New York, NY – Despite a heavy downpour, Liberians from around the U.S. gathered here in protest Tuesday ahead of President George Weah’s first visit to the US since he took office in January. President Weah is expected to address the U.N General Assembly on September 26th. The protesters, representing a coalition of victims’ groups in Liberia and the diaspora, said they had presented a six-page petition to the United Nations General Assembly, the United States State Department, and other local government agencies demanding the establishment of a court.
Report by Adrienne Tingba
Liberians hailing from Missouri, Colorado, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Washington DC, and all over the U.S. joined the March for Justice Campaign to present their petition. The petition, read for the media by the group’s leader, Vandalark Patrick, asked the UN to urge the president to act.
“It’s about time the United Nations pressured the Liberian government to revisit the issue of justice for the past heinous crimes committed during Liberia’s civil wars, notably by setting up a special war and economic crimes court to investigate those that were responsible for the commission of atrocities and bring justice to the victims, punish the perpetrators, and strengthen respect for the rule of law,” said the petition.
Calls for the implementation of the Liberia Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recommendations and for a war and economic crimes court are growing louder by the day. Human rights organizations and civil society groups alike, both in Liberia and the diaspora are joining with the victims of the Liberian civil war in a call for action to President Weah. Switzerland-based Civitas Maxima, and the Monrovia-based Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP) have been supporting efforts for victims to find justice and accountability.
Several world leaders, including UN Deputy Secretary Amina Mohamed, have called on the president to establish a court. Earlier this month, Daniel M. Donovan Jr., US Congressman for Staten Island community, gave advocates a boost when he joined the call for Liberia’s implementation of the TRC recommendations. Through it all, President Weah has remained silent.
“We are not against the president or his government,” said protestor Emeric Nicol. “What we are against is the silence and deaf ears to the cries of the Liberian people to bring justice for all that we experienced in the war and continue to live through these past years.”
Pennsylvania delegates also stressed theirs’ was not an attack on President Weah. “We are not against any of you, our brothers and sisters,” said Laramaand Nyonton, the group’s representative. “We are one. We fall in the same quantum – all of us – victims of the civil war. Ours is not an anti-government campaign, neither is it an anti-Weah march. Our fight is to remove the perpetrators of the war from among us and heal our nation.”
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s refused to implement most of the recommendations of the TRC during her 12-year rule including the establishment of a court saying it would be destabilizing. No Liberian had faced justice for war crimes in Liberia until October last year when Philadelphia prosecutors secured the conviction of Mohammed Jabbateh, who is serving 30 years for his lying to US immigration authorities about his role as a commander with ULIMO.
In June Thomas Woewiyu was convicted for lying to immigration authorities about his role as number two to Charles Taylor in the NPFL. He faces 75 years jail when he is sentenced on November 26th. He is appealing the conviction.
While the March for Justice Campaign is one of many groups pushing for the establishment of a war and economic crimes court in Liberia, there are some groups who are opposed, especially those who would be likely to be tried. Speaking to Front Page Africa Newspaper, Prince Y. Johnson, Nimba County Senator and former rebel leader of the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL) warned he had done a deal with President Weah to support him as long as he opposed a court. “If you touch George Weah, you’ve touched us,” he said. “He has got our backing, and we too got his backing; so, your war crimes court is a fiasco.”
Johnson, who is most known for murdering President Samuel K. Doe, has been serving in the Liberian Senate since 2006. Not one to deny his involvement in the Liberian civil war, Johnson’s recent statements against the establishment of a war and economic crimes court in the country have only intensified calls for a court.
One group based in Liberia, Citizens Action for the Establishment of War and Economic Crimes Court in Liberia, has been very vocal calling on President Weah to deliver on promises he made before becoming president.
“In 2004, President Weah saw the prosecution of criminals as an honorable thing. Now as President 14 years later, he is joking with our lives. The CDC also had the issue of justice as one of its strong agendas, and now that they have an opportunity to lead, they are dashing our hope. With their actions, we the citizens have to direct them the way forward, and War and Economic Crimes court in Liberia, is that way forward,” said the group’s leader, Fubbi Henries, in a statement to New Narratives.
With President Weah scheduled to address the ongoing UN General Assembly on September 26, more Liberians are expected to parade the streets of New York City in continued protests for the establishment of a war and economic crimes court.
This story was a collaboration with New Narratives.