Starting the Accountability Process: Liberian Lawyers Draft Bill for Establishing War Crimes Court


Gbarnga, Bong County – Since the end of the Liberian civil war and the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Liberia, the body was empowered to investigate the root causes of the country’s conflict and make recommendations. The TRC made its final recommendations in July 2009 but the commission’s report is still on the shelf with only few recommendations implemented.

Since the release of the TRC report there has been continuous dialogue on how to move forward with the Commission’s recommendations with Liberians divided, expressing mixed views on whether to go the way of accountability or reconciliation through Pala Hut discussions and other forgiveness mechanisms.

While the debate continues, the Liberian National Bar Association (LNBA), an association for all lawyers in Liberia has taken some steps and now taking the lead as the President of the Association, Cllr. Tiawon S. Gongloe has disclosed that the Bar is currently drafting a Bill seeking for the establishment of a War Crimes Court in Liberia.

Making the disclosure during his presentation at a National Colloquium on Implementation of the erstwhile TRC Recommendations held in Gbarnga, Bong County from May 16-18 Cllr. Gongloe disclosed that a team of eminent lawyers are currently drafting the Bill.

The colloquium organized by Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR) in collaboration with Center for Democracy and Development (CDD) with support from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Liberia Country Office brought together participants from every segment of the Liberian society. Participants includes representative of the government both the executive and the legislature, representatives from the 15 counties of Liberia including chiefs, women groups, youth organizations, members of the Civil Society Organizations, Academics and representatives of international organizations in Liberia like EU, AU, ECOWAS, Embassy of Sweden etc. 

Cllr. Gongloe presenting on the topic ‘Legal and Constitutional Underpinnings of the TRC Recommendations on Accountability: Human Rights Perspective’ said the Bill will be submitted to the National Legislature for passage into law to start the accountability process for crimes committed during the Liberian conflicts.

“As we Liberians dialogue on these issues, we must chose accountability over immunity. So, let me tell you today that the Bar has setup a committee to draft a bill calling for the establishment of a war crimes court in Liberia for submission to the National Legislature” he disclosed.

The Committee, Cllr. Gongloe said is made of five of the most eminent jurists in Liberia and he is convinced that their work will set the stage of achieving accountability in the country. He said the Bar Association will move onward for the submission of the Bill to the National Legislature for passage into law.

Cllr. Gongloe maintained that dialogue is the best way for Liberians to continue talking until they reach a final conclusion on how to proceed. But during these dialogue processes, Cllr. Gongloe admonished Liberians to choose accountability over immunity.

“Talking is a way of finding solution to problems, but let us stick with one voice on war crimes court, Liberians, let us not be afraid”, he told the gathering.

According to him the notion by some that a war crimes court will threaten Liberia’s peace is wrong indicating that impunity will lead to more destruction in the future.

Drawing his conclusions on the events in Rwanda, he said people were killed in the 1960s and 1970s in Rwanda but the people decided to let it go until the situation escalated to a genocide in 1994 when nearly one million people were killed.

The Rwandan genocide, Cllr. Gongloe said is a classic example of how impunity has the propensity to destroy an entire nation. 

Honorable Dorwoan T. Gleekia, a member of the House of Representatives at the 54th Legislature of Liberia said accountability will help deter the commission of crimes and move the country forward.

He said if the country is prioritizing issues of accountability the country will not experience issue such as the current debate surrounding the amount of US$25 million used for mopping up exercise said to be unaccounted for. He promised that although Liberians remain divided over the issue but accountability is a necessity for the country.

During a period of interaction with the participants, many Liberians expressed that they have decided long ago about war crimes but those in power continue to play lip service with the establishment of war crimes court to bring perpetrators of crimes to justice.

Chief Bob Kofi Zah of Rivercess County expressed anger that as chiefs and elders they continue to make recommendations on the way forward but their recommendations are not being implemented.

“Why you continue to call us to these kinds of programs. Every time we make recommendations, you the book people (educated people) will dash it and fail to listen to us”, the Chief fumed!.

Several other participants expressed that there has been more talking about the TRC recommendations and taking concrete actions is now something long overdue.

One participant, a female elder from Grand Cape Mount County said the fact that those who committed crimes against the Liberian people have failed to publicly show remorse means they don’t regret their actions.

The 3-day colloquium ended with official statement endorsed by all the participants requiring the Liberian government to among other things do the following-

That a War Crimes Court be established to prosecute all persons who committed gross human rights violations during the civil war in Liberia and that a bill be drafted and be submitted to the national legislature for passage into law to protect victims and witness for the civil war in Liberia.

That the President of Liberia begins to submit his quarterly reports on the implementation of the TRC recommendations to the National Legislature and the Liberian People in accordance with Section 4.4 of the TRC Act.

The Colloquium calls for full and timely implementation of the Reconciliation Roadmap by this Government.

That the Government of Liberia should enact into law, National Unification and Memorial Day and repeal Decoration Day while ensuring the reburial of President William R. Tolbert, Jr. and Samuel K. Doe as sign of national reconciliation and peace among Liberians. 

To establish a Reparations Trust Fund and legislate a National Reparation Program. It urges that reparation be carried out comprehensively at individual, community and national levels.

That there shall be formal launch and financial support for the Palava Hut and giving attention and support to victims with special needs appearing under the Palava Hut.