Liberia: CSOs Mount Pressure for War Crimes Court

Adama K. Dempster, Secretary-general of the Civil Society Organizations and Human Rights Advocacy Platform says human rights groups have begun engaging on the House of Representatives to consider the passage of the resolution calling for the establishment of War and Economic Crimes court.

During the opening of the 3rd sitting of the 54th Legislature, Dempster told lawmakers not to take debate surrounding the establishment of a war and economic crimes court lightly, because it will help to address the culture of impunity and hold people accountable for past crimes and human rights violations during the civil crisis.

It can be recalled that in August 2019, the Civil Society Organizations and Human Rights Platform, with support from Civitas Maxima, organized the Justice Conference, wherein lawmakers representing various committees, including Petition and Claims, headed by Montserrado County District #4 Representative Rustonlyn Suacoco Dennis, attended and pledged their support for accountability for Liberia's 14-year civil war.

During that time, Representative Dennis said: "I am passionate about it, and I will put my whole self into it because impunity must be addressed in this country." Representative Larry Younquoi of Nimba County District #8 said: "We will take this resolution to the House's Plenary and ask people individually to have their say on the matter so Liberian people will know what we are really out for."

In October 2019, 51 of the 73 members of the 54th Legislature signed a resolution to establish war and economic crimes court in Liberia.

The decision of the lawmakers came shortly after President Weah's message to the 54th United Nations General Assembly in which he named major steps to bring justice for those wrongs committed during the civil war by endorsing a war and economic crimes court. However, when the President returned from the General Assembly meeting in New York last year, he changed his tone and said that his predecessor spent 12 years in power but could not bring alleged perpetrators to justice.

"We want to encourage the joint committee, headed by Representative Dennis, not to relent but make sure that the resolution, signed by those 51 lawmakers, be placed on the agenda for discussion, not later than this January," said Dempster.

When quizzed about the position of President George M. Weah who called for dialogue rather than the establishment of a war and economic crimes court, Dempster told the Daily Observer, "The President needs to have a clear understanding about those international instruments when we talk about issues of war crimes. They are above the issue of domestic crimes [and] which our legal system in the country cannot handle."

"We have realized that the President is still learning when it comes to the process of establishing war crimes court because, if he had the full disclosure of what war crime is and what the Truth and Recondition Committee report says, then, he will know how to draw his line around the issue of reconciliation, dialogue, and war crimes court," Dempster said.

He said when it comes to the establishment of War Crimes Court, the President will sometimes say one thing and then come back to say another, but the greater goal for Liberia is the responsibility it has to make sure that people who committed war crimes and created untold suffering for the people are brought to justice.

Dempster said that war crimes cannot be dialogued but the best remedy is to establish a court that will bring perpetrators to face justice.

He said the culture of impunity has remained alive in Liberia, which could not change the dynamics but continues to undermine the rule of law and the justice system.

"The Culture of impunity has created the thought in people that they are above the law and there are many victims of the civil war who have not gotten any redress while some still live with bullet wounds," Dempster said.

He indicated that the establishment of the court is an ongoing debate and vowed that the CSOs platform will not turn its back on the process. Dempster called on members of the 54th legislature to prioritize the people they were elected to represent and not to return to business as usual.

He further urged the Legislature to discuss issues that will impact the Liberian people by having basic social services and empowerment. He said civil Servants need to have their wages and benefits on time for the work they do, and the healthcare and educational systems need to improve.

Dempster said lawmakers should be able to enact laws that will help Liberians to be reliant and not to always look up to the government or other people in other countries for help in everything.

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