Senator Prince Johnson Supports President Weah’s Decision to Seek Legislature’s Advice on War Crimes Court

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MONROVIA – The debate of the establishment of a war and economic crimes court came into the limelight recently when President George Weah sought the Legislature’s advice on the establishment of the court.

Support for the establishment of the court is garnering momentum as several members of the House of Representatives have affixed their signatures to a document calling for its establishment.

However, one of the key figures included in the defunct Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) recommendations for sanction, Senator Prince Johnson, has said that it will be unlawful to establish such court in the country.

Addressing reporters at the Capitol Building on Wednesday, September 25, Senator Johnson stated that because of its illegality, the clause within the TRC Report baring certain individuals from Liberian politics for 30 years was thrown out by the Supreme Court during the administration of ex-President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Senator Johnson, once a fierce warlord during the first round of the civil war, headed the rebel faction, the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL). 

According to Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), the INPFL can be held liable for just two percent of the total violations —2,588 —tallied in its final report.

Though this figure is low compared with Taylor’s NPFL with 41 percent (63,843 violations), INPFL leader Prince Yormie Johnson is documented as having the highest number of violations ever recorded for individual perpetrators during the whole civil war, which lasted 15 years. Johnson earned this record in comparatively short spell (1990 to 1993) in the civil war.

In addition to killing Doe, the TRC documented other crimes committed by Johnson’s INPFL: “Two trucks filled with native Krahns and Mandingoes were captured from ECOMOG by the INPFL and apparently killed since they were never accounted for,” the report reads.

Among Senator Johnson’s violations, according to the TRC, are killing, extortion, massacre, destruction of properties, force recruitment, etc. 

But in 1992, Senator Johnson fled into exile. Following the end of the war, he returned in 2005 and was elected Senator of Nimba County.

He was reelected in 2014 and is currently serving his second nine-year term. The Nimba Senator often defends his actions during the war, especially when the name of former President Samuel K. Doe is mentioned. Sen. Johnson usually speaks of protecting his kinsmen from the Doe regime.

Senator Johnson, now in his late 50s, father of 12 children, is a son of a bush hunter in Nimba County. He first resorted to arms as a member of the failed 1985 General Thomas Quiwonkpa invasion, which was intended to topple the Doe regime. Quiwonkpa, a son of Nimba, was arrested and butchered when the uprising failed. Johnson fled into exile.  

This infuriated President Doe, who sent members of the army to Nimba. Nimbaians, including women and children, were slaughtered and that massacre is known today as the “Nimba Raid.” 

Further trying to justify why he thinks the war crimes court would be “illegal”, Senator Johnson pointed out that Article 97 of the Constitution of Liberia, which grants amnesty to actors of the Military junta’s People’s Redemption Council (PRC) for whatever actions it may have taken that led to the change of government in 1980 as well as before and after the adoption of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia, also covers him and others, who took part in 15-year civil carnage.  

Article 97 ‘A’ states: “No executive, legislative, judicial or administrative action taken by the People’s Redemption Council or by any persons, whether military or civilian, in the name of that Council pursuant to any of its decrees shall be questioned in any proceedings whatsoever; and, accordingly, it shall not be lawful for any court or other tribunal to make any order or grant any remedy or relief in respect or any such act.”

‘B’: “No court or other tribunal shall entertain any action whatsoever instituted against the Government of Liberia, whether before or after the coming into force of this Constitution or against any person or persons who assisted in any manner whatsoever in bringing about the change of Government of Liberia on the 12th day of April, 1980, in respect of any act or commission relating to or consequent upon: (i) The overthrow of the government in power in Liberia before the establishment of the government of the People’s Redemption Council; (ii) The suspension of the Constitution of Liberia of July 26, 1847; (iii) The establishment, functioning and other organs established by the People’s Redemption Council; (iv) The imposition of any penalties, including the death penalty, or the confiscation of any property by or under the authority of the People’s Redemption Council under a decree made by the Council in pursuance of but not limited to the measures undertaken by the Council to punish persons guilty of crimes and malpractices to the detriment of the Liberian nation, the people, the economy, or the public interest; and (v) The establishment of this Constitution.”

Senator Johnson indicated that the Doe regime was influenced by this constitutional provision to do ‘what it did’ and its actions led to the civil war.

According to him, former President Taylor, sensing the adverse implication of a war crimes court or tribunal, passed a resolution granting amnesty to all participants of the war.

He also added that ex-President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf challenged the TRC resolution barring her and other 48 people including Sen. Johnson from politics in Liberia for 30 years at the Supreme Court, which termed that particular TRC’s recommendation “unconstitutional.” 

He backed President Weah for seeking the lawmakers’ advice and called on his colleagues in the Legislature to carefully read the Constitution before taking a stance for.

Unlike Sirleaf, who sought redress to the Court, Senator Johnson noted that it was prudent for the President to ask the Legislature for their opinion.

Meanwhile, Senator Johnson responding to allegations about him bragging recently for killing former President Samuel Doe in September 1990, said at no time he talked about the incident.

A lawmaker of Grand Gedeh County, where Doe hailed from, Representative Zoe Pennue, addressing the media upon his returned from abroad recently, noted that while away, he was told that Senator Johnson, who now prides himself as an Evangelist, in a sermon to his congregation allegedly boasted about killing the former President. Rep. Pennue said Senator Johnson’s constant boasting and justification of killing the former Liberian president, who was his (Pennue’s) uncle is counterproductive to the peace of Liberia.  

Pennue called on stakeholders, including the religious community, international organizations and diplomatic missions in Liberia to “call Senator Johnson to order” to stop sowing seed of discord as the war is over and Liberians are united and rebuilding their nation.

But Senator Johnson noted that he was referring to his fellow Nimba County lawmakers, who have signed a resolution paving the way for a war crimes court in Liberia.

In an apologetic tune, Sen. Johnson stated that he has since tried to reach out to Rep. Pennue to make him understand, but Rep. Pennue has not responded to his call.

“Mr. Pennue misunderstood me. I mean no harm to the people of Grand Gedeh. I was only trying to make them (Nimba lawmakers who signed up to the petition) know that I came to liberate them from the hard hand of the administration of Samuel Doe. I mean no harm. I want to see Liberia moves forward. I appeal to him to relax the aggressiveness towards me. We are neighbors. We are in-laws,” he pleaded.

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