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Liberia: 26 Lawmakers Sign Resolution for the War Crimes Court following President’s Letter

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Monrovia – Twenty-six members of the House of Representatives have signed a resolution calling for the establishment of war and economic crimes court in Liberia. 

The support from the lawmakers has hit new heights in less than one week after President George Weah sent a communication to the Legislature seeking the body’s advice on the establishment of both a war and economic crimes courts. 

“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,” wrote President Weah in a letter to the legislature sent on Thursday September 12.  

Prior to Weah’s letter, only 11 representatives had signed the resolution, among them were four lawmakers who are leading the advocacy in the House. That means 17 additional lawmakers have signed the document since it was introduced barely two months after it was first introduced. 

Representative Thomas Goshua of District #5, Grand Bassa County said “there’s now relief for many Liberians since the President sent the communication to us.” 

Goshua claims the letter is causing lawmakers from “the ruling parting who were opposing the courts to have a rethink.” 

 “A couple of them have been hiding [and saying] that the president has not come out full to back what we were doing and because of their party politicking, they have been a little bit quite,” he said.

Rustonlyn Dennis, Chair of the House’s Committee on Claims and Petition, who was one of the first backers of the resolution, said the President’s letter has “removed the dark cloud over their advocacy.” 

Representative Dennis disclosed that an additional 15 persons have also expressed interest in signing the resolution.

What’s Next?

With that number, those in favor of the resolution will be pushed up to 41 of 73 representatives. Backers of the resolution will need a two-thirds majority during a working session before it can be moved to the senate. At the Senate it would also need a two-thirds majority votes of 30 senators to be sent to the President for signing into law.    

For now, Hon. Dennis says President Weah’s letter is a “fast track endorsement of the process” which leads the resolution becoming a law.

If the resolution passes, it means a bill for the court drafted by the Liberian Bar Association will not pass through that long, formal legislative process. 

“I can assure you that if the communication is being put on the floor today, it will be debated and the work we have done in terms of the resolution will be endorsed,” she said.

“The resolution is only a strong statement that tells the President and the rest of the world that we are ready for the war and economic crimes court,” Dennis said. “We do have a draft bill and we’re working with the Bar Association and we will now admonish the Executive that we all work along with the lawyers to augment the draft bill,” Dennis said. 

Representative Hanson Kiazolu of District #17, Montserrado County, who is a member of the former ruling Unity Party, has been advocating alongside Dennis and other colleagues. He sees the President’s letter as a breakthrough.

“What the President has done is also good because there have been a lack of political will and now that he has written, all we have to do now is do small editing to the resolution we already have by soliciting more signatures and tell the President yes, the Liberian people have spoken through their representatives and let’s establish the courts,” said Kiazolu.  

‘Mandate of the People Already There’

According to Dennis, the Speaker of the House has requested members of the legislature to begin consulting with their constituents. 

But she argues that such mandate circumvents existing support from Liberians calling for the establishment of the courts.

And Representative Francis Dopoh of District #3, River Gee County insists that “the mandate has been given me already by my people” and there’s no need to go back and seek their consent.

Dopoh wants the TRC report complemented by new investigations to include accounts of the war that are not mentioned in its report.

He claims that there were several unrecorded massacres that occurred in his district during the war and many victims are still longing for justice. 

For Hon. Kiazolu, consulting his constituents once again is “irrelevant because I have received the overwhelming support from my people.”

“They trust my opinion and they trust my force that if I take the decision along with others that have national impact, they will support me,” Kiazolu said.

Representative Goshua said his constituents have “long since” given him the mandate to support the establishment of the courts.

“That’s one reason why I’ve even affixed my signature to the resolution because I know the Bassa people want to see justice; and they have asked us to advocate,” he said.

Representative Dennis said her constituents have already given her the mandate, but she had, however, been holding consultations in recent weeks to get their views of others who have earlier expressed opposition.

‘No need for Advice’

Meanwhile, Hon. Dopoh called on President Weah should be implementing the TRC report while the Legislature exercised oversight, instead of the other way around.

“There’s no need for us to advise the president because the TRC recommendations are products of a previous legislation that gave birth to the Commission,” he said.

“We are not going to be advising the President; we have signed up on a resolution and I think he should join us to campaign for that resolution,” Dopoh said, while calling on all lawmakers to sign the resolution “for us to move on as quickly as possible”.

Advocates for the courts say it will curb impunity and strengthen the country’s justice system. 

“The culture of impunity is about to come to an end,” Goshau said. “We will keep pushing this idea to our people and support all the efforts”.

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

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