Den Haag – It has now been seven years since the submission of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which, amongst many things, called for the establishment of a War Crimes Court so that perpetrators of heinous atrocities in the Liberian civil crisis can be held accountable for their actions thereof.
Report by Gboko Stewart, [email protected]
“It had been 13 years since Charles Taylor left and there’s been peace,” he says.
“I think there needs to be—to be frank—more done on accountability to prevent Liberia from slipping back into another period of conflict,” Stephen Rapp, former Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone
But the report, it seems, was sent to the dustbin, primarily because President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was listed as one of those who should be barred from holding political office for thirty years.
Former TRC Commissioner John H.T. Stewart in an open letter to the President in 2011 stated that Ellen had shown an indifferent attitude towards the report of the TRC due to her name being listed and as such, the thought of an establishment of a court for accountability under her administration may never see the light of day.
However, on the margins of the 15th Assembly of State Parties meeting at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, impunity for key players of the Liberian civil war which saw the loss of lives of over 250,000 persons, is coming to an end anytime soon.
Stephen Rapp, the man who directed the successful prosecution of former Liberian President, Charles Ghankay Taylor, for crimes against humanity says he believes other recommendations from the report of the erstwhile Truth and Reconciliation Commission must go forward to prevent the country from slipping back into its brutal past.
It’s 13 years since Taylor left and there’s been peace,” he says. “I think there needs to be—to be frank—more done on accountability to prevent Liberia from slipping back into another period of conflict.
Ambassador Rapp, formerly United States Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues, said while the report may have been controversial as it called for the barring of President Sirleaf from political office for 30 years, that didn’t mean others aspects of it—very important ones too—must not been taken be taken care of.
“And I know with the TRC and the recommendations which became controversial like a political football because of the recommendation about preventing President Sirleaf from being in power from 20 or 30 years or something like holding office—that it became a political issue and people kind of stuck on that.
But I really do think those other recommendations, in terms of the justice process, need to go forward.
“And if people don’t face consequences for committing serious crimes, then I think you can have those crimes reoccur.
And if there’s some other way to prevent that reoccurrence then I’m willing to look at it. Obviously the Taylor prosecution—that sends a powerful message. There are other people in Liberia implicated in serious crimes should face justice.”
Mr. Rapp highlighted that he was pleased to assist the government of Liberia for the prosecution of former Taylor strongman, Benjamin Yeaten, who, it is alleged in hidden somewhere between Togo and the Ivory Coast.
Yeaten was indicted by the grand jury of Montserrado County over his involvement in the murder of Nimba County statesman, Samuel Dokie, his wife and family.
The U.S. former ambassador for Global War crimes says he is more than willing to help pull the strings for the establishment of the court so that perpetrators cannot go scot free but that request would have to come from the government of President Sirleaf first.
Quizzed by FrontPage Africa in The Hague whether he raised up the issue of the establishment of an accountability court in the country with the government and whether pressure was mounted, Mr. Rapp said he walked a thin line not to mount pressure.
He added that during his stint in Sierra Leon at Special court which was set up to prosecute perpetrators of that country’s civil conflict, he made several visit to Liberia and it was his hope cue would have been taken from Sierra Leone.
“I was heavily involved with Liberia when I was prosecuting the Taylor’s case—so many witnesses from Liberia coming to testify in the case which would normally been in Freetown but was moved to the Hague because of the request from regional leader for security reasons …” he mentioned.
“After Taylor was convicted, I returned to Liberia couple of times and met with civil society and others. I was careful not to bring the pressure.
But to say, from Sierra Leone we had a letter from President Kaba that said we want a special court, help set it up.
“And I wanted to see processes in Liberia in Liberia where people said ‘we want to do this, we need your help, and then I will fight like a pack with the US government to get that kind of help.”