Liberia: Human Rights Defenders Target Those Preventing Establishment of War Crimes Court

Monrovia — The Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP) has called for the imposition of multiple sanctions on public officials and those preventing the implementation of the recommendations contained in the final report of the erstwhile Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), especially the establishment of a war crimes court in Liberia.

According to the group's head, Mr. Hassan Bility, "deceitful and hypocritical politicians" in Liberia continue to compromise citizens' popular call for the prosecution of those who committed atrocities and war crimes in Liberia for political reasons.

He made specific reference to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Bhofal Chambers.

Speaker Blocking Views

Mr. Bility made these comments when he appeared as guest on The Advocates for Human Rights platform on Monday, October 12 via the social media.

The Advocates for Human Rights works locally and globally to fight injustice, restore peace, save lives and build the human rights movement.

The group continues to monitor human rights conditions and to advocate for the human rights of asylum seekers by working with members of Congress, reporting to the United Nations, and helping the public understand the importance of the right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution.

Mr. Bility disclosed that the Maryland County lawmaker has been allegedly "blocking" the views of his colleagues on the establishment of the court.

He observed that the Coalition for Democratic Change led government of President George Manneh Weah remains unwilling to ensure the establishment of the court in Liberia.

He noted that despite the situation, the GJRP remains unwavering to ensure the prosecution of former Liberian warlords, some of who are serving in the legislative and executive branches of the Liberian government, while others remain out of the country.

Mr. Bility disclosed that multiple orchestrated campaigns have been launched by some of these war criminals against Liberian human rights defenders and activists.

He pointed out that the return of some of these war criminals from Finland and the United States pose a serious threat to both human rights defenders and war victims in Liberia.

He maintained that though some of these war criminals have gained both political and financial strengths, his group will cooperate and use international laws to ensure that some of those who committed atrocities and war crimes are prosecuted.

Continue to Hold Folks Accountable

"At several conferences and meetings we had with civilians and non-civilians all across the country-one of the main things they always talked about is why are these trials not being held in Liberia. And we told them that it is our responsibility as Liberians to call on our elected officials and government to make sure that these trials are held here".

"But in the absence of the willingness of the Liberian government to do so, we will continue to hold people (war criminals) accountable through cooperation, the use of the universal jurisdiction or working with jurisdictional authorities of other countries to make sure that some of these people are held accountable"

Mr. Bility added: "What we have begun to see is an orchestrated campaign by some of these warlords to intimidate human rights workers and those testifying in cases. We are very much concerned about the return of several of them which poses a serious threat to us and some of the witnesses. Some of the perpetrators are here-in the legislative and executive branches of government".

He pointed out misinformation and political reasons as contributing factors for the intimidation of human rights defenders seeking the prosecution of those who committed heinous crimes and atrocities during the warring days in Liberia.

He noted that though his group does not have evidence to substantiate state-sponsored attacks on human rights defenders, there are hard facts that some government officials and others from political parties have made threatening comments against these activists and defenders.

Obstacle

Mr. Bility disclosed that his group has realized that the majority of Liberians who spoke at various conferences and meetings held by the GJRP want a court to be established in Liberia to ensure the prosecution of war criminals here, instead of prosecuting them in foreign countries.

He attributed the citizens' quest to the building of confidence and hope in the working of Liberian human rights defenders and others who ensured the prosecution of several warlords in the United States and other countries.

'Afraid to Speak'

"The Liberian people who were afraid to speak out began to believe in the possibility of justice. The series of arrests that were made overseas have now shifted the fears among Liberians. Perpetrators are the ones that are ones now afraid and they have begun to organize themselves to intimidate human rights defenders and workers".

Mr. Bility added that despite the citizens' willingness to the establishment of the court in Liberia remains very challenging with House Speaker Bhofal Chambers serving as an obstacle.

"The Executive has raised some technical arguments that it is not our job to make laws and your talk to the lawmakers. The biggest obstacle I now see is the Speaker of the House of Representatives Hon. Bhofal Chambers. The Speaker has completely refused to allow a candidate voice to be heard on the floor".

Mr. Bility, however, commended the government for allowing foreign investigators to come into Liberia to probe war crimes based upon separate requests filed by their authorities abroad.

For his part, the head of the Human Rights Watch, Mr. Adama Dempster, recalled that significant efforts have been made by civil society actors, legislators and others to ensure the establishment of a war and economic crimes court in the country.

He added that a national civil society movement has been launched in Liberia to help end the culture of impunity in the society.

He pointed out that in November 2018, a march for justice was held by civil society actors and others in demand for the full implementation of recommendations contained in the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Mr. Demspter further recalled that at the end of the national economic conference, participants also called for the establishment of a war and economic crimes court and implementation of the TRC report.

He added that though President George Manneh Weah assured participants the implementation of the resolution signed and adopted, the Liberian Chief Executive is yet to actualize his promise.

Mr. Dumpster further claimed that the Speaker of the House of Representatives Dr. Bhofal Chambers is allegedly blocking the resolution signed and submitted by majority of his colleagues for the court in Liberia.

"In July, a national legislative conference was held under the theme: Justice and Accountability. 54 members of the House of Representatives signed a resolution for the establishment of a war and economic crimes court in Liberia. But as we stand, that resolution which has been signed, has been blocked by the current Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Bhofal Chambers".

He maintained that since President Weah requested lawmakers to advise him or provide guidance on all legislative and other necessary measures on the Implementation of the TRC report and the establishment of a war and economic crimes court, nothing has been heard from the National Legislature, through Speaker Chambers.

He noted that the downplaying of these efforts applied by civil society actors, campaigners, and human rights activists and war victims are "unwillingness and lack of interest for justice and accountability in Liberia by the government".

Rebels Parading Government

Speaking further, Mr. Dempster observed that government is not showing any real interest in the establishment of a war crime court in the country.

He noted that contrary to the government implementing recommendations and ensuring the protection of war victims and addressing past crimes, Liberia is now in the corridor "where the increasing parade of former general and rebels continue themselves from generals association continue to enjoy top positions in government at the level of national security and other areas in the government sector".

He maintained that the current situation has increased delays, raised eyebrows among the public, especially war victims.

"There are a couple of challenges that civil society activists, war victims continue to experience. Some of those challenges include a lack of a safe and enabling environment for these individuals and actors to do their work in pursuit of accountability and justice across the country. Another challenge has to do with an unwillingness on the part of government especially the Speaker of the House of Parliament to put the resolution calling for the establishment of war crimes on the floor for plenary decision".

Mr. Dempster noted that as a result of not addressing past crimes, there has been an increasing wave of crimes including multiple mysterious deaths and insecurity which remain worrisome in Liberia.

He pointed out that the lack of "strong international push" on the government to ensure its compliance with the July 2018 United Nations Human Rights Committee Observation and Recommendation remains a major concern to civil society activists, war victims and others in Liberia.

"Crimes are being committed on a daily basis in Liberia. We think that the international community should exert more pressure on the government. It's clear that international crimes are punishable under international laws and the establishment of a war crimes court has an international bearing. The responsibility for the implementation also rest with the international committee and we think that the United Nations should stand up because Liberia is of no exception to Rwanda".

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