Africa Insiders: Is Liberia ready to address war crimes?
The essentials: Liberia’s President George Weah is making moves that may lead to the establishment of an economic and war crimes court. This week, Weah submitted recommendations to parliament and sought advice on addressing human rights violations, war and economic crimes committed during the 14-year-long Liberian civil wars which ended in 2003.
The background: President Weah appears to be bowing to pressure from civil rights groups and Liberian citizens to finally address the injustices of the wars. Although the Liberian truth and reconciliation commission recommended the establishment of a special court in 2009, that call was never heeded. Thousands of people were killed, maimed or raped, and children were used as soldiers in the war. Yet over 100 rebel fighters are free and have never been tried in the country. Key actors in the war such as Charles Taylor and rebel leader Kunti K have been indicted or tried outside Liberia.
The good: Establishing the Extraordinary Court for Liberia is necessary for justice and for the people of Liberia to heal. Good examples are present in the region: Sierra Leone established a special court after its wars and led to Taylor’s sentencing. The Gambia is also forging ahead with a truth commission that may lead to the extradition of disgraced dictator Yahya Jammeh from Equatorial Guinea.
The bad: Liberia’s former warlords have been untouched for years. Some of them even joined Weah’s government and are holding top positions. But now they feel threatened and are even issuing “warnings” to intimidate those calling for trials. Their power and influence questions just how serious President Weah is about enforcing the recommendations of the truth commission. Besides, as proceedings before the International Criminal Court in The Hague related to the DR Congo have shown, defendants with influence can use the same to dissuade potential witnesses from coming forward, potentially undermining the procedure irreversibly.
The future: The court may be established sooner than most think: Injustice can only go unaddressed for so long and civil society groups are determined to keep up the pressure on Weah.
- Weah prioritizes war crimes court (The New Dawn)
- France: Former Liberian Colonel Kunti K. released on procedural grounds (rfi)
- Liberia: “Touch One Touch All” (The New Republic)
- Watch: Video Appeal for War Crimes Court (Human Rights Watch)
- “You have to face justice so I can get peace”: Calls for war court in Liberia (African Arguments)
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