Liberian National Bar Association In Collaboration with Civil Society Organizations Submits Bill For Establishment of War & Economic Crimes Court In Liberia

Speaking at the presentation ceremony at the Capitol Building, Cllr. Gongloe told the lawmakers that it was time to muster the courage and put an end to the sad chapter in the history of Liberia.

Capitol Hill, Monrovia – The call for the establishment of a war and economic crimes court in Liberia reached a significant milestone on Thursday when the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA) and a conglomeration of civil society organizations submitted a draft bill for the establishment of the court to the Legislature.

The bill was crafted by the LNBA headed by renowned human rights lawyer, Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe as its president.

Speaking at the presentation ceremony at the Capitol Building, Cllr. Gongloe told the lawmakers that it was time to muster the courage and put an end to the sad chapter in the history of Liberia.

“We are here to present this draft bill to you. The Bar Association, in exercise of this responsibility and patriotism, draft the law, and made 105 copies for the lawmakers. That’s how far we have gone to make this happen to show the zeal and enthusiasm that we have. We appeal to you not to let this zeal die,” Cllr. Gongloe made a passionate appeal to the lawmakers.

“If we, as a people do not take steps to hold people accountable, it means that first, we are co-conspirators in the killing of those people, and we applaud those who did it and are encouraging people to do more. Liberia cannot be a country where when you slap a person, you can be arrested, when you killed one person, you can be arrested and jailed, but when you killed 500 to 1,000 people or more then the society says that’s OK. When we do that we are encouraging people to commit more crimes.”

The LNBA’s president, speaking further, said it was time that Liberia follows the footsteps of Sierra Leone and Rwanda by setting up the court to end the culture of impunity and gain the confidence of the world. Because of the decision taken by the two nations, they are no more called fragile states and are regular and frequent location of foreign direct investment, he noted. He added that it is against this backdrop that the LNBA and the CSOs have formed a ‘historic’ collaboration to ensure the will of majority of the Liberian people is realized.

Exercising ‘High Degree of Hope’

The CSO coalition, in a special statement said, guided by the lessons of history, they have a strong conviction that holding suspected perpetrators of war and economic crimes, and sexual and gender-based violence accountable is the best way to stop impunity and lay a firm foundation for the respect of rule of law in Liberia.

Sierra Leone and Rwanda, the groups noted, are shining examples of what happens when the end of conflict is followed by accountability, adding that “Today, the respect for rule of law is stronger in those two countries. As a result of this situation, both countries are experiencing progressive economic growth and development.  Justice has now secured a culture of peace and made peace irreversible in those two countries. We Liberians, too, deserve a culture of peace in our country.”

In the statement read by the Executive Director/Legal Counsel of the Organization for Women and Children (ORWOCH), Atty. Mmonbeydo N. Joah, the group warned that in the absence of a culture of peace, “Liberia will remain a fragile state as perpetrators of violent crimes will continue to commit more violent crimes and rape because of the lack of accountability for those who committed war crimes, crimes against humanity and economic crimes during the Liberian conflict.”

Recounting some of the worst atrocities committed during the war which claimed the lives of about 250,000 people, the group called on the Legislature to pass the bill which called for the full implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations.

“As honorable men and women elected by the people of Liberia to make laws and oversee governance for the common good of the Liberian people, we have come to you today, with a very high degree of hope that upon our submission of the draft bill on war and economic crimes court, you will waste no time in passing same into law. This is our appeal,” the group urged.

‘Received In Good Faith’

Receiving the bill, the Chairman of the Committee on Claims and Petition, Rep. Gonpue L. Kargon (District #4, Nimba County) said, he and his colleagues “received the document in good faith” and will present it to the Speaker of the House for onward placement on the House’s agenda for action.

“We received this document in a good faith. This House works through committees. Whatsoever that have been placed into this envelope, what you want for the Speaker to do to uphold this nation, I promise that the speaker will do it,” he said.

However, Rep. Kargon, who is an ally of Warlord-cum politician Senator Prince Y. Johnson also indicted by the TRC, said he was concerned that the Liberia National Bar Association, which should have been serving as legal advisors, and providing some expertise and legal opinions from an independent perspective was playing the role of advocates.

His views were shared by the head of the Committee on Peace, Religion and National Reconciliation, Rep. Dorwohn Twain Gleekia (District #6, Nimba County), who questioned the advocacy role of the LNBA.

In a quick response, the National Bar Association’s President noted that when the court is set up, Liberian lawyers will serve as judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers.

However, that does not stop the Bar, as an association for advocating for the establishment of the court.

There have been split opinions over the creation of a war and economic crimes court in Liberia. While the call for the court is gaining more momentum, others argued that the court will have an adverse impact on the Liberian society, citing security and economic implications.

But speaking at the event, Mr. Hassan Bility, the Executive Director of the Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP), said the court, if would have no security and economic implications if it is established.

Mr. Bility’s organization and its partner, Civitas Maxima are responsible for the arrest and prosecution of many Liberian war criminals in Europe and America.

He said there is a provision in the United Nations Charter that support countries with funding for such court. And if a trial of a particular individual would be a threat to national security, the government can request for its relocation just as it was done in the case of ex-president Charles Taylor at his trial by the United Nations backed Special Court for Sierra Leone.

He called on the Legislature to act on the bill as it was the best option for Liberia.

‘We do not want to envision a situation where we elect someone into the Legislature and they travel and don’t come back. I think that will be very embarrassing. I believe that the Honorable Legislature is capable of acting. These crimes are international crimes. These are not national crimes. So, the Liberian government cannot even waive it away. We either do it or someone else will do it for us.”