President Weah absent from Church Massacre Memorial
MONROVIA – President George Weah did not show up for a memorial for an estimated 600 victims of the St. Peter’s Lutheran Church Massacre on Independence Day, the third time this year he has been invited to an event linked to the Liberian Civil War and did not turn out.
Members of the Alliance for Transitional Justice of Liberia—comprising the Lutheran and Methodist churches, and civil society actors—had invited President Weah for a wreath-laying ceremony on mass graves in the churchyard, but they had to do it themselves as they watched the presidential convoy pass 14th Street, Sinkor with blaring sirens.
Earlier that morning, two presidential escort vehicles stopped by the church’s entrance for a couple of minutes, raising the hope of organizers of the memorial that President Weah would attend. Their hope was dashed.
“From our understanding, the President agreed that he wanted to come here, but form what we are learning protocol did not make it happen,” said Rev. kenety Gee, who was the chief organizer of the memorial.
Rev. Gee said they wrote the letter inviting the President on June 10 and Vera Parker, a staff in the President’s office, acknowledged receipt of the letter on June 12.
Rev. Gee claimed that on the eve of the Independence Day the office of the President informed them that President Weah would attend. He said they were told that he would have stopped at the church from the Barclay Training Center, where the Independence celebrations began, before going to the Samuel K. Doe Sports Complex in Paynesville for the main Independence program.
“The wreath laying will serve as a reminder of our dark past and an indication that we cannot return to such barbaric acts against one another ever again,” read the letter seen by FrontPage Africa, approved by Rt. Rev. Dr. D. Jensen Seyenkulo, Bishop of the Lutheran Church in Liberia.
Deputy Presidential Press Secretary Smith Toby said organizers of the memorial contacted close to him on July 26 but said the event was not part of the official Independence Day celebration.
“It was not on the President’s schedule,” he said. “Maybe the people who received it did not tell the President,” he said.
President Weah has not shown support for a war crimes court for Liberia as recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in its report 10 years ago. In addition to forming a power bloc with Senator Prince Johnson—ex-leader of the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL)—he has appointed ex-warlords in his government, including Superintendent Kai Farley of Grand Gedeh County. Both Senator Johnson and Superintendent Farley are listed in the TRC report among more than 100 other people to face the court.
In March this year, President Weah skipped the dedication of a memorial for victims of the Maher Massacre in Bomi County, organized by the government-run Independent Human Rights Commission (IHRC), which has yet to be dedicated.
Two months later he also did not attend the opening of a conference on the implementation of the TRC recommendations organized by the IHRC in Gbarnga, Bong County in he was scheduled to launch.
The July 28, 1990 St. Peter’s Lutheran Church Massacre is one of the most horrible events of the Liberian Civil War, which began in 1989 and ended in 2003. Most of the victims were women and children. The Liberian Council of Churches and the International Committee of the Red Cross set refuge center at the church for hundreds of internally displaced people in Monrovia as the war heated up.
Survivors say soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) carried out the killings. In fact, Moses Thomas, a commander with the defunct Special Anti Terrorist Unit (SATU) of the AFL, has been indicted and is awaiting trial in a civil lawsuit in Philadelphia, USA. He denies masterminding the killings.
In addition to the court, the TRC recommended memorials for an estimated 250,000 people killed in the war and that National Unification Day be renamed “National Unification and Memorial Day” to honor the victims, but only little has been done in that regard. The IHRC has erected two memorials already—Maher and Duport Road—and the Samay community in Bong County has erected one for victims of a massacre carried out there in 1994.
Like hundreds of massacres recorded by the TRC and others being spoken of by survivors and survivors’ groups, the government hasn’t erected one for the Lutheran Massacre nearly 30 years after. A memorial stands in the churchyard but in memory of Philip Taylor, the father of former President Charles Taylor, who was one of the victims.
Organizers of this year’s memorial for the massacre were not pleased after with President Weah’s no-show.
“We cannot overlook this; we cannot throw this under the carpet,” lamented Rev. Gee, the chief organizer of the solemn event. “We have to make this part of a national symbol of what kind of acts that existed in our past,” he said.
“As we see these mass graves, we remembers also that the blood of our brothers and sisters who fell in this war cries out for peace, for unity, for growth and for peaceful coexistence.”
Jeremiah Swen, chairman of the Alliance for Transitional Justice of Liberia, urged the government to use memorials to unite the country to meet its challenges.
“The need to unite in the midst of our diversity is very much significant as we fight against impunity and injustice,” Swen said. “Liberia will not achieve what we hope to achieve if we fail to overcome those numerous challenges that undermine the dignity of our society,” he added.
Rev. Isaac Dowah, Senior Pastor of the Lutheran Church, who joined Bishop Seyenkulo, Swen, Rev. Gee and three survivors of the massacre to lay the wreath, called on the government to prioritize the event next year.
“We pray God that you will call the nation’s attention to not take it likely in the years to come,” Rev. Dowah said. “It will be a big program where we will remember our loved ones and they will even be given dignified memory as we memorialize this place, removing the remains from where they are trampled on to a place where they will be honored and respected,” he said as the presidential convoy sped off.
An annual memorial service was held at the church for the victims last Sunday.
This story was a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project.