Liberia: Leading Human Rights Activist Urges U.S. Government’s Direct Engagement with President Weah for Establishment of War Crimes Court In Liberia
WASHINGTON D.C. – When Adama Demptser, the Secretary-General of the Civil Society Human Rights Platform of Liberia received the invitation to speak at the African Human Right Leaders Summit in Washington D.C., he set his sight on one thing – to call on the United States to use its historic and long term relationship with Liberia as leverage to push for the creation of war and economic crimes court to hold those accountable for his country’s brutal civil war that claims the lives of at least 250,000 people.
By: Gerald C. Koinyeneh – [email protected]
African Human Right Leaders Summit is one of several side events of the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit in Washington from December 13 -15.
Dempster fulfilled his wish when he took the stage in Washington and declared: While it’s very important to reaffirm commitment to Africa, the US – Africa Summit is a unique place to encourage African leaders to promote and protect human rights, especially Liberia’s President George Weah to commit to establishing accountability framework to bring war crimes perpetrators to justice or in other words establish the war crimes court to address civil wars era crimes in Liberia.
“While it’s very important to reaffirm commitment to Africa, the US – Africa Summit is a unique place to encourage African leaders to promote and protect human rights, especially Liberia’s President George Weah to commit to establishing an accountability framework to bring war crimes perpetrators to justice or in other words establish the war crimes court to address civil wars era crimes in Liberia,” he urged.
“Given the US and Liberia’s long-standing relations, we recommend that the US government directly engage President Weah and the government of Liberia to back a war crimes court.”
For this to happen, Dempster said Liberia will need international expertise and assistance to organize a court that can handle these cases and President George Weah needs to request immediate assistance to organize the establishment of the Court and further demand implementation of the TRC recommendations. “The US is Liberia’s most significant international partner. Its voice is key to breaking the accountability paralysis in the country and finally seeing victims have access to justice,” he added.
He said the United States has taken a clear-cut position and has financially supported several countries including Guinea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Sierra Leone, and the Central African Republic to ensure justice is served for the atrocities committed in these countries through domestic or hybrid courts.
‘Use historical tide as leverage’
Liberia and the United States share a historic relationship that dates as far back as the foundation of Liberia in the 1800s when freed slaves of African descent were brought to its shores to live free life. They eventually founded a government and with the help of a Harvard-trained American Professor wrote a Constitution modeled after the United States. Streets and historic places are named after American leaders.
However, Liberia suffered back-to-back civil wars between 1989 and 2003 which decimated the country, claimed the lives of a huge trunk of its population, and sent thousands more into exile. All this happened as the United States and the world watched.
Not until 14 years later before peace returned, and it started with then-President George W. Bush exerting pressure on then-dictator President Charles Ghankey Taylor to resign. An international rally led the United Nations to send what was then its largest peacekeeping troupe ever.
In line with the agreement that ended the war, the 2003 Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) in Accra, Ghana, a Truth, and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established through an act of Legislature with a mandate “to promote national peace, and security, unity, and reconciliation” by investigating gross human rights violations and violations of humanitarian law, sexual violations, and economic crimes that occurred between January 1979 and October 2003.
In addition, the commission was mandated to provide a forum against impunity, establish a record of the past and compile a public report with findings and recommendations.
In its recommendations, the TRC, among other things called for the establishment of a war and economic crimes court The TRC advised for the establishment of an Extraordinary Criminal Tribunal for Liberia and named individuals, corporations, and institutions recommended for prosecution, in some cases, for further investigation. The commission also included a list of individuals recommended to be barred from holding public office.
However, most of the TRC’s recommendations have not been implemented, despite a continued call from human rights defenders like Dempster.
President Weah Treading Predecessor’s Path
During her administration, President Sirleaf, who, herself was among those barred by the TRC from holding public office for 30 years, voiced her disagreement with the report and some of the recommendations, saying retributive justice was not the right path for genuine peace and reconciliation in Liberia.
Other key players of the war who were recommended by the TRC for prosecution are holding on key positions in the government. Senator Prince Johnson of the erstwhile independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL) and Rep. George E.S. Bolley of the Liberia Peace Council (LPC) have stood against every move initiated at the Legislature to set the pace for the creation of the court.
President Weah, then in opposition, called for the creation of the court, and pledged to champion its establishment but has since rolled back on his promise. Critics say the President’s U-Turn is politically motivated.
Dempster noted that the population of victims and survivors, many of whom are women, were used as sex slaves during the civil wars and are yet to get redress, reparations for the injuries they suffered, while alleged perpetrators and warlords remain in top government positions both in past and current governments.
Most of these alleged perpetrators and warlords continue to take tax payers money including foreign investment from the (US) to the country. Some of these people have even fled civil suits in the US or were deported from the US based on their responsibility for human rights abuses in Liberia, he said.
Amid these setbacks, Dempster used the opportunity at the summit to call on the United States to prevail on the Weah-administration to set up the court.
“The US is Liberia’s most significant international partner. Its voice is key to breaking the accountability paralysis in the country and finally seeing victims have access to justice.”
While no alleged perpetrators have faced trial by a Liberian court, a number of trials continue to take place in the diaspora to hold alleged violators of human rights in Liberia accountable nationally and internationally.
He said this model should spur domestic trials to bring closure to the many atrocities that were committed in Liberia; adding that other countries in the African region are moving ahead in an effort to address past human rights violations.
The culture of impunity can only be laid to rest when perpetrators are held accountable for their actions, he said.