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War Crimes Court Resolution Gets Green Light from Lawmakers

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MONROVIA – Nine lawmakers on Friday signed a landmark resolution supporting the establish a war crimes court, to give justice to victims and survivors of the 14-year civil war in Liberia. The lawmakers pledged their support for the resolution at a conference on accountability for war crimes organized by Civitas Maxima, an organization based in Switzerland that offers legal representation for victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity. 

Advocate Mr. Hassan Bility of the Global Justice and Research Project, (GJRP), said the resolution and signature from nine lawmakers, is a significant moment for justice and accountability for crimes committed during the civil war in Liberia. 

“This is a great milestone to see some members of the Lawmakers signing a resolution for the establishment of a war crimes court in Liberia. This shows that we are getting there,” said Bility.

The resolution was drafted by the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA) during their Kakata Assembly held in April of this year. The document expressed support for the full implantation of the recommendations for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, including the establishment of an Extraordinary Criminal court in Liberia and commits to working with President George Manneh Weah for the court’s establishment. 

The resolution also urged President Weah to “muster the political will and express support for the establishment of an extraordinary criminal court for Liberia for past human rights violators.” It also calls on the president to contact the United Nations, and international partners and civil society organizations “for assistance in establishing an extraordinary criminal court for Liberia in a manner that allows trials of International crimes in accordance with international standards and best practice.” 

The lawmakers who presented their resolution at the conference hosted by the University Nottingham, Civitas Maxima,  the Global Justice and Research Project, (GJRP) and the Secretariat for the Establishment of War Crimes Court in Liberia, (SEWACCOL). The lawmakers plan to take the resolution to plenary for pubic debate, without any secret sessions or discussions. 

Independent Human Rights Commissioner Bartholomew B. Cordy said President Weah must show the political will by endorsing the war crimes court.  

“In the past, when President Weah was opposition, he was singing for a war crimes court, so why is he singing a different song now?” said Cordy. 

The resolution was presented by Representative Rustonlyn Suacoco Dennis, who heads the House’s Committee Chairperson on Claims and Petition. Dennis clarified that the document needs 49 signatures from lawmakers, of which they already have nine, and concurrence from the senate a bill for a war crimes court to be established. She said convincing members of the ruling Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) party remains a challenge. Key members of the CDC who once pushed for the establishment of a war crimes court, are now silent. President Weah remains unclear about his position on a war crimes court and Dennis remains concerned that executive influence could thwart the resolution. 

“I am advocating for is the establishment of a war crimes court not to allow the cloud of impunity to make Liberia to retrogress,” said Dennis. 

“Why should I shield someone to enslave the whole country? The chief executive, who is the President, should have the political will to muster the courage to move the document forward for the establishment of a war crimes court,” she added.  

Honorable Younquoi, representative of Nimba County Electoral District 8, also endorsed the resolution. Younquoi, along with other lawmakers, also expressed concern about executive interference. 

“The Legislature has the power to make the President of this country to do what he should do for us, but due to lack of independence of most of the lawmakers as some of my colleagues alluded to, things are the way we see it,” said Yonquoi. 

Aaron Weah, Director of the Search for Common Ground, named four counties where the highest numbers of massacres were committed, according to the TRC. Lofa is said to have faced 32 massacres, followed by Rivercess with 30, Grand Cape Mount County with 24, and Gbarpolu County who is believed to have experienced 18.  

Upon hearing this report that the lawmakers did not know about, they concurred with Liberia National Bar Association’s President, Counsellor Tiawon Gongloe, who said that copies of the report  detailing the sites of massacres be produced and distributed among all the lawmakers. 

 “We will sound the trumpet to our colleagues, and copies of information provided can help to influence those who are against justice because these things happened in some of their constituencies,” said Lawrence Morris a representative of Montserrado County District 1.

Representatives Beyan D. Howard of District 5 in Lofa County, and Joseph N. Sonwarbi of Nimba District 3 also said that copies of the report detailing massacre sites should be made available for distribution among members of the House and Senate in order for Representatives and Senators to know the rationale that lies behind their advocacy for a war crimes court. 

“Some of us are just getting to know this information, and I believe most of some of our colleagues under the influence of the Executive opposing this resolution do not know,” said Howard. “When the information is distributed and they see what happened in their counties, they will see reason to agree with us.” 

In spite of what may be seen as hurdles in pushing for the passage of the resolution, the lawmakers said they will exert pressure on their colleagues to pass it. They also called on civil society groups to organize programs that will target constituents of members of the House to provide awareness on the significance of justice.

“Civil society organizations and the media should help in this process to provide awareness to the people of our districts so that the people will know and share their views on the horrible massacres that took place in their areas because they are not aware of these things. By that, they will fall in support of justice and will not oppose war crimes court establishment here,” said Representative Vincent Willie of Grand Basse District 4.

Representative J. Founati Kofa of Grand Kru District 2 also expressed support for the resolution, but contended that it should be drafted in line with the Constitution to protect both victims and perpetrators where need be.

Victim Emmanuel Sarvice, of the Coalition for Justice based in the USA, Coalition, is also advocating for a War Crimes Court, said his group had staged two rallies in Liberia and intend to stage more. 

“We are all victims of the war and we can tell our different stories, but standing before you, I am brother less, because I lost a brother in the civil war. We are very glad to see members of the honorable house of the Legislature represented here for the establishment of the War Crimes Court,” he said. 

This story was a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project. The donor had no say in the story’s content.

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