A Presentation At A One-Day Workshop On Transitional Justice Organized By Civitas Maxima At The I-Campus On Carey Street, Monrovia On August 28, 2018
On March 29, 2006, at about 5:00Pm I told the world press at the Roberts International Airport, speaking on behalf of the Liberian Government, as Solicitor General, that the arrest of Charles Taylor was the beginning of the end of impunity in Liberia. Following the trial and conviction of Mr. Taylor, we have begun to see the world arresting and putting on trial, some notorious perpetrators of world crimes during the fourteen-year civil conflict in Liberia.
By Cllr. Tiawan S. Gongloe, Contributing Writer
In the United States of America and Europe, the arrest and trial of some of the notorious perpetrators of war crimes in Liberia have clearly shown that the world has clear and cogent evidence on those who committed atrocities in Liberia. The quality of evidence produced during the trial of Jungle Jarbah and Tom Woewiyu, should be a clear signal to those who committed war crimes and have not been brought to justice that justice is on the way and it will make no mistake when it arrives in Liberia. The best that the suspects of war crimes can do for themselves is to begin to seek the services of the best lawyers that they can retain to represent them during their expected trials for war crimes.
Many persons, including perpetrators of war crimes in Liberia and their associates and sympathizes have maintained the argument that Liberians should let bygones be bygones and forget the past for the sake of peace and that Liberians should focus more on development instead of talking about war crimes. This who are maintaining this view are not guarded by history. I disagree with this position. I am on the side of the victims and their families. In order to have sustainable peace and development, there must be justice for the victims of war crimes in Liberia. To hold the view that we must ignore the pain and agony with which many individuals are living within Liberia today and to only talk about developing our country would be like building a house upon sand. Those who committed war crimes in Liberia have no right to tell the victims of the war to forget the past and
move on, especially so when they are not made any attempt to meet the families of those whom killed or injured to express sorrow for their actions. Some even justify their actions during the conflict, thereby bringing more bad feelings to the families of those killed by them. Lasting peace and sustainable development in Liberia is only possible when those who committed atrocities in Liberia are made to account for their criminal conducts.
In our advocacy for war crimes court in Liberia, it is important to be clear about those whom we refer to as war criminals. We are not referring to men and women in arms who killed other men and women in arms on the opposite side. If an armed combatant kills even ten thousand men and women in arms, he has committed no war crime. But if that same person kills or even inflict wound on one civilian during a war, he has committed a war crime.
There are many Liberians who fought in the Liberian civil conflict without committing war crimes. Some combatants even went out their ways to help Liberians with food and to protect them from other combatants. Just because a person fought for any of the warring faction in Liberia does not make a person a war criminal.
A war criminal is a person who violates the law of war. Therefore, those whom we refer to as war criminals in Liberia are those who killed civilians and committed other gruesome acts during the fourteen years of civil conflict in Liberia. These people are well-known to the Liberian people and others, including employees of non-governmental organizations and journalists who covered the war. They cannot be forgotten and they cannot hide. The testimonies that were given by Liberians against Jungle Jarbah and Tom Woweiyu in the United States of America, recently, show that the events of the war are still fresh in the minds of the victims, families of victims and those who witnessed the perpetrators of war crimes in Liberia.
Those who fought in the Liberian civil conflict and did not commit war crimes, who suffer prejudice today in their communities only because they participated in the civil conflict, should join the call for the establishment of war crimes tribunal in Liberia, because the setting up of the tribunal will help them to clear all doubts about their roles during the civil conflict. If nobody brings case against them or if someone makes a false claim against them and they are exonerated, their good names will be restored in their communities. Without an accountability mechanism such as war crimes tribunal good people who fought in the Liberian civil conflict will continue to suffer from collective guilt.
Some people in Liberia harbor the fear that if those who committed war crimes in Liberia are brought to justice, then those people will bring war. This is not true. This is a propaganda by war criminals and their associates and sympathizers to create far in the Liberian people. We should not listen to them. They made the Liberian people to live in fear during the war when they were in charge.
Today, we live in peace guided by the rule of law; therefore, only criminals should live in fear and not law abiding citizens. Liberians must rely on the rule of law in order to shift the burden of fear to the war criminals. This will only happen when more Liberians call for bringing to justice those who committed war crimes during the Liberian civil conflict. The Late Arch-Bishop Michael Kpakala Francis repeatedly told us, “There cannot be genuine peace without justice” All Liberians, including those who fought in the Liberian conflict, must call for war crimes.
We especially call upon our president, whom by all known accounts did not participate in the Liberian civil conflict to take the lead in the efforts to establish a war crimes tribunal in Liberia in order to bring to justice those who committed crimes against humanity during the Liberian civil conflict. We call upon the law-makers to take every step in the interest of the people whom they represent, to establish a war crimes tribunal in Liberia.
Until we Liberians muster the courage to examine the immediate past history of this country and hold accountable those who committed atrocities in the Liberian civil conflict, Liberia will not enjoy genuine peace, reconciliation, unity and sustained national development and prosperity. Let’s act today to create a better Liberia tomorrow for our children’s children.
I will end my presentation with two important quotations. The first is from a German Protestant Pastor and social activist, Friedrich Gustav Emil Martin Niemoller who wrote the following based on his experience from the during the World War II:
When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn’t a Jew.
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.
The second quotation is from Albert Einstein. Einstein said, “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, by those who watch them without doing anything.” It is time to do something about the evil that was done during the Liberian civil conflict. Let us all support the call for a war crimes tribunal for Liberia.