Liberia: ‘War Crimes Court NOT A WITCH HUNT COURT’ – Human Rights Defender Adama Dempster

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MONROVIA – The Secretary General of the Civil Society Human Rights Advocacy Platform of Liberia Mr. Adama K. Dempster, has said the United States Ambassador-at-large for Global Criminal Justice, Madam Beth Van Schaack’s recent visit to Liberia has given hope to war victims, Human Rights community and the Liberians as a whole. 

Dempster said the culture of impunity is the order of the day in Liberia, which is not hidden, but meeting with Madam Van Schaack, who recently visited Liberia regarding the establishment of a war crimes court in Liberia, was very fruitful.

Dempster believes the establishment of the war crimes court will serve as a deterrence and justice will be served. 

“This is why we are calling for the speedy establishment of a war crimes court so people can have the opportunity to give accounts. Let me make this clear that the war crimes court is not a witch hunt court; it is a court where people will go and clear their names,” he said.

“If you know you did nothing in this country, and you are placed in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report, you can go and clear your name. TRC did their work and made recommendations but the war crimes court is going to do its own investigations of all of the names in the TRC reports and more, because people who committed crimes and were not captured in the TRC report, will be investigated and brought to book,” he added.

Dempster, who is also a member of the Secretariat for the establishment of War Crimes Court in Liberia, said in his meeting with the Ambassador, he had the opportunity to explain all the civil wars in Liberia and the level of atrocities that led to the deaths of over 2500 people.  “

That cannot be swept under the carpet. I also asked her office to do everything under the law in working along with the Liberian Government to bring perpetrators of crimes to justice.

 “The United States of America has just lifted the burdens off the Liberian people’s shoulders, all we need now is the political will to start the process in setting up the court, because it happened in Rwanda, Sierra Leone and other countries, and Liberia is not different for those countries,” he added.

“The same formula used in those African countries, can still be used here as well.”

When asked about President George Weah’s reported lack of interest in the establishment of War Crimes Court, he said: “It’s not about satisfying the president before it happens. And from the human rights stand point, Liberia is a signatory to many international human rights laws that are being violated today, so under no circumstances Liberia should find excuses but should address the war crimes issues.”

“We have not settled down on President Weah’s way of handling issues because he says one thing today and says another thing tomorrow. But unfortunately, at the 2019 United Nations General Assembly, (UNGA), he made a policy commitment, calling on the United Nations and International community to work with Liberia to determine the time, venue and funding in setting up a war crimes court. So his policy statement he made is what the international community is holding him to and based on that statement, the US Ambassador for war crimes courts visited Liberia.”

 “We are not going to dwell on the statement he made addressing journalists at the Airport upon his arrival that year, but we are going to hold him by the policy statement he made at the UNGA, because the culture of Impunity has become the order of the day In Liberia and is no secret.”

During her recent visit to Liberia,  Ambassador Van Schaack said it has been more than a decade since the TRC report was issued, but there has been a delay on the part of Liberia to implement the report. 

Speaking on Monrovia-based OK FM radio station, she said:  “If Liberia cannot sort out a justice process for the crimes known to human kind, how can it expect to have justice for ordinary crimes that people are experiencing on a daily basis?” she asked. 

When asked about Liberia living with impunity, she talked about Liberia violating international laws it is signatory to, which was also mentioned by Dempster. She spoke to a recent case filed outside of Liberia by the International Justice Resource Center to the ECOWAS Court that accused Liberia of doing nothing to address crimes against humanity. 

“So Liberia is now in breach of its international obligations to provide access to justice and respond to crimes in the past. And this recent case filed by the International Justice Resource Center says Liberia is in breach of those obligations,” she said.

 When asked as to why when it comes to war crimes issues, the US government would always say it should be initiated by the Liberian Government, she replied:  

“This will be a process that will be led by the Liberian people and civil society working and demanding justice from their elected representatives. And the government needs to be responsive to the people. We promote justice around the world and we do that when it comes to genocide around the world and genocide against the weaker people.”

She added the US partners with other nations and as they themselves make decisions on how to address the terrible history that they may have experienced and from what they have seen from academic research is that it is not enough to say the past is the past and people should move on to the future.

“If those grievances go unaddressed, it will continue to hunt societies and people will take justice into their own hands, people will lose faith in their governments and faith in the concept of justice altogether. So this is why we are strong believer in States taking transitional justice process in order to address the crimes of the past,” she said

For many years since the TRC report, Dumpster’s platform and other Civil Society organizations have been advocating for the establishment of a War and Economic Crimes Court in Liberia including Global Justice Research Project (GJRP), a Liberia-based non-profit, non-governmental organization that documents war related crimes in Liberia and seeks justice for victims of said crimes. Speaking to Amb Van Schaack’s statement regarding an international group filing a complaint against Liberia to the ECOWAS court, Hassan Bility of GJRP said:

“We believe the lawsuit is necessary to shed light on, and bring public attention to, the issue of accountability. Remember, Liberia has not held anyone accountable, NOT one, for all the violations of International Humanitarian Laws, perpetrated in Liberia, during the past two Liberian Civil Wars. We hope the government will now begin to take some actions in line with its international treaty obligations. Together we can make this happen,” said Bility.

Mr. Aaron Weah, who once headed the Talking Drum in Liberia, now A PhD Researcher at Ulster University Belfast UK,  said he thinks the timing of Amb. Van Schaack’s visit to Liberia was critical. In that next year will be 20 years since the Accra Peace Agreement was negotiated. 

“At Accra, perpetrators armed-twisted the negotiation process by selecting a truth commission against the option of a war crimes court for Liberia. But what was lost in Accra, was replaced during the Act that established the TRC and in its final report. So Schaack’s visit sends a clear message that the investigation of war crimes in Liberia remains an unfinished business,” he said.

Answering to Liberia having the political will for the establishment of a war crimes court he said the political will for war crimes investigation in Liberia is weak. 

“However, the US government as one of the major development partners in country appears to be suggesting that whoever wins the upcoming general and presidential elections in Liberia must make transitional justice issues one of the top priorities. Schaack’s visit coming on the heels of the next general and presidential elections is calculated to send this message,” said Mr. Weah.

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