Liberia: President Weah Shows Uncertainties Over Implementing TRC Recommendations
Monrovia – President George Manneh Weah does not seem very clear about implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) recommendations, which should serve as a conduit of prosecuting individuals bearing the most burdens of atrocities committed during Liberia’s war days.
Report by Alpha Daffae Senkpeni – [email protected]
Liberia endured two back-to-back civil wars between 1989 to 1997 and 1999 to 2003, and sources estimate up to 250,000 were killed, and more than half the country was forcibly displaced during those periods.
Calls by victims, human rights groups and now a senior diplomat of the United Nations have intensified for the Liberian leader to tackle the ghost of the past by truly reconciling his compatriots through the implementation of the TRC report.
In June 2009, the TRC found all sides responsible for serious violations of domestic and international law, including war crimes, crimes against humanity, widespread and systematic rape and sexual slavery, torture, use and recruitment of child soldiers, and mass executions of civilians.
The report also recommends the establishment of an Extraordinary Criminal Tribunal to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of serious violations of international criminal and humanitarian law; the only prosecutions to date have been outside of Liberia.
Call For War Crimes Prosecution
Shortly after his inauguration, President Weah received a communication from some 20 African and Liberian-based Human Rights Groups urging him to prosecute war crimes, which engulfed Africa’s oldest republic for more than a decade.
The groups called upon President Weah, “to fulfill Liberia’s obligations to investigate and prosecute wartime atrocities.”
And last week, the United Nations Deputy Secretary General added, “It is also critical to implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and for the legislature to pass key bills that will support local inclusion and reconciliation”.
“These would be timely measures that would assure Liberians that there is strong resolve to see a conclusion to this process,” said Amina J. Mohammed in Monrovia at the turnover of UN radio to ECOWAS.
Earlier last week at the National Peace and Reconciliation Conference in Monrovia, President Weah acknowledged that, “True reconciliation is still illusive”.
“Throughout this time, there has been numerous reconciliation conferences producing so many roadmaps to peace and so many policy documents and programs but the problem of political, economic and culture divisions still exist,” he said.
The President, however, was unclear about how he would resolve uncertainties of the TRC report, which has been swept under the rug by his predecessor.
But he admitted failing in December 2012 when he served as Peace Ambassador and planned a peace initiative in the country.
He’s also aware of the herculean task of reconciling Liberians; something activists say must require massive political will, and the President has to put all the cards on the table including prosecution of war criminals.
But some of his recent moves, which include appointments of individuals with, tinted past, have the propensity of disrupting any possibility of fully implementing the TRC recommendations.
Like Ellen, Like Weah?
Some advocates predicted that the new President would have been an opposite figure in the implementation of the TRC recommendations since he played no part in the conflict.
But like former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who was indirectly named in the report and barred for 30 years from holding public office, Weah is apparently shielding alleged perpetrators of atrocities in the country.
President Johnson-Sirleaf turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to major portions of the TRC report during her 12-year reign.
Political observers and her critics asserted it was for her own protection and her allies’.
And it seems Weah is also threading her path after he recently gave extraordinary powers to Charles R. G. Bright, elevating the former Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) guru to a Cabinet-level position.
But Bright’s tentacles would reach far more than an ordinary cabinet member. His appointment has reignited concerns about Weah’s administration’s willingness to see the TRC recommendations through.
Bright is one of the prominent figures of the Liberian civil war. He later served as Finance Minister in the Taylor government.
He is remembered for taking over the Housing Bank in Monrovia in military uniform when Mr. Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia swept through Monrovia leaving behind anarchy and fear.
Also, Bright’s appointment renews concern over the possible resurgence of the ‘Taylor’s Agenda’ after Weah’s Congress for Democratic Change merged with Taylor’s National Patriotic Party (NPP) ahead of the 2017 elections.
Observers are predicting that such appointment would tie the Liberian leader’s hands and dwindle any chance of offering justice to victims of war crimes.
Weah’s alliance with former warlord, now Senator Prince Johnson on the campaign trail leading to the runoff election, was a headache for political analysts to dissect. Many ponder the intent of their political alliance and what Johnson wanted from the bargain.
Now that the Taylor factor is hovering over Weah’s Presidency, his recent comments about reconciliation, observers are predicting that the Liberian leader is threading the path of his predecessor and would ignore the TRC again.
Justice in Another Country
While victims of the war are carrying indelible scars and justice seems farfetched for them on home soil, several alleged war criminals are facing prosecution in Europe and the United States.
In a landmark case in the US state of Philadelphia, former war criminal, Mohammed Jabbah alias General Jungle Jabbah is indicted on fraud and perjury charges after he lied on his asylum applications that he had not committed war crimes.
Also, Thomas Woewiyu, a former ally of Charles Taylor is accused of lying on a 2006 application for U.S. citizenship.
He too is facing indictment for presiding over the NPFL as Minister of Defense in 1992 when the terror group, “tortured perceived enemies and civilians, girls raped and forced them into sex slavery, children were conscripted into the army, and humanitarian aid workers were murdered.”
In Europe, the UK’s Metropolitan Police Service arrested and charged Agnes Taylor, the wife of former Liberian President Charles Taylor with torture for her alleged involvement with atrocities committed by her former husband’s rebel group.
Her arrest added to the incarceration of Martina Johnson in Belgium.
Martina Johnson who was arrested in 2014, was a commander of NPFL and was accused of committing war crimes, including leading the infamous “Operation Octopus”.
‘Bring Justice Home’
With these arrests and prosecutions happening outside of Liberia, activists are optimistic that international partners are in support of the establishment of a war crime courts in the country but it would require the political will of the government based on the significance of reconciliation as a part of its agenda.
In the words of the UN Deputy Secretary General, Ms. Amina Mohammed, “To ensure reconciliation and secure a peaceful and prosperous future, it will be crucial to deepen efforts to address the underlying causes of conflict in Liberia.”
Hassan Bility, Executive Director of Monrovia based Global Justice and Research Project and one of the authors of the open letter calling for the implementation of the TRC report said, “Justice must be one of the cardinal points of the President’s new agenda.”
“There must be justice for war crimes, otherwise there will be no lasting peace in Liberia,” said Bility, a former journalist and torture survivor of the civil war.
He has helped initiate the arrests of several Liberian perpetrators in Europe and the U.S. in partnership with the Swiss-based NGO, Civitas Maxima.
Like Bility, many survivals of massacres in the country have been calling for justice through the implementation of TRC recommendations.
Recently, the Liberia Massacre Survivors Association (LIMASA) called for “retributive justice instead of restorative justice”.
Most war victims survived mass killings on the Du Port Road, St. Peter’s Lutheran Church compound, and Phebe Hospital in Bong County amongst others.
They are still carrying physical and psychological disabilities.
There are continuing efforts by Liberian activists who want justice served in the country and they have been holding consultations with international experts including Ambassador Stephen Rapp, Special Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
Samuel Kofi Woods, one of the activists leading the discussions said “We intend for it to continue so we can work together to bring justice to the many victims of the human rights community.”