United Nation — Liberia missed a glowing opportunity this week to explain what steps are being taken to address its painful past of a brutal civil war which killed scores of Liberians and sent thousands into exile.
Appearing before the UN Human Rights Committee as part of the review of Liberia's compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Liberian delegation included Deputy Minister of Justice for Economic Affairs Hon. Kou Dorliae, Deputy Minister for Administration and Public Safety Hon. Juah Nancy Cassell, Solicitor General Counsellor J. Daku Mulbah, and Assistant Minister for Legal Affairs Rosetta N. Jackollie, among others.
As part of the process, Liberia had the chance to make an initial presentation, which covered a range of human rights issues, but was noticeably silent on the question of accountability for past crimes. This was despite the fact that the Human Rights Committee had included prosecutions of past crimes among the list of issues for the government to address.
Several Liberian activists were in attendance to observe the proceedings, including Adama Dempster and Reverend Kollie of the Civil Society Human Rights Advocacy Platform of Liberia. Human Rights Watch was also present, having worked with 75 Liberian, African and other international groups to make a submission calling for Liberia to prosecute civil war era crimes.
Answers Fall Short
One of the committee members, however, followed up directly on the issue, noting that the "main concern" is what is happening with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations on accountability that have never been implemented, specifically the recommendation for the creation of a war crimes court. The committee member followed up to ask specifically whether the government intended to create a body to look into creating a court as civil society has recommended.
The answer fell far short of what is needed but is nevertheless at least a small step potentially in the right direction. A member of the delegation explained that the country has thus far focused on reconciliation and the Weah administration is still relatively new. But she said it must be acknowledged that more people are coming forward to press for justice and the petitions are being submitted on accountability. The official then added that the government will come back with a public statement on implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations on accountability, and working with international organizations on this.
Liberians have been waiting many years now to see any measure of justice for the brutal atrocities victims suffered during the country's civil wars and some nine years since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended the creation of a war crimes court. Meanwhile, the only cases of past crimes have been a small number of prosecutions pursued abroad.
Civil society and ordinary Liberians who have been marching in the streets to campaign for justice will be eagerly awaiting the public statement by the government on ensuring accountability for past crimes. That statement should confirm immediate establishment of a committee to develop a roadmap to fairly hold perpetrators of the most serious crimes committed to account.