian people, we must be a country that will hold everyone accountable. When we do this, our children and their children will live in a more just, peaceful, prosperous and reconciled society than we have today.”

Last week, Representative Yekeh Kolubah, a former fighter and an ardent critic of the Weah-led government, called on his colleagues at the House of Representatives to stop ‘playing blind eye’ and act on several petitions they have received from citizens calling for the establishment of War and Economic Crimes Courts in Liberia.

Rep. Kolubah wrote the Plenary, the highest decision making body of the House of Representatives to reintroduce two instruments that have overstayed in committee rooms.

He named the “Petition from the citizens of Liberia calling for the establishment of the war crimes court and the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s recommendations” which was submitted to the Legislature on May 24, 2018; and the “Petition from the citizens of Liberia on the establishment of war and economic crimes court that has been in committee room since June 2020.

In his communication, Rep. Kolubah said “The numerous calls for both the establishment of War and Economic Crimes courts, including the full implementation of the TRC’s recommendations “point to the fact that Liberians do not only need justice but are striving for deterrence”.

He said: “Hon. Speaker and distinguished colleagues, I wish we will not allow the citizens to see us as shielding certain things or people in our governance process for which we are playing blind eye on the numerous calls from our people.”

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