Liberia: War Crimes Court Finally Comes to Liberia

10 February 2021

The trial of a suspected Sierra Leonean warlord, Gibril Ealoghima Massaquoi, accused of atrocities in Liberia during the civil war, which started in Finland is finally bringing the much debated court to Liberia. The Finnish Non-Governmental Organization Civitas Maxima, which is heavily promoting the trial is pushing prosecutors to conduct the earing of witness testimonies in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The court is expected to move to Liberia and neighboring Sierra Leone in the next few weeks to hear testimony from up to 80 witnesses and visit sites where the atrocities are alleged to have been carried out under Mr. Massaquoi's orders.

Massaquoi, this paper has learnt from sources, played a key role in former President Charles Taylor's conviction as a protected star witness.

Like Tayor, who is currently serving a 50-years sentence in a British prison for war crimes committed in Sierra Leone, Massaquoi, is standing trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in Liberia between 1999 and 2003.

Prosecutors have accused him of killing civilians and soldiers who had just been disarmed, rape, and recruiting child soldiers. Massaquoi has since denied the charges and says he was taking part in peace talks at the time of the alleged crimes.

But are there support for a war crimes court in Liberia?

The United States House of Representatives passed a Resolution 1055, calling for the establishment of a war and economic crimes court in Liberia.

The U.S House of Representative 115th Congress (2017-2018) Resolution 1055, affirms the strong United States-Liberia ties and support for democratic principles, and call for full implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations, including the establishment of an Extraordinary Criminal Tribunal for Liberia. Liberia witnessed one of Africa's most brutal conflicts - the first and second civil wars of 1989-1997 and 1999-2003, respectively.

Many Liberians if not most, welcome the establishment of the Extraordinary Criminal Tribunal in Liberia, but few opposed it. One man who has been so vociferous against the establishment of the war crimes tribunal here is Nimba County Senator Prince Johnson.

Johnson was the leader of the breakaway Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL) that slaughtered former President Samuel K. Doe on his Cardwell based in 1990.

Johnson thinks the establishment of a war crimes tribunal here will dig out old wounds and probably plunge the country back into civil war. He believes Liberians have healed and should move on.

But others think Johnson and others like him who committed atrocities here should not go unpunished.

Cllr. FonatiKoffa, is Liberia's newly elected Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. He believes that those who committed atrocities here should be made to account for their crimes. To him that will bring about true accountability to the horrible tragedy that took place here decades ago.

"In order to bring true accountability to the horrible tragedy of the Liberian civil war, I support a process in line with US House of Rep Resolution 1055 which calls for the full implementation of the TRC as the sole legitimate manner in which we can hold those responsible who bear the greatest responsibility," Cllr. Koffa told the New Dawn Tuesday February 9 via a WhatAppinterveiw.

Deputy Speaker Koffa says in order to have the full implementation of the TRC recommendation, he calls for the establishment of the relevant infrastructure both legal and physical to ensure sustainable justice.

But can an EU NGO like Civitas Maxima have any form of authority or jurisdiction over Liberia outside of the TRC? To this Cllr. Koffa thinks differently. He says this could lead to a misstep that may not be legally recoverable.

"To have ad hoc NGOs conducting bounty hunting throughout the world, while laudable, will lead to missteps that may not be legally recoverable" explained Cllr. Koffa."I am not sure they (NGOs) can because the Liberian prosecutorial authorities have not been joined in the matter and I don't think they can be joined outside of the TRC process set up by the Liberian legislature," he added.

The first of such case in Liberia

If the prosecutors succeed in moving the court to Liberia to interview witnesses in connection to the Massaquoi trial, this will be the first of such case to be partly held in Liberia, with Massaquoi remaining in Finland.

The wars in Liberia did not only destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Liberians, but eventually spilled into neighbouring Sierra Leone and Côte d'Ivoire.

And yet only victims in Sierra Leone havehad some degree of accountability for those responsible for committing such atrocities. This was achieved through the efforts of the UN-backed special court for which jurisdiction was limited to crimes in Sierra Leone.

In Liberia, no perpetrator has been brought to book both internationally and locally. But there are calls overwhelming for those responsible for the spillage here to be held accountable.

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