-- Attorney Samuel Kofi Woods Tells Save the Children Dignitaries in The Hague
One of Liberia's prominent human rights lawyers has told participants attending the anniversary of Save the Children dignitaries in The Hague, Netherlands that Liberia teeters on the brink of conflict as reconciliation remains ill-conceived and a fear of imminent violence persists alongside a criminal attitude bordering on selfish enrichment.
Attorney Samuel Kofi Woods, II of the Liberia Law Society made the statement on May 16, 2019 in a keynote speech he delivered on the 100th anniversary of Save the Children, Netherlands. He pointed out that the Liberian Conflict was declared ended in 2003 but, sixteen years later the peace of the nation remains fragile.
"It has been 16 years but, our nation teeters on the brink of another conflict, reconciliation remains ill-conceived and illusive, a leadership deficit looms undermining our governance framework, there is eminent fear of violence and a criminal attitude bordering on ruthless selfish enrichment persists," Atty. Woods added.
The former Catholic Justice and Peace Commission boss noted that there are several reasons underlying the outbreak of the Liberian civil war, one of which was to address injustice.
However, Woods lamented that those who claimed to do so committed even more atrocities, and used brute force to attain naked power. The result of this misadventure, he said was the criminalization of the Liberian nation at detriment of ordinary Liberians and the institutionalization of violence.
He also said that the Liberian Context mirrors all of the tragic experiences of the agony and sufferings of the world's Children. Atty. Woods further revealed that children in Liberia during the height of the war were forcibly conscripted, robbed of their early childhood and transformed into killing machines.
He recalled that the Liberian Civil War lasted for about 14 years, and it was a fratricidal civil conflict that devastated the country and destroyed close to 250,000 of its citizens, and displaced millions. Atty. Woods reminded the gathering that thousands of children were victims of killings, rape, sexual slavery and sexual assault, abduction, torture and forced labor.
He explained that children were given local alcohol laced with gunpowder and were overdosed with marijuana and cocaine, adding, "all factions recruited young boys and girls."
"Young girls were abducted by the factions into sexual servitude, and also served on the front-lines. In 2003, it was estimated that close to 21,000 Child Soldiers needed to be reintegrated into society," Atty. Woods said.
As a human rights worker, Woods added, "I witnessed first-hand the recruitment, raping, abductions and killing of children, and in October, 1992, I personally participated in the mass burial of civilians, which included close to 200 children.
In addition to the human cost and the razing of homes, buildings and infrastructure, Atty. Woods said that the years of conflict ruined Liberia's economy and left it awash with arms.
He further disclosed that massive displacement during the war led to a shutdown of public services, and maternal and infant mortality rose to levels "not seen in decades."
In 2010, Atty. Woods recalled that seven years after the war, Liberia ranked 162 of 169 countries in the Human Development Index, making it one of the poorest countries in the world.
"All laws governing war and guaranteeing the protection of children were wantonly violated, and human rights and humanitarian laws were flouted, hence, warring factions failed to respect standards and laws governing war and internal conflict," Atty. Woods said.
According to him, the guarantors and negotiators of peace, largely international and regional actors, surrendered to the viciousness of warlords and traded guns for political power thereby legitimizing the brutality and violations of human rights on such a large scale.
Woods said some argued that the international community was complicit in the war due to parochial economic and clientèle interests, and they refused to perform their duty to prosecute under international law for such "egregious violations."
He also reminded the gathering that the final peace agreement in 2003 provided for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), whose final report and attendant recommendations were not implemented. "As a result, peace is always threatened and warlords have been transformed into key political actors in an attempt to consolidate peace and democracy, and they are further empowered by the political process, while their victims lie powerless and at their mercy," Atty. Woods revealed.
In organizing the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former fighters, he said that the programs were not sustained and institutionalized to provide for proper individual and collective psychological healing of the population.
"A short time-line of a Child in Liberia at five years old in 1989, when the war actually started will reveal a child at 38 years old now, who has not known a stable and functional educational and health system, and no proper social system and services, no law and order, the lack of accountability and lack of respect for human dignity," Atty. Woods said.
"We are gradually sliding back into a civil conflict, because we have a nation comprised of angry raging and violent victims, and perpetrators deprived of the right to know, the right to the truth and the right to justice. The warlords turned politicians and their allies continue to rule and plunder using democracy as a shield to legitimize their desire to ruin and plunder the state," he lamented.
Liberia, he said like other countries, qualifies for all the antecedents of a violent conflict, lack of adherence to international standards, failure to protect children and punish perpetrators, failure to develop programs to rehabilitate and offer a future of hope and promise for the children.
To guarantee peace and assure Liberian children of a future of hope and promise, Atty. Woods suggested, "We must end impunity, hold perpetrators accountable, develop new psychological and social programs to rehabilitate, address drug abuse and addiction and guide adults, who have been trapped in the mind of the child, but possesses the body of an adult."
He cautioned Save the Children to consider a reflection of its founders, and must return to the ideals, which led to the opening its first office in Tanzania, East Africa in 1969, the Declaration on the Rights of the Child and the lofty promise that "Every Child Deserves a Future" as Liberia tragically mirrors the world of conflicts.
"We have seen nations struggle to grasp with development after the war, because its children have become adults without any hope and destiny," Atty. Woods said.