Liberia: House Speaker Removes War Crimes Court Resolution from Agenda for Deliberation

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Capitol Hill, Monrovia – Speaker of the House of Representatives Bhofal Chambers has announced that members of the Legislature need more time to consult their respective constituents before considering the endorsement of a war and economic crimes court in Liberia.

Speaker Chambers made the pronouncement following Friday’s session when he reportedly removed from the agenda  the resolution signed by 50 members of the House of Representatives calling for the establishment of an extraordinary criminal court in Liberia to try those who are believed to have committed heinous crimes between 1979 and 2003 – the period of civil unrest in Liberia.

The resolution, championed by Representatives Rustonlyn Suacoco Dennis (Monsterrado Co. District #4), Chairperson of the Committee on Claims and Petition and Larry P. Younquoi (Nimba Co. District #8), Chairman on Governance was officially endorsed on Thursday, October 3 at the Duport Road Memorial in Paynesville, hosting the remains of thousands of massacre victims of the civil war.

This brought a sign of relief to dozens of war victims who made their way to witness the occasion as well as lawmakers who fought so hard to get the constitutionally required two-thirds majority. 

“We are supposed to have 49 signatures but we have 51 now – with still an opportunity for a few to be added before we close Friday. So, we didn’t feel we needed to sneak it under the floor of the House; we wanted to publicize the work that we have done especially in the wake of ambivalence of the President who haven’t told the Liberian people that he was prepared to take action by writing the plenary to advise him as to the implementation of the TRC report, including the establishment of the war crimes court,” said a buoyant Rep. Younquoi at the Duport Road Memorial.

Rep. Yanquoi went on to assure the public that lawmakers will be putting the resolution on the floor before the close of session last Friday. 

“So, that Liberian people will know that the House of Representatives has taken a decision and we know that the Senate will concur and we will give a resounding yes to the President to go ahead and establish the court. If he needs a copy of such law from this committee, we are blessed with a copy which we have been vetting, even with the support of other people that have vast knowledge in it. So, our gathering here is to tell the world that the joint committee has completed its work and has spoken to colleagues, more than 52 persons have signed on it. So, it’s almost like a done deal.”

On the contrary, the resolution did not appear on the floor, much to the consternation of most of the lawmakers who have affixed their signatures to the documents.

Rep. Dennis Blasts Speaker Chambers

Rep. Rustonlyn Suacoco Dennis

“By our procedure, during the adoption of the agenda, we can still inject items that were mistakenly left out of the agenda, that’s what I did today. To my utmost surprise, when we raised that in our amendment, disappointingly in impunity Liberia, it was rejected by the movant because he was deliberately mandated by Speaker Chambers who is a former advocate of the War and Economic Crimes court; who verbally insulted [former President] Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.”

Rep. Rustonlyn Suacoco Dennis (Monsterrado Co. District #4), Chairperson of the Committee on Claims and Petition

The Plenary of the House of Representatives was engulfed in a heated and acrimonious argument when Representative Rustonlyn Suacoco Dennis failed in her bid to have the resolution calling for War Crimes Court placed on the agenda.

Rep. Dennis explained that after the Duport Road event, she hastily presented the documents to the House’s Chief Clerk, Mildred Sayon to include it on the agenda the next day in consultation with the Speaker.

Since its extra sitting, the Plenary of the House has been holding sessions every weekday.

On Friday, October 4 when it was reported that Speaker Chambers removed the resolution from the agenda, Rep. Dennis tried enquiring from the Speaker but could not get his attention. So, during the adoption of the agenda, she made an amendment to the motion proffered by Rep. Albert Hills of Bong County to include the resolution, but Rep. Hills rejected her plea.

This led to an outburst by Rep. Dennis that resulted to diatribes by both lawmakers and others against and in favor the resolution.

Rep. Dennis vented her frustration at Rep. Hill for rejecting the inclusion of the resolution, yet affixed his signature to it.

Addressing journalists after the session, Rep. Dennis said it was shameful for Speaker Chambers who had been a staunch advocate of a war and economic crimes court in Liberia during the 53rd Legislature to block the legal proceedings that could lead to the establishment of the court.

“By our procedure, during the adoption of the agenda, we can still inject items that were mistakenly left out of the agenda, that’s what I did today. To my utmost surprise, when we raised that in our amendment, disappointingly in impunity Liberia, it was rejected by the movant because he was deliberately mandated by Speaker Chambers who is a former advocate of the War and Economic Crimes court; who verbally insulted [former President] Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf,” she said.

She expressed hope that the resolution will be placed on the floor today, Monday, October 7 to be officially endorsed in plenary and forwarded to the Liberian Senate.

But that hope might be dashed again as Speaker Chambers, addressing reporters late Friday evening said all of the items that needed to discussed during the extraordinary sitting have been exhausted and today’s session will be all about the official closing ceremony. 

According to the Speaker, Plenary endorsed President Weah’s communication seeking the Legislature’s advice on the way forward of the debate surrounding the establishment of war crimes court and it was agreed that more time be given to lawmakers for consultation with their respective constituents.

Said Dr. Chambers: “The whole plenary has endorsed the letter of the President that we will go to our various constituencies and discuss the matter with every Liberian. Because in a participatory democracy we cannot leave anyone out.”

