23 January 2018

Liberia: Human Rights Groups Urge President Weah to Prosecute War Crimes

Monrovia — Twenty international, African and Liberia-based human rights organizations have sent an open letter to Liberian President George Weah, calling on his administration to investigate and prosecute war atrocities.

According to a release by the Center for Justice and Accountability based in the United States, the groups also called upon President Weah "to make accountability a priority" for his administration and "ensure the protection of Liberian human rights defenders, particularly those working on accountability initiatives."

The Center for Justice and Accountability is an international human rights organization dedicated to deterring torture, war crimes, crimes against humanity and other severe human rights abuses around the world through litigation, policy advocacy and outreach in pursuit of truth, justice and redress for victims.

The human rights groups reference the two phases of Liberia civil war, which caused the killings of an estimated 250,000 people and request that the atrocities are investigated and prosecuted.

"A report by Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) released in June 2009 found all sides responsible for serious violations of domestic and international law, including war crimes, crimes against humanity, widespread and systematic rape and sexual slavery, torture, use and recruitment of child soldiers, and mass executions of civilians," the release said.

"Although the TRC recommended the establishment of an Extraordinary Criminal Tribunal in Liberia to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of serious violations of international criminal and humanitarian law, the only prosecutions to date have been outside of Liberia," it added.

Hassan Bility, Executive Director of Monrovia based Global Justice and Research Project and one of the authors of the open letter said: "Justice must be one of the cardinal points of the President's new agenda. There must be justice for war crimes, otherwise there will be no lasting peace in Liberia."

Mr. Bility, a former journalist and torture survivor of the civil war, helped initiate the arrests of several Liberian perpetrators in Europe and the U.S. in partnership with the Swiss based NGO, Civitas Maxima.

President Weah, during his inaugural address, assured that his administration would protect human rights and justice for all Liberians.

"Today, we Liberians have reached an important milestone in the never-ending journey for freedom, justice, and democracy; a search that has remained central to our history as a nation," he said.

Reacting to the speech on Monday, Mr. Bility told FrontPageAfrica the President's commitment to social justice and human rights would make some difference.

"Considering the fact that he was not connected to any faction (rebel group) and I don't know that he's connected to any special interest and based on his apparent popularity, it is something he can do because he has the support," Bility said of Mr. Weah's popularity with many Liberians.

He added that the new Liberian leader has a strong support base with poor Liberians that were also victimized by the war and are seeking justice.

"This is an opportunity for him to right many of the things that probably slipped through the safety net of the Ellen administration," he added.

Recent cases such as the conviction of Jungle Jabbah in Philadelphia and the indictments of other alleged war criminals in Europe and the U.S. have shown that prosecuting war criminals will not reignite the civil war in Liberia, as has often been feared, added Nushin Sarkarati, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Justice and Accountability.

"It is time to bring these examples of justice home, and make ending impunity in Liberia a priority."

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