Liberia: Foreign Minister, President Mum on ICC Withdrawal


Monrovia – Would Liberia continue to subscribe to the International Criminal Court (ICC) or would it pull out? – That’s the question, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is tight-lipped on the country’s stance.

Report by Lennart Dodoo – [email protected]

During the 2016 Assembly of State Party meetings in The Hague in November, Liberia was also a no show as FrontPage Africa searched the nook and cranny of the building, including waiting at Liberia’s seat in the hall to get a comment on the stance of the country on AU decision for African countries to withdraw from the ICC.

At the recently ended African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, member states called for the mass withdrawal from the Court, accusing the ICC of undermining their sovereignty and unfairly targeting Africans.

However, Nigeria, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Mali, Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Tunisia, Cape Verde, Botswana and Chad want to remain members of the court.

While some opined that the ICC has been discriminatory against African countries and constantly harasses Africans, these countries believe that court remains key to curtailing human rights abuses and ending the culture of impunity on the continent.

Liberia – a nation rising from the ashes of 14 years of brutal civil war which ended in 2003 – is one country where majority of its citizens are calling for the establishment of war crimes court with the help of the ICC to bring perpetrators of the war to book.

But Liberia’s disposition on the matter  is still sending troubling signals to other as the country is known for departing from the crowd. It ws the first to criticize and call for former Libyan leader Gadaffi to step down when the AU had taken a neutral stance.

The country signed the Rome Statute on July 17, 1998 and ratified on September 22, 2004, becoming the 96th Party State to the Rome Statute.

With the goal to promote national peace, security, unity and reconciliation, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up principally to foster truth, justice and reconciliation by identifying the root causes of the conflict and determining those who are responsible for committing domestic and international crimes against the Liberian people.

The Commission, in its final report consistent with the dictates of its mandate suggested  reparation, amnesty, prosecution in a specialized Liberian Criminal Court, public sanctions and a Palava Hut peace building mechanism to foster peace, dialogue and rebuild broken relationships in fostering national reconciliation, and healing beginning at the grass roots.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was one of several listed to be barred from holding political office for 30 years.

Many Liberians, especially those opting for establishment for a special war crime court strongly believe that the TRC recommendations have been grossly ignored by government, though the government claims it has implemented 90 per cent of the recommendations.

ICC could help in Establishing War Crimes Court in Liberia

In an interview with FrontPageAfrica’s Gboko Stewart in The Hague in November 2016, Stephen Rapp, the man who directed the successful prosecution of former Liberian President, Charles Ghankay Taylor, for crimes against humanity said he believes other recommendations from the TRC report 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,” he added.

In that interview, the U.S. former ambassador for global war crimes said he was 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.

What Happends If Liberia Pulls Out

Pulling out of the ICC would further dent Liberia’s possibilities of establishing a war crimes court as recommended by the TRC and deemed necessary by Rapp. Over 250,000 Liberians died during the civil crisis, some gruesomely killed, others of hunger, diseases, etc.

While the country has enjoyed the silence of the gun for over a decade, the UN and other civil society organization and non-governmental organizations continue to warn that the country’s peace would remain fragile until there can be true reconciliation and justice for those suffered the atrocities and consequences of the wars.

If Liberia is to withdraw from the ICC, it goes beyond a mere announcement of intent for that to happen as Burundi, Kenya and South Africa recently found out.

Here’s a breakdown of withdrawal, as per article 127 of the Rome Statute:

Step 1 – Who can exit the ICC?

Only a State can withdraw from the ICC. A parliament or a political party cannot opt out of the group.

In the particular case of Burundi, the cabinet agreed and sent a draft bill to Parliament and it was overwhelmingly approved. Burundi as a State party has fulfilled step one of the exit process.

Step 2 – When and How?

Officially inform the United Nations Secretary General. A country (in this case) Burundi must write formally to inform the UN chief of their desire to withdraw from the ICC.

Step 3 – When?

According to the rules, the State Party will have to wait for a year to elapse before they can claim to have left partially.

Step 4 – Out but …

After the year passes, the country will have exited the ICC but they still have to pay any fees owed the body as well as for cases involving their citizens will also be pursued.

Article 127 of the Rome Statute spells the process out as follows:

  1. “A State Party may, by written notification addressed to the Secretary General of the United Nations, withdraw from this Statute. The withdrawal shall take effect one year after the date of receipt of the notification, unless the notification specifies a later date

  2. “A State shall not be discharged, by reason of its withdrawal, from the obligations arising from this Statute while it was a Party to the Statute, including any financial obligations which may have accrued

Its withdrawal shall not affect any cooperation with the Court in connection with criminal investigations and proceedings in relation to which the withdrawing State had a duty to cooperate and which were commenced prior to the date on which the withdrawal became effective, nor shall it prejudice in any way the continued consideration of any matter which was already under consideration by the Court prior to the date on which the withdrawal became effective.”