Liberia: US Ambassador on War Crimes to Seek Clarity from Liberian Legislature on Stalled Draft War Crimes Court Statutes

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MONROVIA –  United States Ambassador At Large for Global Criminal Justice (GCJ), Dr. Beth Van Schaack has arrived in Liberia and already hit the ground running with a meeting with the civil society.

Dr. Schaack in her role advises the Secretary of State and other Department leadership on issues related to the prevention of and response to atrocity crimes, including war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

Her visit comes amid renewed calls from justice activists for the Weah administration to establish a war crimes court to prosecute alleged war criminals.

Removing the Blockage

Addressing the Liberian media alongside U.S. Ambassador to Liberia, Michael McCarthy on Thursday, she said as part of her visit to Liberia, she will hold meetings with major stakeholders concerning Liberia’s transitional justice mechanisms, especially the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations.

She said: “As you also know, there has been no accountability here on the criminal side, or the civil side for those who have been most responsible for those abuses… I will be having some meetings with members of the government and I plan to ask: what the status of the draft statute is and why it is not being put forward; what are the blockages and how can the blockages be solved?”

Endless Culture of Impunity

Liberia’s brutal civil war was marred by widespread human rights abuses including rape, torture, and extra-judicial killings. 

The Accra Comprehensive Peace Accord which ended the 14-year-long war, called for the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which documented several atrocities and, among other things called for the setting up of a special court to try those who bear greater responsibilities of the war.

Sadly, successive governments after the war have failed to implement the TRC recommendations. Several attempts to set the legal basis for the establishment of the court have failed.

Dr. Beth Van Schaack said, as part of her visit, she will meet with major stakeholders including the Legislature to find out the reasons behind the refusal to set up the court.

She noted that she has studied the TRC report and its recommendations, adding it was an ‘excellent’ exercise in gathering the views of many survivors across the country.

She said, “I have studied your system and read your Truth and Reconciliation Commission report which was an excellent exercise in gathering the views of many survivors across the country as to what happened during the two consequential civil wars.”

Continuing, she said, “And I think that TRC came forward with a number of very important recommendations, and those recommendations as we know, have not been fully implemented, they have been stalled. Part of the reasons that I am here is to better understand what’s happening with them, and the implementation of these recommendations.”

The U.S. – A reliable ally for justice

Speaking further, she noted that the United States, like other European countries, has prosecuted and punished several key players of the Liberian civil war, and if Liberia decides to hold those accountable for the crimes committed during the war, the United States will provide basic support.

The US has shown support for campaigns for a war crimes court for Liberia. In October 2018, the US House of Representatives adopted a resolution for the court and the full implementation of the TRC recommendations

The US has also been key in prosecuting and convicting some Liberian warlords on perjury and immigration fraud charges, including Mohammed Jabatateh, commonly known as Jungle Jabbah.

The former United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy commander was sentenced to 30 years in jail by the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in April 2018. Tom Woewuyu, Charles Taylor’s number two in the National Patriotic Front of Liberia was also prosecuted and found guilty of the same charges three months earlier, but he could not be sentenced because he died of Covid-19 in 2020.

In August, a US District court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in a ruling during a civil suit ordered Moses Thomas, a former commander of the Special Anti-Terrorist Unit to pay US$ 84 million to survivors of the St. Peter’s Lutheran Church massacre in July 1990—a ruling Thomas has since condemned.

In June, Moses Wright, another top SATU commander was charged by US authorities with perjury and immigration fraud charges in relation to the massacre.

In an apparent further demonstration of its uncompromising stance on human rights violations, the District Court for the Southern District of Florida convicted and sentenced to 97 years, Charles Taylor Jr., alias Chuckie Taylor, a son of former Liberian President, Charles Taylor for torture and related crimes when he led the dreadful Anti-Terrorist Unit during his father’s brutal rule in Liberia.

Chuckie, a US citizen, was prosecuted and convicted in 2009 under the extra-territorial torture statute, which authorizes US Federal courts to exercise universal jurisdiction over persons found in the US who are suspected of torture committed anywhere in the world.

US Envoy’s visit renews hope

The visit of the U.S. Envoy Ambassador has renewed the hope and aspiration of victims and activists that all is not lost yet.

“We will be making our case to the US Diplomat and will ask that the US prioritize this issue and encourage Liberia to set up this accountability mechanism,” leading justice activists Hassan Bility of the Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP) told FrontPage Africa prior to Dr. Schaack’s visit.

Bilty said the visit of the US War Crimes Ambassador is a testament to the fact that Liberia is reneging on its international treaty obligations.

 “The Liberian people have waited too long for justice and accountability for abuses suffered during the civil wars”, said Adama Dempster of the Civil Society Human Rights Advocacy Platform of Liberia and the Secretariat for the Establishments of a War Crimes Court in Liberia.

“The US government has the opportunity to stand with victims of atrocities committed in Liberia’s civil wars by assisting in establishing a war crimes court”.

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