Liberia: Political Gameplay And Fiasco in the Establishment of War Crimes Court

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Monrovia – The former Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Rules, Order and Administration, Jeh Byron Brown, says the establishment of a war and economic crimes court cannot be established in Liberia due to the lack of political will and seriousness from President George Manneh Weah.

Former Representative Brown represented the people of Grand Bassa County in the 52nd and 53rd Legislature on the ticket of the opposition Liberty Party (LP).

According to him, the Liberian Chief Executive’s communication to the 54th National Legislature seeking advice on the way forward for the establishment of the court was a “political gameplay” that “cajoled” members of both the House of Representatives and the Liberian Senate.

He maintained that the President’s action was not intended to seek an advice, but to give him a face at the United Nations, and make Diaspora Liberians believe that his government has taken a step towards the implementation of recommendations contained in the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

He said President Weah cannot seek advice from the Legislature in any manner or form, on issues bordering around constitutionality.

Mr. Brown noted that the President was in error by reneging to seek advice from Justice Minister, Counselor Frank Musa Dean, who is also the Attorney General of Liberia, and requesting lawmakers to find a way forward on the establishment of the War and Economic Crimes Court in the country.

He said the President placed the first branch of the Liberian government into “double-jeopardy,” by being both an Advisor and Judge on the formation of the court.

He maintained that there is no fairness on the part of the Presidency towards the fruition of the court, because some of those who committed war and economic crimes in Liberia remain close to President Weah. 

“I think that President George Weah’s letter cajoled the legislators. That is a political gameplay. The reason for which he did that was not to seek their advice but rather, it was intended for him to have face at the United Nations. He did that for those who were in America that were calling on him to feel that he has started something already at the National Legislature. The President doesn’t ask the Legislature to advise him on the budget whether it should be district or county sensitive; the President does not ask the Legislature to say I am travelling whether he should use his private jet or ordinary plane-the President doesn’t ask the Legislature what should be the composition of my delegates to see whether I should not carry 50 to 60 persons,” he added

“The President cannot seek advice from the Legislature in any form or manner-especially when these are constitutional issues. The President has the right to introduce bills-the Legislature too has the right, under our constitution Article 34 to introduce bill that seeks the establishment of courts. The only person who is clothed with the authority legally to advice the President on constitutional issues is the Attorney General of the Republic of Liberia,” Brown furthered.

“For President George Weah to write a letter to the Representatives and Senators saying your advice me-I think that his intend was to place the lawmakers into double-jeopardy. It was not in good fate. The President is not being fair with the process. I don’t think he is serious to establish the war crime court.”

On Weah’s Flip-flopping comments

Former Representative Brown indicated that conflicting assertions made by the Liberian leader at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), and upon his return to the country, clearly show that the court will not be established under the CDC led regime of President Weah.

Prior to his departure for the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, the President won international praise for submitting a letter to the legislature, seeking advice on the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations that include the setting up of a war crimes court, marking the first-ever step toward addressing the legacy of its 14-year civil war that killed an estimated 250,000 people and displaced more than a million. 

Said President Weah: “As President of the Republic of Liberia, I am committed to a holistic implementation of the National Consensus (recommendations of the dialogue) and do hereby call on the National Legislature to advise and provide guidance on all legislative and other necessary measures towards the implementation of the TRC report, including the establishment of war and economic crime courts,” President Weah said in a letter to Speaker Bhofal Chambers. The President added that “accountability of past human rights violations are essential ingredients for sustainable peace and achievement of inclusive development”. 

The President’s communication drew admiration from civil society and human rights organization, both at home and abroad. “President Weah’s support for a war crimes court is an important step for victims and for helping to ensure the violence that brought so much pain and loss to Liberia will not happen again,” said Adama Dempster at CSO Human Rights Advocacy Platform of Liberia and the Secretariat for the Establishment of a War Crimes Court in Liberia. “This decision benefits the victims, the country, and the rule of law in Liberia.”

Hassan Bility at Global Justice and Research Project and the Secretariat for the Establishment of a War Crimes Court in Liberia, chimed: “In the past few years we have made significant progress in cases abroad to try alleged perpetrators of Liberia’s wartime crimes. But our people should have the chance to see justice at home. Liberia should work with the United Nations and other international partners to set up a court that can hold fair, credible trials.”

Upon his return home from the UNGA recently, the President changed his tune, suggesting that he had never public called for the establishment of the court and was in fact, more concerned about fixing the country’s dwindling economy. 

“Since we came to power, I have never one day called for the War Crimes Court. You, the journalists called for War Crimes Court, Liberians are calling for war crimes court, both the victims and perpetrators are calling for war crimes court,” said President Weah.

President Weah had earlier told world leaders at UNGA that his government is a “listening administration” and will pay keen attention to its people as it relates the prosecution of people accused of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Said the President: “What I have discerned from their cries is that it is important to bring closure to the wounds from the 14 years of Liberia’s brutal civil war, and that we need to agree on a mechanism that would guarantee the sustenance of peace, stability, justice, and reconciliation, as well as enhance our prospects for economic recovery.” 

In his address, President Weah also expressed concern about the incessant pressure piling on his administration for the establishment of War and Economic Crimes Court as compared to his predecessor, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

But former lawmaker Brown intoned that like ex-Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, President Weah lacks the political will to establish a court that would ensure the prosecution of war perpetrators.

“Those statements are complete contradiction of the facts. One minute he will talk about believing in the rule of law-especially during his inauguration and the first appearance at the National Legislature, but there has been many violations of the constitution. President Weah does not have the political will to establish a war crime court in Liberia. Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was not having the political will too,” he furthered.

Legislature lacks of independence 

The former Grand Bassa County lawmaker expressed shock over the decision taken by House Speaker Dr. Bhofal Chambers to downplay a resolution signed by majority members of the House on the establishment of a war crime court in Liberia.

He said the move is a clear indication that the CDC administration does not have appetite to establish the court.

“These are clear signs that this government is not willing to have a war crime court. What is troubling is that, when our brothers were on the other side yesterday, those things they advocated for-they are now place into positions to make sure that those things come to pass. But they’ve closed their eyes and turned their backs on those things.”

Killing Of A War Crimes Bill in 53rd Legislature

Former Representative Brown is regarded for introducing a bill seeking to establishment a war crime court in the 53rd National Legislature in 2013.

The bill was read on the floor of the House once and sent to the Committee on Judiciary, Ways, Means, and Finance, where it remains up to present.

According to him, the introduction of the bill was intended to allow those accused of war crimes exonerate themselves, and help sustain peace and stability in the nation.

“At the National Legislature, I introduced a bill for a war crime court realizing the fact that Liberians were physically and mentally tormented by war, and for us to maintain the peace that we are enjoying today after the 15-years war-I felt strongly that the best thing we can do for ourselves is to make sure that we have a system in place to correct the ills, and our brothers who participated in the process and those who superintend the war against our people can have the opportunity to exonerate themselves because many of them allege that they did not kill anybody or do wrong. Many people feel that most of those who participated in the war are holding big positions in government so that they cannot see it as a ride to get to state power; and the establishment of the court will serve as a deterrence. My bill was received and turned over to the proper committee. But to introduce a war crime court bill at the National Legislature is not an easy task; because most of my friends at the time from Nimba County were all vexed with me saying I was going personal. It (bill) remains in committee room until the 53rd was adjourned,” he noted. 

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