MONROVIA – The Liberian Senate has advised President George Weah to set up a Transitional Justice Commission that would analyze and investigate the findings of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) amid diverse public opinion on whether or not to implement the recommendations of the report and the establishment of war and economic crimes court.
In the past few years, and sine the sitting of the 54th Legislature and inauguration of President George Weah, there have been debates on how to proceed with the implementation of the TRC Report. One group has been calling for the establishment of a war and economic crimes court to prosecute those who committed heinous crimes during the civil crisis while on the other hand, another group of Liberians are calling for a palava hut mechanism through which the perpetrators and victims will be brought face-to-face.
The TRC report contains major findings on the root causes of the conflict, the impact of the conflict on women, children and the generality of the Liberian society; responsibility for the massive commission of Gross Human Rights Violations (GHRV), and violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL), International Human Rights Law (IHRL) as well as Egregious Domestic Law Violations (EDLV).
On September 12, 2019, President George Weah wrote the Senate requesting the body to advice on how to proceed with the implementation of the report of the TRC.
The leadership of the Liberian Senate stated that it reviewed the request of President Weah under the framework and scope: Review of the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement (ACPA), signed by all warring factions and political parties on August 12, 2003.
The Accra Comprehensive Agreement’s cardinal purpose was to provide a forum that will address issues of impunity, as well as an opportunity for both the victims and perpetrators of human rights violations to share their experiences in order to get a clear picture of the past to facilitate genuine healing and reconciliation.
The Senate’s review of the President’s request also took into consideration the Act Establishing the TRC; Steps taken by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Administration of the TRC; An Act of Legislature granting amnesty to all participants of the civil crisis and criminal liabilities and responsibilities; Supreme Court Opinion on some of the issues arising for the TRC; review of some international precedents regarding transitional justice such as South Africa model and the Sierra Leonean civil conflict.
Other yard stick used by the Senate include dissenting report filed by some of the Commissioners of the TRC, and issues of whether restorative justice or retributive justice should be meted out to perpetrators of crimes during the course of Liberia’s civil crisis.
The Senate noted that the TRC Report in Section 43 indicates that “The TRC shall submit a final report containing recommendations at the end of its tenure to the National Legislature” for the purpose of review to ensure there was no biases and conflict with provisions of the Liberian Constitution and statues and to have the people’s representatives in the healing, reconciliation and accountability process.
The Senate’s recommendations to President Weah include:
The establishment of a Transitional Justice Commission (TJC) to:
Determine why the TRC Recommendations have not been fully and timely implemented;
To determine whether the TRC fully complied with its mandate, such as face-to-face meeting between perpetrators of crimes and other offenses and their respective victims;
To examine the effect of the August 2003 Act of Legislature which granted general amnesty to all participants of the civil crisis;
To analyze credibility/legitimacy issues surrounding the Final Report of the TRC in respect of the fact that four of the Commissioners had serious issues with the Report and consequently, two of the Commissioners did not sign the Final Report, but instead presented a dissenting report;
To examine the effect of the ratification/accession of Liberia to the Rome Statute in 2004 (after the end of the civil crisis) on the establishment of a war crimes court;
To consider the separation of the establishment of war crimes court which has international dimension from the establishment of an economic crimes court which already exists within the Liberia’s Judiciary and for which prosecution can take place using domestic law;
To consider the effect of the constitutional and other legal implications of prosecuting war crimes at a war crimes court when domestic laws and criminal court for the same offenses exists and to also consider the constitutional implementations of appeals from the decision from a war crimes court, as the Constitution provides that the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of all legal proceedings and every person has absolute and unfettered right of appeal to the Supreme Court;
To review the work and recommendations of the TRC, where necessary, and make additional recommendations when necessary such as how far back in Liberia’s history should the transitional justice process go; and
To plan and implement programs and activities to solicit the opinion of the majority of Liberians on the issue of retributive justice versus restorative justice (war crimes court, South African style truth and reconciliation commission, etc.).
The Senate also recommended that the Transitional Justice Commission establishment should be enacted into law.
The Senate’s leadership further recommended that the President should without delay continue the National Palava Hut Program, an accountability and traditional dispute resolution mechanism, to foster healing and reconciliation within communities across the country.
The recommendations also called on the Liberian government to establish a Reparation Trust Fund. This would be used for restoring victims and communities worst affected by the conflict. It will help provide psychosocial relief for victims suffering from psychosocial and physical scars of the war, and other community-based reparation programs as indicated in the TRC Report.
The President is also advised to, in line with the TRC Recommendation, offer an official apology on behalf of the state to the thousands of victims and the Liberian people in general for its role in the long conflict and for the injuries and losses suffered by individuals and communities as consequences of the civil crisis.