-Want War Crime Perpetrators Pay for Human Rights Violations
Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) across Liberia are demanding the George Weah Administration to implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to enable those who committed heinous crimes against humanity to face justice.
It is following a series of calls by human rights advocates including Hassan Bility of the Global Justice and Research Project, Adama Dempster of the Civil Society and Human Rights Platform Secretariat, and individuals who feel disenchanted over the fact that warlords and perpetrators are occupying influential government positions and enjoying state resources, without remorse for crimes perpetrated against innocent citizens.
Nimba County Senator Prince Y. Johnson and Grand Gedeh County Representative George Boley are two warlords now in the Legislature with several former warlords who are on record for the commission of heinous crimes.
The CSOs, making the demand at a four-day Public Outreach and Awareness on the TRC recommendations for rural community leaders to promote accountability, said that transitional justice was important in Liberia because it will serve as a deterrent for would-be perpetrators.
The public outreach was organized by the Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR) in collaboration with the National Civil Society Council of Liberia with support from the Office of the High Commission on Human Rights and Centre for Democracy and Development and was held in Ganta, Nimba County.
Transitional Justice is the way countries emerging from a period of conflict and repression address large-scale or systematic human rights violations that the normal justice system cannot provide an adequate response to.
The outreach brought together participants from Bong, Nimba, and Lofa Counties as well as commissioners who presided over the TRC.
The public outreach is also part of the roadmap of the national colloquium that was held in Gbarnga City, Bong County in May 2019 with the intent to discuss and advise the government and the Liberian on a way forward for the implementation of the TRC recommendations of 2009.
The holding of the colloquium was also in line with the role of the INCHR, assigned in the strategic roadmap for National Healing, peacebuilding and reconciliation of December 2012 on ‘Accounting for the Past’, to hold consultations with a wide range of stakeholders. Issues treated at the colloquium include the national palava hut talk, ‘memorialization’, and reparations, and on forging the relationship between Liberians at home and abroad, aimed at promoting peace and reconciliation in line with the Kyiv Declaration of October 2015 on the role of the National Human Rights Institute in a post-conflict situation, peace, and reconciliation.
Janet G. Flomo, head of the Special Emergency to Restore Children’s Hope (SERCH), said she desires to see the implementation of the TRC report. “I will create awareness across Nimba County to have citizens understand the importance of transitional justice so they can pressurize their lawmakers for the establishment of War and Economic crimes Court and the full implementation of the TRC Report,” she said.
Madam Flomo believes that War Crimes perpetrators like her kinsman, Senator Prince Y. Johnson, who violated the rights of others, should face justice with those families that were abused.
“Yes, I will want those who committed heinous crimes to be prosecuted, [including] Prince Y. Johnson,” Madam Flomo said .
“We will now demand the implementation of the TRC report because we want justice for those that received pain during the war to be able to express themselves in the court. We want those women that were victimized during the war to get the needed justice because they were targets. I want to see those that did things wrongly during the war to be judged and punished by the law,” she stressed.
Madam Flomo said further: “Those that committed crimes against humanity should be punished so as to serve as a deterrent. People got affected during the war, women and children were raped, citizens’ rights were violated which was not the intent of the war.”
“If we do not allow them to face the punishment, others will come and repeat their past actions which will not take the country forward. We want people to be prosecuted based on the crimes they committed,” she added.
Giving her experience, Madam Flomo said, “My very self was victimized during the war. I was born with open teeth. Today I am using false teeth in my mouth because of the action of some fighters. So it is necessary that everyone pays for the crimes they committed against human rights”.
Dr. Sonny Onyegbula, OHCHR head of programs, said OHCHR has had series of meetings with partners that gave rise to the awareness workshop, adding that “The process stated in 2014, running into 2020 where we continue the sensitization in Bomi before the COVID-19 outbreak. It was the pandemic that stopped all the activities.”
He disclosed that the colloquium brought together key advocates, government partners, CSOs, and professional bodies such as the Liberia National Bar Association that provided the opportunity for Liberians from all walks of life to come together to chart a path forward for the implementation of the TRC recommendations and the whole transitional justice issue.
“So, what you see going on at this awareness workshop now is just the implementation of the colloquium that was brought forward. So out of that, we had sensitization exercises that OHCHR is supporting through CSOs and other relevant partners to educate the community about what transitional justice is all about,” Onyegbula said.
He said the process is not a UN-led process but a National one that allows the people of Liberia to desire the kind of options they want their government to take to address past crime.
Onyegbula said, “We at OHCHR recognize that it is very important to address human rights violations because there are many gains when that happens. Among those gains, it serves as a deterrent to those that will want to commit similar crimes for the fear of being held accountable; gives room for reconciliation, and builds a strong united country to move on with development.
He told the gathering that if the process of transitional justice is not handled properly, it will affect the peace here because people are not free to express themselves or present their cases before the justice system, and that is why OHCHR is only supporting the process that deals with the rule of law, to enable people to express the grievances they have.
Speaking about the feedback from the citizens during the past outreach, Onyegbula said: “It has been overwhelming. I can say transitional justice is gaining attractions. The colloquium communiqués were overwhelmingly passed because of the establishment of the economic and war crimes court”.
He disclosed that OHCHR supported the Liberian National Bar Association annual conference which voted for the establishment of a war and economic crimes court and also the implementation of the TRC report, adding that the National economic dialogue, sponsored by the government, also supported the process.
Onyegbula said after the dialogue, President Weah communicated with the speaker of the Legislature, urging the Speaker to advise him on a legislative process that can move the process forward which showed the country’s readiness to start the TRC implementation.
“Inasmuch as transitional justice has gained center attractions; I think many Liberians need the voices of accountability. We cannot do this action for Liberians, but the UN and international bodies only provide advice to the people and government,” Onyegbula said.
He added: “I think the first process has been taken by the President requesting the Legislature to advise him about the processes involved with the implementation of the TRC recommendation to move the process forward. So I think that this is the time for the people of Liberia to go back to their elected representatives and urge them to take actions on the letter written by the President if they really want the process to start.”
“Now you can see that the President has moved the ball back to the elected Representatives of the people, so it is they that should respond to the President’s calls,” he said.