Ex-ICC Prosecutor Stephen Rapp in Liberia for Justice Conference

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Monrovia – Stephen Rapp, the former Chief Prosecutor of the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone, will headline a one-day conference on Friday designed to build on momentum behind a war crimes court in Liberia. The conference will bring together international and national advocates of a court. Rapp’s presence is intended to underscore the heavy weight of international support for a court and intensify pressure on the government of President George Weah to establish one. 

By James Harding Giahyue, New Narratives Senior Justice Correspondent

Rapp, who was a prosecutor in the International Criminal Court for Rwanda, led the successful prosecution of former President Charles Taylor. Taylor is serving a 50-year jail term in the U.K. Rapp was also the United States Ambassador-at-Large on War Crimes Issues in the Obama administration. 

Dr. Uchenna Emelonye, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Country Representative, is expected to give the event’s keynote speech. Massa Washington, former Commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) will also address the conference which is entitled “Opportunities and Challenges for Truth and Justice in Liberia for Past Crimes”. 

The Monrovia-based Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP)—which collaborates with the Swiss-based Civitas Maxima in prosecuting Liberian war criminals—is hosting the event alongside the Civil Society Human Rights Advocacy Platform of Liberia. Other groups collaborating with GJRP on the event include The Advocates for Human Rights, Center for Justice and Accountability (based in California, USA), Human Rights Watch, LIMASA, WANGOSOL, the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, the Council of Churches, the Coalition for Justice in Liberia and Flomo Theater. 

Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recommended more than a decade ago that the court be set up to prosecute alleged war criminals but that call has never been realized.  

The administration of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf claimed a court would derail the country’s peace process. The current administration of President George Weah says it is not a priority. 

However, calls for the court have been pouring in from everywhere. The United Nations Human Rights Committee in July gave Liberia up to July 2020 to implement the TRC recommendation. The US House of Representatives’ committee on Foreign Affairs passed a resolution last month to support the establishment of a war crimes court. And 80 human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have written the President Weah urging him to set up the court. 

All of these have come amid the strongest ever rally for the court on home soil, with local advocates petitioning the Liberian Legislature in May for the establishment of a war and economic crimes court, while they plan a march on November 12 in memory of the estimated 250,000 people who died in the Liberian civil war (1989 – 2003).  

Lisa-Marie Rudi of Civitas Maxima said the conference is meant to build upon the momentum for the establishment of the court. “The conference aims to bring international and national human rights advocates as well as government actors, international experts and other stakeholders together in Monrovia to discuss the future for accountability in Liberia,” Rudi said. 

She added that the conference was to remind Liberia of its commitment to the UN Human Rights Committee back in July when GOL representatives said they would issue a statement on how it would deal with war justice. “As civil society we hope to be able to engage in dialogue with government representatives, to listen to their views and for them to hear the voice of victims and Liberian civil society,” Rudi added.  

Following the close of the conference, Ambassador Rapp and former Commissioner Washington will appear on OK FM at 5 pm. The broadcast, sponsored by New Narratives, will be relayed by Power FM, Radio Gbarnga and Smile FM.  

Washington is a former reporter with the Inquirer newspaper and an advocate for women’s rights. She headed the diaspora hearings of the TRC, where Liberians abroad (primarily in Ghana and the United States) participated in public hearings. That was the first time a TRC anywhere in the world had taken testimonies from citizens living abroad. 

This story was a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project. 

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