Liberia: Rep. Richard Koon Advocates for the Repealing of Act Granting Immunity to All Partakers of the Liberia Civil War

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MONROVIA – Montserrado County District # 11 Representative Richard Koon has vowed to lead a campaign to ensure that the Amnesty Law granting clemency to perpetrators of war crimes and atrocities committed during the warring days in Liberia is repeal by members of the 54th National Legislature.

Representative Koon of the former ruling Unity Party (UP) is one of the lawmakers who signed a resolution, calling for the establishment of a War and Economic Crimes Court (WECC) to guarantee the prosecution of war perpetrators.

It can be recalled that the 51st National Legislature, during the administration of ex-Liberian President Charles Ghankay Taylor, enacted a ‘hidden Act’ which grants  amnesty to all persons associated with Liberia’s civil war beginning December 1989 to August 2003 is brought to the fore.

The Act, a copy of which FrontPageAfrica has obtained, is titled “An Act to Grant Immunity from Both Civil and Criminal Proceeding against All Persons within the Jurisdiction of the Republic of Liberia From Acts or Crimes Committed During the Civil War From December 1989 to August 2003.”

The Act was published on August 8, 2003 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It was not repealed before the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) which calls for the establishment of such court.

But speaking when he appeared as guest on the OK Morning Rush on OK FM99.5 on Tuesday, May 25, Representative Koon observed that most former warlords are hiding behind the Amnesty Law to shy away from being held accountable for their actions during the 14-years civil crisis in the country.

He observed that these former warlords are gradually fading away or aging, and as such, a war and economic crimes court must be established to accord them the opportunity to tell their stories to the world.

According to him, Liberia’s history will not be totally completed if these war perpetrators are not giving their days in court.

 “There is no perfect timing for the war crimes court. I don’t care how much you delay it. For now, it is needed most often to the extent that most of these people who took part in the war are fading away and there will be no time to know their part of the story. It is from the war crimes court-those assertions that are made from these hearings- that people build up history for the country”.

Representative Koon observed that most of those who are afraid for the court to be established in Liberia are citizens who committed atrocities.

He made specific reference to the former notorious leader of the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL) rebel group, Senator Prince Y. Johnson of Nimba County.

The INPFL, under the command of Senator Johnson, captured, tortured and brutally killed ex-Liberian President Samuel K. Doe on September 9, 1990.

“People are afraid of war crimes court because they feel that they committed atrocities and they are the target; no. Like for Honorable Prince Johnson (Senator of Nimba County)-who whenever he hears about war crimes court-he (Johnson) gets so irritated. Prince Johnson’s reliance that the war crimes court will not take place in Liberia is the fact that, he’s looking at Article 97 and the Amnesty Law that was passed by the 51st National Legislature”, Representative Koon stated.

The vow

Representative Koon emphasized that the Amnesty Act remains a major obstacle to the establishment of a War and Economic Crimes Court in Liberia.

Until the Act is repealed and Article 97 suspended, he added that, the court cannot be established to ensure that war crimes perpetrators do not go with impunity.

“That (Amnesty) Act exonerates all those who took part in war from the 1980s to 2003.  One of the things I am going to proffer these few days is to make sure we repeal that Act. If we do not repeal it, it is an obstacle to establishing the war crimes court and the issue of Article 97 can be suspended also”.

Article 97 of the 1986 Liberian Constitution states that:

  1. No executive, legislative, judicial or administrative action taken by the People’s Redemption Council or by any persons, whether military or civilian, in the name of that Council pursuant to any of its decrees shall be questioned in any proceedings whatsoever; and, accordingly, it shall not be lawful for any court or other tribunal to make any order or grant any remedy or relief in respect or any such act. B) No court or other tribunal shall entertain any action whatsoever instituted against the Government of Liberia, whether before or after the coming into force of this Constitution or against any person or persons who assisted in any manner whatsoever in bringing about the change of Government of Liberia on the 12th day of April, 1980, in respect of any act or commission relating to or consequent upon: (i) The overthrow of the government in power in Liberia before the establishment of the government of the People’s Redemption Council; (ii) The suspension of the Constitution of Liberia of July 26, 1847; (iii) The establishment, functioning and other organs established by the People’s Redemption Council; (iv) The imposition of any penalties, including the death penalty, or the confiscation of any property by or under the authority of the People’s Redemption Council under a decree made by the Council in pursuance of but not limited to the measures undertaken by the Council to punish persons guilty of crimes and malpractices to the detriment of the Liberian nation, the people, the economy, or the public interest; and (v) The establishment of this Constitution”.

