LIBERIAN President George Weah has written to the legislature to establish a court to try those accused of atrocities during the country’s civil war.
Weah’s a letter dated September 12, said: ‘I … do hereby call on the National Legislature to advise and provide guidance on all legislative and other necessary measures towards the implementation of the TRC [Truth and Reconciliation Commission] report, including the establishment of the Economic and War Crimes Court.’
Adama Dempster at the Human Rights Advocacy Platform of Liberia and the Secretariat for the Establishment of a War Crimes Court in Liberia, said: ‘President Weah’s support for a war crimes court is an important step for victims and for helping to ensure the violence that brought so much pain and loss to Liberia will not happen again.
‘This decision benefits the victims, the country, and the rule of law in Liberia.’
During armed conflicts from 1989-96 and 1999-2003, Liberians suffered widespread violations of international human rights and humanitarian law such as mass killings, rape and other forms of sexual violence, summary executions, mutilation and torture, and use of child combatants.
The TRC, which sat between 2006 and 2009, recommended creating a war crimes court – the Extraordinary Criminal Court for Liberia – to try those responsible for grave crimes committed.
Many of the TRC’s recommendations, including for the war crimes court, have never been carried out.
The few cases involving civil wars-era crimes have all occurred outside Liberia, before US and European courts.
Authorities have been pursuing cases under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows national courts to try international crimes committed abroad, as well as for crimes related to immigration issues.
‘In the past few years we have made significant progress in cases abroad to try alleged perpetrators of Liberia’s wartime crimes,’ said Hassan Bility at Global Justice and Research Project and the Secretariat for the Establishment of a War Crimes Court in Liberia.
‘But our people should have the chance to see justice at home. Liberia should work with the United Nations and other international partners to set up a court that can hold fair, credible trials.’
Liberians have held marches to campaign for a war crimes court, and petitioned the legislature to carry out the commission’s recommendations.
Liberian, African, and international non-governmental organisations have come together to campaign for justice in Liberia.
In May several of the groups released a video appeal for the court, with statements from people of varied backgrounds who took part in a national conference on accountability in Monrovia in November.
The Liberian Bar Association added its support for a war crimes court in April.
The Traditional Chiefs Council backed a war crimes court in early September while
the National Economic Dialogue, attended by 350 Liberians, including members of the government, political parties, youth, and civil society, recommended establishing the court.
In July, lawmakers attended a legislative conference on accountability organized by local and international groups.
The joint committee of Liberia’s House of Representatives then put forward a resolution backing the court, which was immediately endorsed by nine lawmakers.
‘All eyes now turn to our national legislature,’ said Aaron Weah at Search for Common Ground-Liberia and the Secretariat for the Establishment of a War Crimes Court in Liberia. ‘Some victims have been waiting more than two decades.
‘The legislature should move ahead to establish the court without delay.’