He continued: “We do not want duplication and redundancy purposes, we run this place based on system and procedures. If other people form the agenda, I am the one who organize it. We have exhausted all that we ought to do. It is just a matter of telling our colleagues thanks.”

But Rep. Dennis argued that the Committee was working on the resolution prior to the President’s letter, and as far as the Constitution of Liberia and the House’s Rules are concerned, the 50 signatories ultimately qualified the resolution for passage.

She threatened to rally her colleagues to take the Speaker to court if he continued ignoring the resolution. She further warned him to be careful with how he goes about proceedings as the signature affixed to the resolution can also be used to remove him from the Speakership position.

“… Well, if he continues in this manner, I can tell you that he will get the shot.  This is a misbehavior… But I think this is an automatic passage and it is a violation to the constitution of Liberia. I personally, along with some of my colleagues will take Speaker Chambers to the Supreme Court. Because it is enshrined in the constitution that the decision of two-thirds majority of the House is an automatic passage.”

Delving Into The Resolution; Who’s For, Who’s Against?

In the resolution signed by 50 members of the House of Representatives, the petitioners recounted the heinous crimes committed during the civil war and called for the complete implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recommendations.

Excerpt of the Report: “The House of Representatives expresses it support for the full implementation of the TRC recommendations including the establishment of an Extraordinary Criminal Court in Liberia and commits to working with President George Manneh Weah for the courts’ establishment.” 

Meanwhile, several members of the House of Representatives including members of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), opposition and Independent lawmakers signed in favor of the documents.

For Montserrado, Reps. Lawrence Morris, District#1, Jimmy Smith, District #2; Rustonlyn Suacoco Dennis, District #4, Samuel R. Enders, District #6, Yekeh, Y. Kolubah, District #10; Richard Koon, District #11; Dr. George Beyan Samah; District #12; Edward Papay Flomo, District#13;  Abraham V. Corneh, District #14, Abu Bana Kamara, District 15 and Hanson Kiazolu, District #17 signed. 

Reps. Ceebee C. D. Barchell, District #3, Thomas Fallah, District #5, Solomon C. George, District #7, Acarous M. Gray, District #8 and Dixon Wlawlee Seibo, District #16 did not sign.

Rep. Munah P. Youngblood, district #9 is still on sick leave.

From Grand Bassa County, all of the Representatives inclduing Hans M. Barchue, District #1; Mary Karwor, District #2; Matthew Joe, District #3; Vincent T. Willie, District #4 and Thomas Goshua, District #5 signed.

Only Rep, Jay Nagbe Sloh, District #2 affixed his signature from Sinoe County.

Maryland County: Reps. P. Mike Jury, District #1 and Rev. Dr. Isaac Roland, District #3 signed. Speaker Chambers did not affix his signature.

Grand Cape Mount County: Reps. Bob Sheriff, District#1 and Emerson V. Kamara, District #3 signed up.

Deputy Speaker, Prince K. Moye, District #2 led the team from Bong County, including, Albert B. Hills,Jr., District #1, Marvin Josiah Cole, District #3, Robert Flomo Womba, District #4; Edward W. Karfia, District #5, and Joseph Papa Kolleh, District #7.

Lofa County: Reps. Joseph S. Nyumalin, District #1, Julie Fatorma Wiah, District #2; Clarence K. Massaquoi, District#3 and Cllr. Beyan Howard, District #5 signed.

Four lawmakers from ‘Power House’ Nimba County including Reps. Prince O. S. Tokpah, District #2, Joseph N. Somwarbi, District #3, Roger S.W. Y. Domah, District #7 and Larry P. Younquoi, District #8 support the establishment of the court.

Reps. Jeremiah Koung, District #1, Gonpu L. Kargon, District #4, Samuel Kogar, District #5, Dorwohn T. Gleekia, District #6 and Johnson Gwaikolo of District #9 did not sign the resolution. 

Rep. Zoe Emmaunel Pennue of District #1 led the charge for Grand Gedeh County, followed by Rep. Alex Chersia Grant, District #3. Obviously, Dr. George Saigbe. Boley, District #2 did not sign. 

None of the Bomi County’s lawmakers including Reps. Edwin Melvin Snowe, District #1, Manah Bishop Johnson, District #2 and Haja Fata Siryon, District #3 signed in favor of the resolution. 

Margibi County gave hundred percent support from the Lower House as all of the lawmakers including Reps. Tibelrosa Tarponweh, Dirstrict #1, Ivar Kokulo Jones, District #2, Ellen Amarkai Attoh, District #3, Ben A. Fofana, District #4 and Clarence Gahr. District #5 signed.

Rivercess County: Byron W. Zahnwea, District#2 signed, while, Rep. Rosana G.D.H. Shaack unsigned.

Reps. Nathaniel N. Barway Sr., and Cllr, J. Fonati Koffa of Grand Kru Districts #1 and 2 respectively did not affix their signatures.

But all of River Gee County lawmakers including Reps. Alexander Poure, District #1, Francis Saywon Young, District #2 and Francis Saidy Dopoh of District #3 signed in favor.

Finally, for Gbarpolu County, Reps. Alfred G. Koiwood, District #1 and Joseph Matthew, Jr. of District #2 support the establishment of a war and economic crimes court in Liberia.

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