War Crimes: Sierra Leone Got Justice; Liberia Still Waiting, Says Charles Taylor Investigator
Washington – While Liberia has failed to bring to justice, those responsible for the senseless killings of thousands, and the carnage in the country’s brutal civil war, its next-door neighbor, Sierra Leone has done the opposite, according to Dr. Alan White, the chief investigator for the United Nations Special Court for Sierra Leone, whose efforts led to the indictment of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, now serving a 50-year sentence in a UK prison.
Report by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]
Addressing the All Liberian Diaspora Conference at the weekend, Dr. White, who has also served as the Director, Investigative Operations, Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS), lamented that a key reason for Liberia’s snail pace in implementing the recommendations of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission(TRC) is the fact that many of those who participated in the civil war are currently serving in government positions. “The people that you have right now, that in positions in the current administration and are also around the country that are not being held accountable; it is certainly a sore that’s festering. But I know there’s a real quest for justice and accountability.”
Cllr. Jerome Verdier, erstwhile head of the Liberia TRC agreed with Mr. White that remnants from the civil war still roaming around Liberia are now leading the charge and resisting the establishment of a war crimes court in Liberia.
“Sierra Leone got justice, Liberia still waiting or justice. Liberia will not move on until there is justice. Sierra Leone has moved on and it’s able to reconcile because it got justice. If you don’t get justice, this wound will never heal – and it would repeat itself.”
– Dr. Alan White, War Crimes Investigator
Wounds Won’t Heal Without Justice
Said Cllr. Verdier: “The war crimes court recommendations, is one of 140 recommendations made by the Truth & Reconciliation Commission. Some would want it to appear as if there should be a debate as to whether there should be a war crimes court or not. It is not a debate but we have resistance by people who are in authority, who want to benefit from corruption and impunity and they believe that the war crimes court should not be established in Liberia. The citizens have been clear about it, they want justice. And justice is not just for ourselves but justice is for victims as well.”
Drawing comparison to Sierra Leone, Dr. White said like Sierra Leoneans, many Liberians are eager to see perpetrators of war brought to book. However, those wishes are being derailed by those at the helm of power. “When I left Sierra Leone and went to Liberia – one thing that I learned which came through with the Truth & Reconciliation Commission is that people wanted Justice and if we don’t’ get justice, we’re doomed to repeat impunity.”
Dr. White said a lot of international stakeholders are keen to see war crimes perpetrators brought to book but Liberia and Liberians have to take the lead. “People in the international community are open to support the war crimes court but they want to see whether you are serious or not and when we exhibited the kind of zeal that we did to bring these people to justice at international standards, it worked.”
The war crimes investigator said bringing former President Taylor to book was easy because of his deeds in Sierra Leone. “Sierra Leone, because of the people that we brought to justice at the highest level, and even Charles Taylor, the reason we were able to get Charles Taylor and not the others is because Charles Taylor is the one that set up and established the Revolutionary United Front which is the one that launched the revolution in March 1991, that’s why we were able to hold him accountable. Sierra Leone got justice, Liberia still waiting or justice. Liberia will not move on until there is justice. Sierra Leone has moved on and it’s able to reconcile because it got justice. If you don’t get justice, this wound will never heal – and it would repeat itself, so, that’s why I’m here today.”
Dr. White said he has committed himself to the process of seeing justice for Liberia’s war victims. “I made a commitment to the Netherlands network that I will not stop – although Charles Taylor tried to kill me a couple of times, I will not stop until we get justice in Liberia.”
Perpetrators, Victims, Have Own Issues
Cllr. Verdier, whose TRC documented thousands of witnesses’ testimony and made recommendations, the war crimes court is just one of many. “The war crimes court recommendations are one of 140 recommendations made by the Truth & Reconciliation Commission.”
Cllr. Verdier slammed those who played major roles in the war but now amongst the main opponents of the establishment of the court. “Some would want it to appear as if there should be a debate as to whether there should be a war crimes court or not. It is not a debate but we have resistance by people who are in authority, who want to benefit from corruption and impunity and they believe that the war crimes court should not be established in Liberia. The citizens have been clear about it, they want justice. And justice is not just for ourselves but justice is for victims as well. Victims have their own issues, that need to be addressed. Even the perpetrators became victims later on – and the establishment of the war crimes court will address all of those issues and pave our way to genuine reconciliation and peace.”
Peace, Cllr. Verdier averred, is a state of calm, a state of normalcy, a state of tranquility. In Liberia, he said, there can never be genuine and lasting peace until all of the issues of the war are addressed. “The motto of the TRC was truth, justice and reconciliation. And you realize that every time we speak of peace, we say it’s a process, which is true, we speak of the peace process. The peace process led to the establishment of the comprehensive peace agreement which gave birth to the TRC.”
The TRC, he explained was established to document the truth. “Today, we know the truth. We know who started the war, we know why the war was started, we know who the victims are, we know who the perpetrators are, the truth has been established. It was the recommendation of the TRC that now that we know the truth, there is a need for justice. Without justice, there will not be peace, without justice, we are going nowhere as a nation and people. We continue in the circle of violence, in the circle of corruption, in the circle of impunity, until we establish justice.”
