Should War-Time Crimes be Punished in Liberia Today?

Discussion with Esteemed Participants

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Monrovia – A roundtable event took place at the I-campus facilities on debating the theoretical perspectives of whether or not war-time crimes should be punished in Liberia on Tuesday. A diverse and esteemed group of people including: journalists, lawyers, members of Liberian and international civil society organizations.

“The aim of the roundtable is to discuss how the main theoretical and philosophical approaches to the justification of punishment relate to, and can inform a debate on, the question whether crimes committed during the civil wars should be punished in Liberia today.” Said one of the organizers.

It was acknowledged that such a discussion is timely for Liberia since it comes at a moment where public and media attention increase every day, and while the government still has to take an official position on the issue.

The roundtable today was part of a larger project aimed at promoting an inclusive and informed debate on the question of punishing crimes committed during the civil wars by combining research and the art of cartooning. It is the product of a collaboration between students from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, the Liberian Visual Arts Academy, the Swiss-Congolese artist JP Kalonji, the Global Justice and Research Project, and Civitas Maxima, with funding from the Kathryn W. Davis Peace Foundation.

According to the event’s organizers, interesting discussions took place around some of the main issues relating to consequentialist justification, retributivist justification, or restorative justice as an alternative to punishment.  Aspects that received particular attention were the potential deter the commission of future crimes, the issue of deserving punishment, and respect for the rule of law and the organizations charged with enforcing it.

Overall, the participants agreed that various considerations influence the accountability debate. In addition to the above theories, the participants emphasized regional, generational differences in perceptions of justice, and the culture of impunity prevailing in Liberia as prominent factors in the debate.

In concluding the roundtable, the participants agreed that education, and awareness is crucial in empowering civil society to continue pushing for justice, that the establishment of a war crimes court is essential in Liberia, and that fear must shift from the victim to the perpetrator.

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