Liberia: Sen. Prince Johnson to Chair Senate Committee on Defense and Security amid His Strong Opposition to the Establishment of War and Economic Crimes Court
MONROVIA – Senator Prince Y. Johnson of Nimba County who has been on the radar of recent for his involvement in Liberia’s civil war and the need for the establishment of a war crimes court in the country, has been elected by the Senate to chair the Committee on National Defense and Security.
Senator Johnson whose opposition to the prosecution of perpetrators of atrocities that were committed during the war was elected to the position on white ballot on Tuesday.
Senator Steve Zargo (Lofa, Liberty Party), a security expert, withdrew from the race at the 11th hour on the note that he would be the co-chair to Senator Johnson.
The elections for some leadership positions became necessary after the December 8, 2020 special senatorial elections where some members of the Senate’s leadership were unable to retain their various seats in the Senate.
As per the Senate rules, elections for leadership positions are for six years. However, those elected on Tuesday will serve for three years. This means, they will turnover power in January 2024.
Prince Johnson’s ascendancy to the Defense and National Security Committee comes at a time when calls have been mounting for consideration of the establishment of war and economic crimes court in the country.
In a communication to Plenary of the House this week, Representative Yekeh Kolubah (District 10, Montserrado) called on his colleagues at the House of Representatives to stop ‘playing blind eye’ and act on several petitions they have received from citizens calling for the establishment of War and Economic Crimes Courts in Liberia.
Rep. Kolubah also stands accused of participating in the civil war. He has, however, expressed his willingness to face the court when established.
Over the years, there have been a plethora of calls from various spectrum of the Liberian society and the international community for the implementation of Liberia’s erstwhile Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recommendations on the establishment of war crimes court to prosecute individuals that bear greater responsibilities of the Liberian civil conflict.
In 2020, war and economic crimes court advocates Emmanuel Savice and Fubi Henries led a march onto the Legislature on Capitol Hill and presented a petition to the House of Representatives to initiate the process of setting up the court as per the Constitution. Their petition, along with several others, have been sent to committee rooms for review and recommendations for possible actions, but the committees are yet to report.
Against this backdrop, Rep. Kolubah has written the Plenary, the highest decision-making body of the House of Representatives to reintroduce two instruments that have overstayed in committee rooms.
He named the “Petition from the citizens of Liberia calling for the establishment of the war crimes Court and the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s recommendations” which was submitted to the Legislature on May 24, 2018; and the “Petition from the citizens of Liberia on the establishment of war and economic crimes court that has been in committee room since June 2020.
In his communication, Rep. Kolubah said “The numerous calls for both the establishment of War and Economic Crimes courts, including the full implementation of the TRC’s recommendations “point to the fact that Liberians do not only need justice but are striving for deterrence”.
He said: “Hon. Speaker and distinguished colleagues, I wish we will not allow the citizens to see us as shielding certain things or people in our governance process for which we are playing blind eye on the numerous calls from our people.”
Prince Johnson’s Nightmare
Senator Johnson is recorded in the TRC Report and one of the individuals who committed numerous atrocities during the war. He also stands accused of humiliating and killing former President Samuel K. Doe.
The irony of Mr. Johnson’s civil war atrocities is often based on his justification that Samuel Doe and his Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) killed innocent citizens of Nimba. Thus, he and his men had to fight to defend the people of Nimba. However, a lot of those killed by Johnson and his INPFL were civilians, and not combatants. More importantly, a lot – if not all of those victims were not involved in any atrocity against the citizens of Nimba. Some were arrested and executed in Monrovia by Johnson or his forces.
During a session in the Senate last Thursday, Senator Abraham Darius Dillion (CPP, Montserrado) stressed the need for the establishment of a war and economic crimes court during discussions surrounding the mismanagement of stimulus package funds during the outbreak of the COVID-19.
In his argument, Dillion said the War and Economic Crimes Court would be the only remedy to put in measures for people who manage public funds. “If we sincerely want to bring to check public officials who mismanage public funds we need to establish a war and economic crimes court,” Sen. Dillion said.
Senator Dillion’s recommendation triggered rage from Senator Johnson who staged a walkout from session, terming Senator Dillion’s suggestions as “an attack on his character.”
“Every time Sen. Dillion sees me, it is when he talks about war crimes court,” Sen. Johnson said. “What happened during the civil war was a revenge for our people who were killed in Nimba. Nimba county was declared enemy of the state; what did you expect us to do?”
Sen. Johnson said he would disrupt session if any of his colleague talked about the establishment of a war and economic crimes court.
“If you want bring war crimes court, bring your damn war crimes court. They always think war crimes court is about Prince Johnson. There are legal processes to bring a war and economic crimes court,” he said. I am a preacher; the Bible says Jesus turned tables outside down and I will turn Dillon’s tables outside down the day he mentions about war crimes court.”
Meanwhile, those elected on Tuesday also include James Biney (Maryland County-CDC), chairman on Foreign Affairs, Edwin Snowe (Bomi County) chairman on Public Works, Prince Moye (Bong County-UP) chairman on Education Committee, Augustine Chie (Sinoe County-CDC) chairman on Health, and Emmanuel Nuquay, (Margibi County-PUP) Chairman on the committee on Public Account.
Besides the committees on Foreign Affairs and Health, all other committees’ chairs won on white ballot. Elections for the committee on health was contested for by Senators Daniel F. Nethaan (ANC-Gbapolu County) and Augustine Chie of (CDC-Sinoe County). Results for that election was 17 against 10 in favor of Chie while the position for chair on foreign Affairs was contested by Senator Conmany Wesseh (UP-River Gee County) and James Biney (CDC-Maryland County). The results for that also was 18 to 9 in favor of Biney.