Justice for war victims is at hand as the Legislature moves to implement the TRC recommendations

MONROVIA, Montserrado – Following pressure from victims’ families, local and international advocacy and legal groups, as well as some members of the United States Congress, the Liberian legislature passed a joint resolution to implement many recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, including establishing war and economic crimes courts.

The measures are intended to provide relief to the victims of atrocities committed during the series of civil crises in Liberia between January 1979 and October 2003.

On April 9, the Liberian Senate voted in favor of a joint resolution to establish the two courts. The resolution, which originated in the House of Representatives, was amended before approval by the Senate and was later sent to the lower house for assent, an action taken by the representatives without any delay on April 11.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Senator Augustine Chea of ​​Sinoe said the joint resolution considered all legal technicalities and details necessary to establish the two courts, compared to the House of Representatives’ version.

Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence of Grand Bassa, who is Senate President pro tempore, called the move a crucial step to formally end the terrible memories left by the civil conflict. She noted that this strengthened the confidence of Liberians in the rule of law and the administration of justice in the country.

“We believe this decision will end the long period of impunity for those who bear the greatest responsibility for the crimes against humanity, other violations of international humanitarian law and other domestic crimes that occurred during the Liberian Civil War.” she said.

“We have heard all the cries, calls and advocacy – we have read very sad stories and (we) understand how difficult it has been for many to heal. Many have remained in exile and died because they were unable to see any sign of regret and remorse for the devastating actions of 21 years ago.”

The final resolution has now been forwarded to President Joseph Boakai for approval.

Following the decision, U.S. Ambassador for Global Criminal Justice Beth Van Schaack congratulated the legislature in an open letter and expressed the U.S. government’s willingness to work together in pursuing justice in Liberia.

Schaack also congratulated Boakai and Speaker of the House of Representatives Fonati Koffa for taking steps to implement the TRC recommendations: “Liberians have waited far too long for justice for the horrific abuses they suffered in the two civil wars of the country, despite recommendations from your Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I applaud President Boakai for making justice such a priority in the early days of his administration.”

She added that the United States would ensure that those who advocate for justice do not face threats to their security. “Victims and witnesses must play a central role in the work of the future court, and they must be able to do so freely and safely,” she said.

The US Embassy itself also praised the House of Representatives for passing the resolution, describing the move as positive news in a statement.

Speaker Koffa also described the signing of the resolution as an important step towards ensuring accountability and justice for past atrocities and economic crimes committed in the country.

“The joint resolution, which has now been approved by the chambers of the Liberian legislature, will be forwarded to the President for signature, signaling a concerted legislative effort to address the legacy of war crimes and economic crimes in Liberia,” said Koffa. statement published by the press office of the House of Representatives.

Twenty-eight of the 29 senators signed the resolution, which was previously signed by 42 of the 73 members of the House of Representatives.

Some senators, including Amara Konneh of Gbarpolu, signed the resolution while fighting through floods of tears. Konneh said his father and other relatives were killed during the war.

On his Facebook page, Konneh later wrote: “I voted ‘YES’ for the resolution to establish extraordinary courts for war and economic crimes in Liberia.”

He continued: “For us, this is not a political adventure – my father, ‘Papa’ as I called him, was murdered along with three of my youngest siblings – all men – along with two uncles and their families, friends and neighbors. I had known it all my life in our once thriving village.”

Senator Konneh, who was 17 years old at the time, added that the only crime his father and others committed was that he was Mandingo, one of the ethnic groups in Liberia. He accused the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, a warring faction commanded by war criminal and former President Charles Taylor between July and October 1990, of being responsible for the crimes.

“There are no cemeteries for the victims that can serve as a memorial and comfort for me and my family,” Konneh noted. “I struggled with the grief and trauma as a young immigrant student at Drexel University in Philadelphia, USA. I cried and mourned their murders, but I had to persevere and make something of myself.”

Montserrado’s Senator Darius Dillon also commented on this momentous event and what it means for the future of the country: “Our demonstration for responsibility to end the culture of impunity (will) open this country to opportunity and bad behavior restrict.”

The surprise signatories of the joint resolution were Senator Prince Johnson of Nimba and Senator Thomas Yaya Nimely of Grand Gedeh, two of those named by the TRC as bearing greater responsibility for the atrocities committed during the war.

Johnson founded and commanded the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia, which is alleged to have committed numerous crimes against humanity during the Liberian civil crisis. Nimely, on the other hand, led the Movement for Democracy in Liberia, one of the most brutal warring factions that orchestrated the last civil war that eventually drove former President Taylor out of Liberia.

Although he signed the resolution supporting the creation of the courts, Johnson said establishing war and economic crimes courts based on the TRC’s recommendations will be a mistake.

“The Supreme Court condemned the recommendations – it had so many constitutional violations, and the Supreme Court says it violates the rights of those accused,” Johnson said. “Liberia is a country of laws and not of men. “If the Supreme Court rules against the bias recommendations and says they are unconstitutional and unenforceable, and you in the House of Elders (the Senate) want to enforce them and do something else, then it is a mistake.”

In 2011, the Supreme Court issued an opinion recommending a 30-year ban on certain individuals from political participation, including holding elective or appointed public office, effective from the date of the report. The court ruled that the ban would deny the named individuals a fair trial and was therefore unconstitutional.

The Court’s opinion, delivered by then-Chief Justice Johnny Lewis, called the section of the TRC Act that mandatorily requires the President to implement all TRC recommendations “unconstitutional, without legal effect and therefore unenforceable.”

Rather than setting up the war crimes court through the TRC recommendation, which has long been seen as political by some alleged war crimes perpetrators, Johnson said he wants the court to be set up by a neutral UN investigative team. The senator accused the Unity Party government of launching a war crimes court against Liberians and him in particular. He claimed that the war crimes court was never a government plan from the start.

However, President Boakai promised in his inaugural address on January 22 to start the process of establishing a War and Economic Crimes Tribunal.

The joint resolution approved by the legislature directed the President to seek international support for the establishment of courts: “The President will write to the UN, the EU and the US Government, expressing the intention of the Liberian Government to to establish the Extraordinary Criminal Tribunal for the Liberian Court. soil and seek financial and economic support for its activities.”

The resolution also calls for the development of a legal framework for the establishment of an anti-corruption court to expedite the trials of those investigated and charged for acts of corruption and other economic crimes.

The resolution further recommends that the President, on behalf of the State, apologize to the victims and people of Liberia, work with international partners to establish a Reparation Trust Fund for victims and communities affected by the conflict, the National Palava Hut Program, and build a national monument to commemorate the victims of the war as part of a renewed campaign of national reconciliation and healing.

When established, the Special War Crimes Tribunal will be an international domestic court with the power to prosecute individuals accused of gross human rights violations, violations of serious humanitarian laws and certain domestic crimes. During the Liberian civil war, between January 1979 and October 2003, an estimated 250,000 people were killed.

Featured photo by the Senate Press Office