3 April 2019

Liberia: The Establishment of a War and Economic Crimes Court for Liberia Has Become an Exigency

The attention of the Daily Observer is drawn to a story carried in its April 2, 2019, edition written by reporter Abednego Davis under the headline, "Do Not Fear Threats If War Crimes Courts Are Established". The exhortation, according to reporter Abednego Davis, was made by Melron Nicol-Wilson, a human rights lawyer and Solicitor of the High Court of Sierra Leone during a three-day (March 28-30, 2019) Assembly of the Liberia National Bar Association(LNBA).

According to Davis, who covered the program, Mr. Meron Nicol-Wilson, speaking on the topic "Accountability or Impunity, Putting a Closure to the 14 Years", told the assembly of lawyers that they have no reason to fear since those chiefly responsible for the commission of atrocities have all become weakened since the end of the conflict and therefore lack the ability to create a climate of sustained instability in the country.

Mr. Nicol-Wilson expressed the belief that people who committed crimes against humanity should be punished (held to account) in order to put an end to impunity. He noted that in his dear country, Sierra Leone, the chapter for the bitter past has been closed, and respect for the rule of law has since been restored because individuals accused of committing atrocities were tried and sentenced accordingly.

This newspaper fully concurs with suggestions calling for the implementation of the TRC report which recommended prosecution for perpetrators of gross human rights abuse and economic crimes. The Daily Observer further welcomes the vote and resolution from the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA) endorsing the TRC report and calling for full implementation of its recommendations.

The Daily Observer newspaper remains cognizant of the fact that the greatest challenge posed to sustained peace and stability in Liberia today is the rising trend of general lawlessness and disrespect for the rule of law. And this is directly linked to the culture of fear and impunity that create public perceptions of a weak and dysfunctional Police force and criminal justice system, as well as a corrupt judiciary incapable of safeguarding and protecting the rights of the ordinary citizen.

This newspaper notes that since the folding up of the UN military mission, the nation has witnessed a steady rise in the frequency and incidences of violent mob action which in some instances, public infrastructure such as police stations have been set ablaze by angry mobs. Police stations appear to be particularly targeted largely because of negative public perceptions that depict the Liberia National Police (LNP) as corrupt, unreliable and biased in their approach to law enforcement.

Over the past month for example the Daily Observer has unfailingly reported incidences of mob violence occurring around the country. The Daily Observer also notes that growing public fears about displayed police reluctance to respond to incidents of political violence could serve to trigger off even more retaliatory violence.

A recent but disturbing development, according to some human rights groups, is alleged official support to a group of ex-generals and ex fighters of the various defunct warring factions as well as reports of nocturnal military maneuvers on the beaches of Monrovia for purposes which remain unclear to most except those under whose sponsorship they appear to be operating. In any case the public, given past experience, remains wary and apprehensive about these developments.

Local human rights groups note for example the public mention of Prince Toe, a one-time leader of the National Democratic Party of Liberia (NDPL) youth wing, which was a group of street thugs armed and supported by military dictator Samuel K. Doe purposely organize to intimidate and violently disrupt public gatherings considered hostile to the regime's interests. Some of its most notorious acts included the burning down of the home and library of former Secretary of State, J. Rudolph Grimes on 10th Street and the public display of decapitated bodies on the streets of Monrovia.

Today, the notorious group or at least its remnants have resurfaced and have become active, this time under the command of a different set of actors. The public has since borne witness to their violent actions. On Saturday, November 17, 2018, a group of street thugs, led by Monrovia City Mayor Jefferson Koijee, attacked a political gathering in New Georgia where candidate Cornelia Krua Togba was holding a political rally. Several persons sustained injuries as a result. Grand Bassa Senator, Nyonblee Karnga, who was in attendance had to flee the area for fear of her life.

The Police have since taken no action to bring the perpetrators to justice even after Senator Karnga had filed an official report on the situation. In another instance, the home of Representative Yekeh Kolubah was attacked by a group or armed thugs led by some individuals identified as officials of this government. A children's party which was being held by Representative Yekeh Kolubah to entertain kids in his district was violently disrupted. Later that night gunshots were fired at his home.

Since then no arrests have been made and nothing has since become of the case even though it was officially reported to the Police. In yet another instance, armed street thugs led by the leader of the Liberia National Students Union (LINSU) violently disrupted the Movement for Justice in Africa's (MOJA) 46th anniversary program. The Police help was sought to bring the situation under control but the Police was, at best, non-responsive.

From all indications, impunity is alive and thriving in Liberia owing mainly to the fact that accountability for the commission of war and economic crimes was given zero recognition during the reign of President Sirleaf. It was hoped by many that George Weah, given his stance, would have been the "accountability" candidate, so to speak. This view has otherwise proved unfounded as President Weah has so far, shown little or no indications that he is prepared to pursue the course of justice and accountability in Liberia. In view of this, the establishment of a war and economic crimes court for Liberia has become an exigency.

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