Cllr. Verdier said the issue of implementing the recommendation of the TRC borders on the primary and fundamental overlapping issue of the rule of law. “If you respect the rule of law, you will recognize that the peace we enjoy today, calls for the TRC. If we respect the rule of law, we will also recognize that the TRC Act created by the parliament in Liberia, it was signed into law and it says all recommendations of the TRC should be implemented. That law was made before Jerome Verdier became chairman of the TRC, before the TRC was even established, before Madam Sirleaf became President, before President Weah became President, that war was established.”
Recalling Painful Stories of War
Despite numerous calls for the establishment of the court and implementation of the TRC recommendations, Cllr. Verdier lamented that many in Liberia fail to understand the seriousness of establishing a rule of law in Liberia. “So, we continue to have problems that we have. One person thinks and feels they can ignore the laws and behave the way they want to behave, simply because they have power.”
The former TRC head recalled that many are quick to forget the tragedies of the many victims who lost their lives – and the families they left behind.
The case of Musu Massaquoi, a former president of the Liberia Marketing Association, who was killed in Grand Cape Mount County for nothing. “She was killed because she was a rich indigenous woman. How did she become rich? how did they perceive her as being rich? She was the president of the marketing association. So, she organized marketers, market women to engage in independent business – and what were they doing? There were 500 of them established around the country – and as they made their profits, they shared with one another. She was killed in Cape Mount because they thought she was rich.”
Cllr. Verdier also recalled the story of a woman in Lofa, whose entire family was killed by rebels, who turned her into a sex slave.
‘No Peace Without Justice’
“This woman told us the story of how rebels took turns with her for sex and made her wash their clothes – after they had killed her husband and children. She’s a woman who had three children and a husband, the rebels entered and killed all of them in front of her. As if that wasn’t enough, those who took over the town, made her their wife. She said ‘every night, they would sleep with me, I will not know who will be the man coming but every night, it’s one man after another – and all the faces I recognized, they were the rebels and men who were holding gun in our community. Besides that, my body wasn’t enough for them, I had to work for them, I had to wash their clothes, and I cooked for them, every day.’
Cllr. Verdier wondered: “What sort of evil is that? And people say, they want to debate whether people should be punished or not; whether we should have justice in Liberia? There will be justice in Liberia.”
Cllr. Verdier said if the current administration cannot push for the implementation of the TRC, a future government would. “Whether the government before President Weah’s regime accepted it or not; whether President Weah’s regime accepts it now or not, there will be justice. Because I can see beyond where we are – and beyond the horizon, that a new day is dawning in Liberia. If the Weah government does not implement the TRC recommendation, there will be a more progressive government after his term end – and at the appropriate time, it would be implemented. When we were coming out with the recommendations of the TRC, there was a debate whether because she was named, she would recommend. At the time, we said, if she doesn’t – if she’s a stateswoman who wants to see the good of her country, she would; but if she doesn’t, there will be a government afterwards that would. So, we didn’t make the recommendations for the time Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was in power. We made those recommendations for Liberia.”
Cllr. Verdier said the All Liberian Diaspora Conference held at the weekend, is a step in the right direction. “We’re looking forward to peace, to do it right for Liberia. We will get there and we are getting there. There will be justice in Liberia, and I can see that the era of impunity and justice, human rights violations and corruption will be over soon.”
Lamenting the sorry state of Liberia today, Cllr. Verdier said, nothing seems to work, except corruption and impunity. “Who wants to invest in an economy where there is no rule of law, in an economy where the warlords are yet the heads of the country. Where do we want our country to go? It is absolute nonsense to think that we can have a viable country without a system of justice or instituting the rule of law.”
Cllr. Verdier said there can never be peace in Liberia without justice. “Liberia will make no progress without justice. This is why we advocate. We have the truth; we need the justice before we have peace. Without justice, the country and society will never be reconciled – and that’s where we are. Those are our challenges. It’s not an issue for debate any longer. It’s the time for action.”
“It is not a debate but we have resistance by people who are in authority, who want to benefit from corruption and impunity and they believe that the war crimes court should not be established in Liberia.”
Cllr. Jerome Verdier, Erstwhile Chair, Truth & Reconciliation Commission
Liberia – Still in Wilderness After 40 years
Liberia, he said has been in the wilderness for 40 years as he wondered: “How much longer do we want to continue? When do we wish there will be peace established in Liberia? I know pretty soon, there will be peace and there will be justice. So, there is no debate, no argument about a war crimes court. All we have is resistance to war crimes court and who are those resisting? Those who stand to benefit from impunity and corruption in Liberia. They will resist and they will continue to resist.”
The two-day conference brought together dozens of Diaspora, international organizations, Local, and state officials, recognized Liberian experts, and notable friends of Liberia, joined by representatives of U.S. government, and international agencies in a bid to unite the Liberian Diaspora on major issues affecting Liberia.
The conference was sponsored by the leading umbrella Liberian Diaspora organizations representing the various regions of the world including the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA), The European Federation of Liberian Associations (EFLA), The Federation of Liberian Communities in Australia (FOLICA), Conference of Liberian Organizations in the South Western United States (COLOSUS), the United Liberian Association Ghana (ULAG), and the Coalition of Concerned Liberians (CCL). The major Liberian Diaspora organizations are united under the aegis of the All-Liberian Conference on Dual Citizenship (ALCOD), representing over 500,000 Liberians in the Diaspora.