Finance not the problem

Representative Koon noted that Liberia and its citizens should not see the issue of galvanizing the necessary financial resources as an obstacle towards the formation of the court in the country.

According to him, the “International Community is willing to pump as much money to establish the court” in Liberia.

He indicated that the establishment of the court will also provide job opportunities for scores of Liberians in the wake of the high level of unemployment in the society.

Representative Koon stated that all those sounding threats and justifying their actions during the warring days in Liberia, including Senator Johnson, can even do so when they are given the opportunity to testify in the court upon its establishment.

He maintained that some of these individuals, who claimed that they engaged into various acts during the civil wars to protect their kinsmen, can even be found not guilty by the court, and as such, there is no need for anyone to panic.

Blaming Speaker Chambers

In September 2019, over 50 members of the House of Representatives of the 54th National Legislature signed a resolution for the establishment of a War and Economic Crimes Court (WECC) in Liberia.

The decision taken by majority members of the House to sign the resolution was triggered as a result of a request made by President George Manneh Weah, calling on members of the National Legislature to advise him on the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations that include the setting up of a war crimes court.

“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 on Thursday only seen by FrontPage Africa on Friday. He added that “accountability of past human rights violations are essential ingredients for sustainable peace and achievement of inclusive development”. 

But the lawmakers who signed the resolution for the establishment of the court, including Representative Koon have persistently accused House Speaker Bhofal Chambers of thwarting the true essence of the resolution, by stalling its debate and subsequent passage.

Speaker Chambers who is a National Executive Committee (NEC) member of the governing Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), has failed to comment on the accusation on numerous occasions.

“The President submitted the communication to us, we crafted the resolution and more than 54 lawmakers affixed their signatures to that resolution. The issue of the resolution not getting on the floor is because; our Speaker (Bhofal Chambers) is obstructing the issue of the resolution being on the agenda. Maybe the Executive is telling him that, I am not in favor at this time that the resolution is passed”, Representative Koon disclosed.

He questioned the rationale behind Speaker Chambers’ refusal on numerous occasions to ensure the inclusion of the resolution signed calling for the establishment of the court even if said issue is raised by some lawmakers.

Skepticism

Representative Koon further expressed disappointment over the decision taken by members of the Liberian Senate to elect Senator Johnson as Chairman of the Committee on National Defense, Security, Intelligence and Veteran Affairs.

He noted that any communication coming from the House calling for the establishment of the WECC may “die perpetually” when such communication is turned over to Senator Johnson’s committee to advice the Plenary in keeping with normal legislative proceedings.

He added that though he remains skeptical that his communication seeking to repeal the Amnesty Law of Liberia will be given preference by Speaker Chambers, he has already finalized the document and would not hesitate to submit it in the coming days for legislative deliberations and subsequent passage.

Representative Koon, however, pointed out that lawmakers who signed the resolution will take the matter to President Weah to intervene if Speaker Chambers continues to stand against the establishment of the War and Economic Crimes Court (WECC) in Liberia.

Clean hands President?

Representative Koon indicated that the court could not be established during the administration of Madam Sirleaf because; she was one of those indicted in the final report of the TRC.

According to him, President Weah is a “clean hands President” that did not partake or sponsor wars in Liberia, and as such, there should be no obstacle or hindrance to the establishment of the court, noting that, “I don’t think that the President will want to do that”.

He pointed out that lawmakers will ensure that President Weah persuades Speaker Chambers to entertain legislative deliberations on the resolution that would direct its subsequent passage.

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