28 May 2012

Liberia: FIND Wants INCHR Forwards 'War Criminals' Names to the Hague

The Foundation For International Dignity (FIND) has backed a controversial statement by one of the Commissioners of the Independent National Human Right Commission (INHRC) that the Commission will forward names of those who bear the greatest responsibility of the Liberian civil war to the International Criminal Court in The Hague for prosecution.

The defunct Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) listed at least 30 individuals including indicted war criminal Charles Taylor, Nimba County Senator Prince Y. Johnson, MODEL leader Thomas Nimely Yaya, and LURD's Sakou Damate Konneh as individuals who should be prosecuted for war crimes.

FIND, one of Liberia's long standing and renowned human rights organizations, said the INHRC would be doing justice to the people of Liberia--especially the hundreds of thousands who were brutally killed and maimed during the 14-year civil war that tore the country into pieces--when it forwards those names to the ICC for prosecution.

Addressing a press conference in Monrovia, FIND's Executive Director Roosevelt Woods said his organization "whole heartedly embraces by the INHRC that it would submit the names of individuals indicted in the (...) TRC report of committing heinous crimes to the (...) ICC in The Hague."

"We want to assure the INHRC our fullest support and backing in ensuring that all those who committed heinous crimes during the Liberian civil crisis are brought to justice," Mr. Woods told a press conference Friday in Monrovia.

He said FIND considers the statement as "unprecedented" move aimed at bringing genuine peace and reconciliation in the country following years of armed conflict occasioned by death of over 250,000 Liberians.

Mr. Woods said "genuine reconciliation and lasting peace would remain unworkable in the country in the absence of retributive and restorative justice."

People who committed crimes against humanity should not go with impunity, he protested. "They must be given the opportunities like the former Liberian president Charles Taylor to prove their innocence or guilt the international justice system.

Controversial Statement

Meanwhile, the INHRC itself is split over the statement made by one of its commissioners, Thomas Bureh, and is said to be creating doubt over the unity of the commission that is critical to ensuring justice and enhancing reconciliation and unity, and peace and stability in the country.

Commissioner Bureh told journalists that those with minor crimes will be the ones to face the palaver hut as recommended by the TRC, while those carrying greater responsibility will go to the ICC, but the head of the Right Commission has retorted, blasting his colleague of bringing "embarrassment" to the Commission.

The head of the INHRC, Cllr. Leroy Urey, has said the statement made by Mr. Bureh does not represent the views of the Commission.

He told FPA on Friday that the Commission is not clothed with the authority to recommend prosecution for anyone in Liberia, even if it has been recommended by the TRC.

He accused Commissioner Bureh of being influenced by external forces. He claimed that Mr. Bureh has been "tampered with" by people in the erstwhile TRC and the international community.

"He has received bribes to go on the air in my absence and say what he said to the press. This attitude of Bureh has caused the commission complete embarrassment," Cllr. Urey was quoted by FPA.

Cllr. Urey called Bureh a renegade commissioner who has put personal interest above the interest of the country thereby bringing the commission to public disrepute, but Mr. Bureh has not responded to this latest accusation.

"I was out of the country and left my deputy commissioner Boakai Dukuly in charge of the affairs of the commission and he decided to hold a press conference that has caused huge embarrassment to the commission. But we will come up with an official position on the matter" he said.

Commission Under Attack

The Commission has meanwhile come under attack as the result of Mr. Bureh's statement, with former war lord, Nimba County Senator Prince Y Johnson (PYJ) bursting into anger and challenging the reported plan.

The defunct Independent National Patriotic Party Front of Liberia (INPFL), a breakaway of former President Taylor's NPFL, has rubbished the assertions of the Commissioner, adding that the institution wants to engage in selective justice. Senator Johnson said the Commission is not clothed with the authority to recommend people for prosecution, and that any attempt to do so would mean trouble. He said such action, submitting names to ICC, has to be legislated.

"In the absence of legislative involvement, it is illegal if you try to arrest anybody here, you are opening a Pandora Box for confusion," he warned. "If you have any reason to take anybody, it must be on legal ground and not on prejudicial ground, not on political ground."

The Nimba County Senator accused the Commission of using exclusionary tactics to get at people they perceive as trouble makers in the society. PYJ asserted that the decision is intended to get rid of 'native or indigenes' that are considered potential leaders to clear the way for the elites to continue to rule Liberia.

He said he is helping in the rebuilding process of the country and also has brought development and investors; therefore, it would be prudent to let sleeping dog lie or follow the due process of law.

"It has to be legally approved, the act that even established the Independent Human Rights Commission did not give it authority to just write directly to The Hague; it is not there," he argued.

Though the Commissioner Bureh did not mention his name or any other person, Senator Johnson said he has done nothing wrong and if anyone thinks he has, and he should be prosecuted, it should be done legally. "If it is there, let them go ahead. I have done nothing wrong, the burden of proof lies with the accuser, so I will be willing to go. Don't forget to note that the international tribunal is not just a court that is biased; that is just there to seek after people's imprisonment; they are there to look into cases legally and they will be calling for evidences.

No Law Needed

Meanwhile, FIND's Woods said there is no need for INHRC to be deterred by comments from PYJ. "We encourage the INHRC not to be deterred by threats by alleged perpetrators or individuals indicted in the TRC report in pushing justice for victims of the Liberian Civil War. He said it doesn't require laws to send names of those who committed war crimes to The Hague and being indicated by PYJ. "War crimes," Mr. Woods argued, "transcend national boundaries and the National Legislature does not necessarily have to pass the TRC recommendations into law before actions can be taken in the interest of victims of the Liberian civil war."

"Those who committed war crimes must account for their actions under international jurisprudent," he insisted, adding, "no matter how long it takes, justice will one day prevail for those who lost their lives and suffered in the hands of the so-called 'freedom fighters'." Writes D. K. Sengbeh


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