Boakai’s Conflicting Signals On WECC -Pundits Unpack Double-Faced Approach

MONROVIA: Each time Liberians’ hope for justice following the 14-year civil conflict is raised, thinking a final logical closure and end of impunity are on hand, the unexpected happens. The Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration, consistent with the Comprehensive Accra Peace Accord, engineered the establishment of the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (LTRC) which wasted no time but painstakingly conducted a national hearing that generated the basis for national healing based on reconciliation and justice. Public anxieties, and all hopes for final settlement of crimes committed during the war were dashed in the face of the galaxy of all the international organizations, including the largest United Nation’s troops, that was on the ground. At the advent of the Weah administration, hopes were recharged on account of the proposition that he, with clean records as far as the war was concerned, would be most suited to establish the much-vaunted war crimes court. The hopes were dashed again. Then came campaign promises and the inaugural address of President Joseph Boakai bringing back hopes of the justice-hungry population of Liberia that, at long last, something markedly would be done. But as The Analyst has gathered, it is becoming clearer by the day that skeptics repudiating the Boakai electoral rhetoric are actually right on their doubts.

Liberians and their foreign like-minds, who at the end of the Liberian civil conflict contended that there was no need for a war crimes court in Liberia, are by now beating their chests in celebration that they are proven right on their stand. The establishment of the court is indeed becoming impossible, as it appears to be hitting the rock yet again under the leadership of a president who had blown the horns so high that he would break the stalemate.

The Liberian civil war, with multiple phases spanning over 14 years, is described as one of the most horrifying conflicts of a time, laying waste 250,000 lives, displacing millions of citizens and backpedaling the country’s development a hundred years.

Since then, at least 20 years on, there has been a national debate, however informal, amongst citizens if the right way to give the conflict a final settlement would be to establish a war crimes court to punish or provide justice to perpetrators and victims or be tailored after a traditional African mode that entails reconciliation and restoration.

The people have not been able to settle down on a particular way forward. Both the 12-year reign of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and the six-year administration of President George Manneh Weah were unable to embark upon either of the post-conflict peace-and-reconciliation paths, leaving the country in the state of dishevelment and uncertainty regarding final closure.

Mixed Signals from President Boakai

As the war crimes court dream lingers, despite stern attempts by some Liberians and foreign partners to have it done once and for all, the discourse got elevated to another layer of accountability—corruption—with some suggesting that economic crimes should also be included in the anti-impunity conversation at to make the court War and Economic Crimes Court or WEEC.

The Boakai pro-WEEC Face

During the 2023 electoral campaign, the Standard Bearer of the then opposition now ruling Unity Party hyped the necessity for war and economic crimes court, promising the electorate that upon winning the presidency, he would bring a final end to the lingering debate about post-conflict justice and accountability.

There were no formal presidential debates during the campaign but the UP standard bearer was particularly vocal about impunity and accountability, gaining traction and appeal for saying so.

Speaking to the world at his inauguration, he did not forget the promise. Amongst other things, the President averred: “Corruption is a menace and a drawback. Commitment to the application of the rule of law, therefore, will be essential in the fight against corruption, as halting the tide of public corruption is an important part of our development agenda for the transformation of our country.”

He continued: “We must, accordingly, reset the fight against corruption and impunity to demonstrate firmness and resolve. We have decided to set up an office to explore the feasibility for the establishment of War and Economic Crimes Court (WECC) to provide an opportunity for those who bear the greatest responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity to account for their actions in court. An estimated quarter of a million of our people perished in the war. We cannot forever remain unmoved by this searing national tragedy without closure.”

Despite pockets of cynicisms and skepticism about his political will, some suggesting that he was just been merely rhetorical, the President moved a bit unusually stronger on the promise with the submission of a Special Resolution to the National Legislature for the establishment of the War and Economic Crimes Court.

And pleasantly for the president, the first wing of the Legislature to receive and act on the Resolution, the House of Representatives, did so with the speed of light. After which, the Resolution was sent to the other wing, the Senate, for concurrence.

At that point the President attract enormous national and international acclamation for the move, though with murmurings amongst some of his supporters whose hands were found the cookie’s jar.

The Flip-Face of the President

It has been a couple of weeks since the Senate received the near-unanimously signed Resolution from the House of Representatives. With the nation poised and anxious to see what the Senators would do, how they would do it and when, so public doubts also mount about the President’s will to keep up the momentum towards the finalization of the WEEC deal.

A number of observers who have closely followed President Boakai’s overtures on the establishment of the WEEC, including his supporters, are of the opinion that he is no more the same; in the trinkling of an eye, one said, “he’s backpaddling in recent days”.

Others say his inner-circle conversations regarding the court are no more the same, suggesting that he may have been regretting previous promises made and efforts already initiated.

Nothing eloquently gives credence to President Boakai’s seeming lethargy on the WEEC saga than the recent BBC interview at which time the President, asked about his impunity and accountability agenda, including the war and economic crimes court issue, sounded nearly ambivalent and unmotivating.

The President responded to the WEEC question: “To be frank with you, my initial thinking was to go the African way that goes with reconciliation, but again in an area where there has been conflict, the people who bear the greatest responsibility must acknowledge the fact that they bear and should be able to repent and bring about peace If they do not, impunity is not the way to go. We need to reconcile this country and if people are willing to reconcile the country, and be able to make up for their wrong doing, I think this country will move further. So, we believe people must admit that what they did was wrong, and they should be willing to reconcile.”

Pundits familiar with transitional justice issues say that assertion by the President is a drift from the punitive and retributive justice mode long sought which is the basis of the WEEC rather than the restorative and reconciliatory justice mode.

