Finally putting to rest speculations on where he stands on the issue of establishing a War and Economic Crimes Court (WECC) that would primarily hand justice to perpetrators of war crimes committed during the country’s turbulent civil war era and bring closure to war crimes victims and survivors, President George M. Weah has pitched his tent on the side of restorative justice instead of retributive justice.
Speaking Sunday, June 5, 2021 to the crowd of citizens who had converged at the Kolahun Town Hall in Lofa County, specifically, referencing one of the requests made by Kolahun District Representative Clarence Massaquoi that dwelled on seeking justice for the victims of the war, President Weah made it clear that he was not afraid of the setting up of the court, but that such has the potential of driving the country back into what he called the dark days.
“There is a need for both the perpetrators and the victims to sit down to discuss and find the way forward. This is the law of restorative justice. We cannot go back to the dark days of the country. Any attempt to bring the war court will open old wounds and take us back to our dark days”, President Weah said.
He continued: “Some of the perpetrators are our brothers and sisters that is why I say we need to sit down and talk as family, leave the past behind us and look ahead to the future”.
The Liberian Chief Executive, who was rounding up the fourth leg of his Nationwide tour in Lofa County, threw out a challenge to proponents of the court to go back to the drawing board and return to explain to people what is the rationale of the court, what will be the benefit to the country and people, and the impact it will have on the country.
He lamented that the whole issue of the court and the envisaged justice it will bring to the victims has been highly politicized such that, according to him, people are only talking about it for selfish reasons.
President Weah reminded the people that he has taken a step further on the contentious issue by transmitting a recommendation to the national legislature seeking advice on how to proceed with the recommendation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) so as to deal with the whole subject matter once and for all.
“I have sent the documents to the national legislature for them to work on it but up to now nothing of such has been done. I don’t have the power to decide on the war crime court but the Liberian people. I can only state my own personal take about it and that is why I said we need to sit down and talk”.
Earlier on, the lawmaker representing Kolahun District, Mr. Clarence Massaquoi had told the President the decision of the people of the district to memorialize the victims of the war in the area by constructing a befitting ground and join in the crusade for the establishment of a war and economic crime court to bring the perpetrators of the heinous acts to justice.
The call for WECC has generated a lot of controversies with opposing views being expressed on the matter. It appears to be that the discussion will dominate the discourse during the 2023 general elections.
With President Weah now throwing the gauntlet for the WECC establishment at the doorsteps of the National Legislature, while at the same time clearly stating his position for restorative justice, observers strongly believe that some prominent members of the 54th Legislature who themselves stand accused of perpetrating war crimes will support President Weah’s stance for restorative justice. Or, worst case scenario, they might not pay heed to any recommendation on a WECC legislation.
“The WECC will not see the light of day under this administration, just as it didn’t survive during the past regime. But no matter how long it takes the Liberian people will get justice,” says Dennison Kanneh, a youthful citizen of Lofa County.
Kortu Massaquoi, another Lofian, however, strongly supports President Weah’s call for restorative justice, based on the premise of Scriptural provisions.
“The Bible says we should forgive 70 times 7. It is God who gives vengeance. Some of our brothers and sisters who committed war crimes against our people are living with us. Those who have changed their ways, we have forgiven them. But we will never forget,” she added cryptically.
Relative to the establishment of the WECC for which President Weah opted for restorative instead of retributive justice, restorative justice, according to Wikipedia, is an approach to justice in which one of the responses to a crime is to organize a meeting between the victim and the offender, sometimes with representatives of the wider community. The goal is for them to share their experience of what happened, to discuss who was harmed by the crime and how, and to create a consensus for what the offender can do to repair the harm from the offense. This may include a payment of money given from the offender to the victim, apologies and other amends, and other actions to compensate those affected and to prevent the offender from causing future harm.