MONROVIA – President George Weah has asked the National Legislature to advise him on the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations that include the setting up of a war crimes court. The move is Liberia’s first ever step towards addressing the legacy of its 14-year civil war that killed an estimated 250,000 people and displaced more than a million.
By James Harding Giahyue, New Narratives Senior Justice Correspondent
President Weah said he was acting on recommendations of the just-ended National Economic Dialogue where 350 delegates called full implementation of the TRC report in order to revive the country’s ebbing economy.
“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 on Thursday only seen by FrontPage Africa on Friday. He added that “accountability of past human rights violations are essential ingredients for sustainable peace and achievement of inclusive development”.
President Weah has been under immerse pressure from across the human rights community. Dozens of human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch early last year called on him to set up the court. While the United States Congress House of Representatives has passed a resolution to support Liberia address the legacy of its civil war, the United Nations has given Liberia only up to July next year to prosecute its gross wartime crimes.
The news is a turnaround in this administration’s previous stance on a war crimes court for Liberia, which was ignored by former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. President Weah shares a power bloc with Senator Prince Johnson of Nimba County, recommended by the TRC to face the court. He skipped a number of from civil war-related events, including a St. Peter’s Lutheran Church Massacre memorial in July, the launch of a colloquium to implement the TRC recommendations in May organized by the Independent Human Rights Commission, and the dedication of the Maher Massacre Memorial in March. And he even said in a speech November last year that his government preferred development to the court.
Advocates for the court have reacted sharply to the news.
Adama Dempster of the National Civil Society Human Rights Platform, which has rallied the United Nations, African Union and ECOWAS for the court, praised President Weah for “such a smart decision in the interest of war victims and the country”.
Hassan Bility of the Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP), the group that works with Switzerland-based Civitas Maxima in the prosecution of Liberians outside the country said it was victory to advocates in and out of Liberia. “I want to thank all justice champions both at home and abroad, whose tireless efforts have begun to yield fruition,” Bility said. “Armed with this information, we must now bring more pressure to bear on the Legislature to do the honorable thing and legislate this,” added Bility.
“I also call on all Liberians to meet with their Lawmakers and tell them to stand up for justice in the interest of the Liberian people.”
Weah’s letter puts the setting up of the court before the doorsteps of the Legislature, where nine lawmakers recently signed a resolution to establish it, led by Representative Rustorlyn Suakoko Dennis of Montserrado District #4, who chairs the House’s Committee on Claims and Petition. That resolution also has the backing of Liberian National Bar Association (LNBA).
Dempster said President Weah’s letter was a boost for the resolution. “He is the political leader of the country and whatever bill the Legislature will pass will have to be signed by him,” he said, adding that are only few lawmakers the TRC recommended to face prosecution.
Apart from Senator Johnson, the TRC also recommended Senators Dan Morias and Sando Johnson, and Representative George Boley of Grand Gedeh County to face the court.
In order for the resolution for the court to be passed into law, it would need two-third majority vote or around 50 of the 73 members of the House of Representatives. Thereafter, it would require another majority vote of the 30 members of the Liberian Senate before President Weah can sign it into law.
Diplomatic sources tell FrontPage Africa raising funds for the court will be a challenge.
This story was a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project.