Liberia: War & Economic Crimes Court in Striking Distance With Resolution Expected Before Legislature Next Week

Monrovia — A resolution for the establishment of a war and economic crimes court for Liberia is expected to be put on the floor of the lower house of the National Legislature next week, in the wake of the visit of Beth Van Schaack, US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice to Liberia, FrontPageAfrica has reliably learnt.

While the details of the resolution which will be sponsored by Rep. Sumo K. Mulbah (Independent, District No. 3 Montserrado County), is still unknown, the pending resolution comes amid reports gathered by FPA that plans are underway for the trial to take place in Accra, Ghana.

Diplomatic sources inform FPA that alleged perpetrators from the country’s 14-year brutal fratricidal conflict could be tried and if convicted serve their sentences in the Ghanaian seaport town of Winneba. Winneba is a fishing town and capital of the Effutu Municipal District in the Central Region of Southern Ghana and lies 140 kilometers East of Cape Coast.

Lawmaker: Resolution on Floor Next Week

Rep. Mulbah, the bill’s sponsor confirmed to FrontPageAfrica that he will meet with Ambassador Van Schaack and expects the bill which will come in the form of a resolution to be placed on the House floor by Tuesday or Thursday next week.

Liberia’s civil war began in 1989. Though most violence ended in 1997, renewed clashes in 2003 drew international attention, and led to the deployment of a United Nations peacekeeping force to the country. An estimated 150,000 people – one in twenty Liberians – died in the conflict which involved widespread killing and rape of civilians and forced recruitment of child soldiers.

In 1989, Charles Taylor led an incursion from the northeast, marking the start of the civil war. Taylor had cultivated the external support of Burkina Faso, Libya, and Côte d’Ivoire, and his internal support came mainly from Gios and Manos. After just a few months of fighting, the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL) split from Taylor and the NPFL. The INPFL assassinated President Doe in 1990 but fighting continued between Doe’s Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), the NPFL, and the INPFL.

“The TRC report has some useful recommendations to address war crimes and atrocities. We encourage those in positions of power to look very carefully at those recommendations. It is never late to dispense justice. The individuals who suffered the crimes are still calling for justice and those who represent them should look into those calls.” Beth Van Schaack, US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice to Liberia, during a visit to Liberia last October

FrontPageAfrica recently reported that Ghana is slated to be the venue for the hosting of Liberia’s long-awaited War and Economic Crimes Court although there are already some reservations about the idea from Jerome Verdier, former head of Liberia’s erstwhile Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Proposed Ghana Venue Stirring Debate

Appearing on OK FM this week, Cllr. Jerome Verdier, now a war crimes court advocate based in the United States, opined that establishing the court outside Liberia would deprive Liberians the social and economic benefit of the court. He also said, it would deprive Liberians of witnessing justice being served on their own soil. “Liberians should have the benefit of seeing justice… “The economic benefits for establishing the court, the social benefits for establishing the court, the healing and recovering process for establishing the court should be in Liberia,” he said.

FrontPageAfrica has learned international stakeholders pressing for a war and economic crimes court are concerned that protests in favor of some of the accused could cause a distraction if a trial is held in Liberia. There also concerns about the economic benefits to Ghana compared to Liberia where donor funds are needed more.

FPA has learned that some US$200 million has been set aside to sponsor the trial.

Regarding those concerns, Cllr. Verdier dismissed the popular notion that the establishment of the court in Liberia could have a negative security impact on the country. He said, Liberians are no longer willing to go back to war just to please a few groups of people who may not be satisfied with the status quo.

JNB Reportedly Hesitant on Decision

What is unclear is whether President Joseph Boakai, who has reportedly been procrastinating on signing an executive order will go along with the plan for the establishment of a war and economic crimes court in Liberia.

While the President has expressed his willingness to go along, diplomatic sources tell FrontPageAfrica about growing frustration regarding President Boakai’s pace in regard to pushing for the establishment of the court.

What is unclear is whether President Joseph Boakai, who has reportedly been procrastinating on signing an executive order will go along with the plan for the establishment of a war and economic crimes court in Liberia. While the President has expressed his willingness to go along, diplomatic sources tell FrontPageAfrica about growing frustration regarding President Boakai’s pace in regard to pushing for the establishment of the court.

In a recent interview with war crimes advocate Allan White, President Boakai appeared to have given his blessings on the establishment of the court saying that Liberians need to know the truth about the civil conflict that killed hundreds of thousands and displaced more than half of the country’s population internally and externally.

President Boakai lamented the issue of impunity he said has been a problem for Liberia for many years. “In every country, especially a country that boasts of independence for 176 years, and you know very well that it is because of the impunity, the disrespect, and disregard for justice that created all that we’ve seen in this country, and we believe we have to lay this to rest. Let all the facts be known; that people who think they’re innocent prove their case and we can lay this to rest so that this country can move forward. It’s not a witch-hunt, it’s a matter of testifying to what you know and what you’ve done so that forgiveness can be done on the basis of merit and truth.”

President Boakai noted in the interview with Mr. White that most of the people who were involved in the civil war are aware that if they were on the other side would like the truth to be told about it. “So, the truth is truth and each and every one has been offended and so we should be happy that this would finally close the chapter of that history that has been haunting us over the years and that’s what we’re talking about.”

The President also spoke strongly about the possibility of a war and economic crimes court during his inaugural address in January. “We have decided to set up an office to explore the feasibility for the establishment of War and Economic Crimes Court (WECC) to provide an opportunity for those who bear the greatest responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity to account for their actions in court.”

Civitas Lament Lack of Accountability

Diplomatic stakeholders are quietly expressing concerns that such an office has not been set up since the President took office.

Today, most of the trials involving alleged perpetrators of the civil war has been spearheaded by Civitas Maxima, the Swiss-based group which has been tracking perpetrators of the civil war and bringing them to justice, recently welcomed the statement by President Boakai.

Civitas, in an Op-Ed recently published by FrontPageAfrica noted that Inaugural speeches by upcoming Liberian Presidents have always mentioned – in a way or another – the civil wars. But Mr. Boakai’s words ring with a promise of action, of decisions. And this is unprecedented.

Added Civitas: “Just because there has been no accountability in Liberia, it does not mean that there has been no justice for Liberians. We at Civitas Maxima and the Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP) have been at the forefront of it, working hard to document atrocities, coordinate with investigators and lawyers, and to provide information to national authorities, so that if there is evidence against an alleged perpetrator residing abroad, this could be tested in a court of law. Almost 21 years have passed since the end of the second civil war, and in these years 15 individuals have faced proceedings related to the wars that destroyed Liberia. We have facilitated 11 of these cases, in 6 different countries, and across 2 continents. If not at home, at least abroad some victims found some justice.”

The arrival of Ambassador Van Schaack next week is expected to accelerate discussions leading to the establishment of the war and economic crimes court.

During her last visit to Liberia last October, Ambassador Van Schaack declared that the Liberian government has to be accountable to its people, adding, “the US government is willing to support through technical and financial means to establish a tribunal.” She made the statement while visiting Liberia in October that year.

Schaack, who advises the US Secretary of State and other senior officials on issues relating to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, said it was time for the government of Liberia “to be accountable to its people.”

“The TRC report has some useful recommendations to address war crimes and atrocities. We encourage those in positions of power to look very carefully at those recommendations. It is never late to dispense justice. The individuals who suffered the crimes are still calling for justice and those who represent them should look into those calls,” Schaack further stated.

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