Government is Obliged to Set Up War Crimes Court – Hassan Bility


Monrovia – A long-time campaigner for the establishment of a court for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Liberia is upbeat that said court would certainly be set up in Monrovia in a not too distance future.

Report by Mae Azango, [email protected]

“I think the timing is now; or are Liberians waiting for the survivors to all die, if so how will we have evidence? I think the government will be obliged to establish a war crimes court in Liberia because we do not have a choice.”

According to the campaigner Journalist Hasan Bility, Liberia’s international partners will want this to happen so the government cannot continue to stonewall on this issue.

Mr. Bility, who is Director of Global Justice and Research Project, stated that as many Liberians are opting for the establishment of the court in their country, his institution and its sister organization, Civitas Maxima, are advocating, too, abroad with international partners for the setting up of the war crimes court. He added: “Liberia has to act fast for a war crimes court to be established.” 

Bility, who also advocates for justice, spoke in an exclusive interview with FrontpageAfrica in Monrovia, during a “Cartooning for Justice” workshop. The cartooning for justice is under the Global Justice and Research Project’s Justice Program.

Despite being confident, Bility could not be definite on when the court would be established. However, he believes that a war crimes court will be setup under the administration of President George Manneh Weah.

According to him, many Liberians feel that President Weah is best suited to establish such court, because he has no war record.

He said in order to fast-track the establishment of the court, Liberians in their various constituencies must put pressure on their representatives in the House.

The Liberian journalist, who himself is a victim of crimes against humanity under former dictator Charles Taylor’s regime, assured Liberians who are thinking about security and funding to be issues that might impede the process of the court’s setup.

“Security may be an issue but we have other partners to address it when the need arises. People are talking about the lack of money for war crimes court, which country funded their own war crimes court? Look at Sierra Leone, their war crimes court was funded by the international community. Look at Rwanda, their court was funded by the International Criminal Court for Rwanda (ICTR). So, these courts were sponsored by the international community and not the countries themselves. But Liberians will have to take the first step by legislating into law the creation of a war crimes court then we can move on.”

Jungle Jabbah Trial

Bility was vilified by some of his tribal folks for supporting the prosecution one of his tribal brothers, Momammed Jabateh, aka Jungle Jabbah, from the Mandingo ethnic group, instead of him “standing up for him.”

“Yes it is true that my kinsmen blamed and accused me of being responsible for prosecuting Jungle Jabbah. They even threatened to kidnap my daughter. But what they should know is that justice is not an ethnic thing and it should cut across. My kinsmen are part and parcel of Liberia, so they cannot squeeze themselves in one little corner and think nothing can touch them. If you fought war and committed atrocities, you should bear the consequences,” Bility stressed.

Justice Ja’neh’s Impeachment

Touching on the ongoing impeachment proceedings against Associate Justice Kabina Ja’neh, Bility thinks that the case is highly political at the moment.

“I know there are political implications; I do not think the interest of the country should be subordinated to the interests of certain individuals. I just want to call on the Legislature to put the interest of the country first and stop protecting individuals, who did serious human rights violation during the war.

Bility further emphasized that his organization and its sister organization will continue to work from outsiders until the Liberian Government can be able to create a war crimes court in Liberia.

Cartooning for Justice

The cartooning for justice is a project led by students of the Graduate Institute of Geneva who received support of the Kathryn W. Davis Peace Foundation,  in collaboration with GJRP, Civitas Maxima and LivArts.

Civitas Maxima, an organisation who stands with the victims in their quest for justice, in collaboration with students of the Graduate Institute of Geneva and LivArts, has embarked on a workshop that intends to prompt debate and informed reflection on weather or not war crimes should be punished in Liberia today. The workshop is aimed at having Liberian arts students tell their story through cartoons.  

Mr. Bility, whose institution and Civitas Maxima work together, said as they work on justice-related issues and cartooning training, it is important because arts students will be able to express themselves freely when it comes to justice and to interpret it in arts form.

“As Liberia moves forward, these kids will be coming into a society that should be based on fair play; a one that does not succumb the interests of the country to individuals’ interests,” said Bility.

In a concept note of Civitas Maxima, the collaborating agency with Bility’s organization, states that as civil society demands the end of impunity, alleged war crimes perpetrators must be made to face justice abroad for the horrific crimes and human rights violations committed during the 14 years of civil war.

“To date Liberia has not seen domestic war crimes accountability. Further, processes of justice and reconciliation are hampered by the overwhelming lack of political will,” 

According to them, stories of the Liberian civil war transcend generations; adding “cartoons have the power to communicate to all, instigate change and inspire hope.”

They further stated that through the workshop, they will reach out to youth believing that it is not only possible to bring about change in post-conflict Liberia, by effectively working with youth to build their capacity as the next generations of Liberians and to give them the tools to establish sustainable peace.

The students chosen for the cartooning workshop were organized through the Liberia Visual Arts Academy, which is owned and operated by its founder, Cartoonist Leslie Lumeh.

A Civitas Maxima staff, who chose to remain anonymous, said they are doing justice through cartooning because they want to equip students with skills to draw their perception of justice as to if war crimes should be punishable in Liberia today.

She disclosed that a roundtable meeting will be held Tuesday, August 28, and human rights activists and lawyers will speak on the topic pertaining to justice and that answers will come from the cartoons, which the students had drawn.

Another Civitas Maxima staff weighed in on the importance of cartoon. 

“Cartoons are very important in transmitting messages. They are always direct because the messages are always there. They are funny and sensational the messages are always there because it is very simple, basic and direct,” he said.

According to him, insights from the cartoons are very interesting for storytelling.

“Some of the students are even teaching me how to draw as well, so it is very educative working with the students.”