Liberia: 'Failure to Address Past Crimes Facilitates Commission of Present Crimes'

King Solomon, the wisest man ever recorded in Bible history stated in one of his accounts: "Because sentence against evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to commit evil." The world is described as an evil place in the Bible, and the same Bible suggested a remedy for evil by stating: "To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice, and he that reward evil for good, evil shall not depart from his house."

These quotations are in reference to a statement delivered on October 12, 2020 by Adama Dempster, a Human Rights defender and investigator pushing for accountability for past human rights violations and crimes against humanity during Liberia's devastating civil war whose victims are still living with the scars.

During a virtual conference on post-conflict accountability with the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, Mr. Dempster said: "As a result of not addressing past crimes, there has been an increasing commission of crimes in current times. The failure to implement the TRC recommendations, the culture of impunity has grown very high; insecurity evidenced by increased secret killings and mysterious death has been seen in Liberia in recent times. This is worrisome against the right to life if nothing is done in the soonest possible time."

With a past record of mysterious deaths of key public figures including Harry Greaves and Michael Allison during the administration of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia in the George Weah Administration continues to witness much of the same scenario. On October 2, 2020, Albert Peters and Victoria Asmah Lama (also known as Gifty), senior staffers of the Liberia Revenue Authority, were found dead in Albert's vehicle on Broad Street in central Monrovia. The crime scene and evidence had since been contaminated by mishandling on the part of the Liberia National Police.

After a day into uncovering the bodies of the two LRA employees, another employee, George F. Fanbutu, died in a vehicle crash, but wounds sustained on his head have left the public with the suspicions that there was first a foul play that facilitated the accident.

On October 10, 2020, there was another incident of the mysterious death of the Director for the Internal Audit Agency (IAA), E. Bertan Nyenswuah. This, again, is beclouded with suspicion as the cause of death is yet to be established. In 10 days four employees of the same professional and occupational backgrounds died with no trace of the causes of these mysterious deaths.

In what appears like a complaint to the UN Human Rights Council during the interactions, Mr. Dempster told the panel that since Liberia was reviewed and the call for the establishment of a war and economic crimes court intensified, the government has yet to make the necessary attempt to bring to fruition the implementation of the TRC recommendations that call in part for the establishment of a war crimes court for perpetrators who bear greatest responsibilities in human rights violations during the war.

Dempster, who implements a project for the African Transitional Justice Legal Fund (ATJLF) that focuses on identifying war victims and explaining to them the TRC recommendations, said among other things that currently in Liberia, the enabling environment for civil society organization actors, victims of war, activists and human rights defenders, is not provided to aid the advocacy for accountability.

"Unwillingness on the part of the government, especially the Speaker of the Parliament to support the bill establishing war and economic crimes court for Liberia, and the lack of strong international push on the government to ensure it complies with the 2018 UN Human Rights Committee's observations and recommendations are among challenges facing accountability in Liberia.

When President Weah returned from his second United Nations General Assembly in 2019, he sent a communication to the House of Representatives seeking that law-making body's advice on what to do in line with rights campaigners and the international community's demand for accountability for past violations. But before that, he had rebuked journalists asking him about his stand on war crimes court for Liberia where he said: "Why now? Why people who spent 12 years in power could not bring it but me?"

During that interaction with the media, President Weah threw a two-sided die, bearing development and war crimes court, for Liberians to choose between. In 2018, House Speaker Bhofal Chambers made his position clear that he rather supports restorative justice against retributive justice. It can also be recalled that about 44 members of the House of Representatives signed a resolution in 2019 endorsing the establishment of a war crimes court in Liberia, but the two Houses of the Legislature, the Senate and the Representatives, have not yet concurred to send the document to the Executive for approval or rejection.

Rights groups and justice campaigners were impressed from the onset of the Weah Administration that the President has no bloodstain on his hand and therefore could endorse justice since former President Sirleaf who is implicated in the TRC report could not, but they have become disappointed as President Weah reneges on justice for war victims. However, Montserrado County District #10 Representative, Yekeh Kolubah who also was a fierce fighter during the Liberian war, has said on public radio that President George Weah was one of the financers of the rebel group, Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) that operated from south-eastern Liberia in 2003. Representative Kolubah has persistently said: "President George Weah supported MODEL in this country, and I challenge him to deny. If he denies and it is proven that he did not, I will resign my position as a Representative."

Noticing that there is no hope to bring justice for war victims as the wave of crimes escalates by the day, human rights campaigner, Adama Dempster, is pleading that since international crimes are punishable under international laws, the call for the establishment of a war and economic crimes court has an international bearing and the responsibility for implementation also rests with the international community.

He is therefore calling for tougher measures to include sanctions and other travel restrictions on key officials who should implement the recommendations of the TRC but are failing to do and leaving war victims to grieve and live without reparations as contained in the recommendations.

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