One pundit states: “As an elder, of one the oldest Liberians living, President Boakai is not only familiar with the traditional or typical Liberian formalities and rituals carried out to obtain postwar reconciliation and peace, he is also allergic to alien methods, such as punitive and retributive justice. Thus, initial first overtures are deceptive; he is now coming to himself as a traditional Liberian.”

That was why, according to pundits, the President responded to the BCC reporter’s question on WEEC by citing traditional methods which seem to resonate with older generational stock of Liberians to which he belongs.

It is not clear if the President will be using the Senate as the guinea pig in the overall scheme to shut down and subtly obliterate the entire WEEC idea, though there are others predicting US reprisals if he fails to keep his promise.

Ever since the President announced his WEE agenda, there were Liberians, including some of his supporters, who foretold the impossibility of him pushing the agenda to the logical conclusion.

Former Auditor General John Morlu, President Boakai’s chief campaign fundraising expert, quickly reacted to news that the President had sent a resolution on WEEC establishment to the National Legislature.

He wrote: “here will be no: 1. War Crimes Court. 2. Economic Crimes Court. This is, yet again, much to do about nothing, empty and endless talks, and political rhetoric, tricks and techniques. I stand corrected. JNB, like Sirleaf and Weah, does not want  war and economic crimes court. Only 3 people in USA are pushing it on Liberia. If JNB, like Weah and Sirleaf, want it badly, he will JUST DO IT and not just talk about it. A simple letter to the UN will do. But I know 100% it is not happening. Wishful thinking and waste of breath. I just speak plainly and ‘straightforwardly’ and on point. I like RESULTS and a “Just do it” attitude. Pipe dreams and day dreaming for a war and economic crimes court JNB doesn’t want will give you only headache. Cut your losses on this.”

It was even rumored recently that one of the longtime proponents of WEEC in Liberia, and a friend of President Boakai, Allan White, expressed concerns about what was considered the President’s mull on the matter, stating that “Boakai no long talks about the WEEC”.

Some pundits believe the president’s response may make various readings to different people especially in the wake of the interest being shown by the international community like the United States of America for the establishment of WECC and for the fact that the House of Representatives has already passed an overwhelming resolution and transmitted the same to the Liberian Senate for concurrence.

Political actors who spoke to The Analyst are wondering what must have necessitated the soft stand taken by the President for the WECC against the revolutionary posture he had when he campaigned for the Presidency and made the setting up of a WECC as a campaign promise to the people.

“Perhaps the President, having assumed power, must have consulted widely across the political divide and the feeders could be that the WECC may not be feasible right now as forging general reconciliation among the people seems to promise a better way to unite the country”, one political pundit with some proximity with UP officials, said begging for anonymity.

According to him, President Boakai’s assertion March 27, 2024 during the BBC interview gave a general perspective of his quest for the presidency and what he intends to deliver to the Liberian people on all his electoral promises after he was elected as President during the November 14, 2023 Presidential round-off.

If the President’s latest message for justice which seems to have put him in a quandary is anything to go by then it means the message for restorative justice another key component of the TRC report may be resonating among the Liberian people.

Already, the Independent Human Rights Commission with funding from some donor partners has been implementing the palaver hut initiative where alleged perpetrators and some victims have been meeting and sustained reconciliatory meetings are being held between former parties to the Liberian conflict in various communities.

Some pundits who have been reading a positive message from the President’s interview are of the opinion that despite of their strong commitment for justice to be done for both perpetrators and victims of the war, a lot of water have passed under the bridge as well as events have overtaken the initial clamor for the establishment of WECC.

One pundit stated: “While there is a growing concern for the establishment of the war and economic crimes court but there is also a growing concern for the country to remain united and prosperous as we have seen since the end of the war. People are putting their pieces together to move forward and so they see the tribunal as an unusual distraction for our peace and tranquility.”

This seems to be new direction of the President, as far as the circumstances are showing. And there are calls for him to come clear on one particular way—and the sooner the better for him and the country.

2 Comments
  1. Kamawon Thoudou says

    Liberia missed the chance and opportunity of establishing war crime court from the day the peace makers agreed upon the establishment of the TRC during the Accra Peace Accord. When the whole world was willing and ready to support any wish at the time, we (Liberian) took the other way and neglected justice for reconciliation. Why now? When the big countries who supposedly supported our peace plan are also struggling now with their economies. The time is passed! The world powers are now strangling themselves: Russia against Ukrine, Israel against Palestinian Harmas, America, China, Britain, Iran France, Germany and the rest, supporting either side. Why now? When the United Nations have become toothless? The time is passed.

  2. Jake Doe says

    John Morlu was simply wasting his time on damage control, given the reality that Prince Johnson, Butt Naked, and other warlords from whom Boakai needs votes in by elections, have seen through the duplicitous betrayal of Boakai against them.

    In other words, if John Morlu understood the power dynamics viz the establishment of these HYBRID COURTS (EG. ECCC…Cambodia, SCSL…Sierra Leone, STL…Lebanon, ICTR…Rwanda, STL ….Lebanon, and anticipated WECCL …LIBERIA) he would

    1. not be insinuatingly ranting such rubbish that the establishment is contingent on the pleasure and will of a given president, when

    2. the other two trigger mechanisms (the ICC, AND THE UNSC, PLUS THE ROME STATUTE) have long overridden and outpowered Monrovia, and this is why as he Morlu himself has acknowledged that Washington has

    3. by all implications, ipso facto its war crimes ambassador’s visits, decided that the erection of the court is a foregone conclusion.

    So, Mr. FUND RAISER FOR CORRUPT AND OUTLAW BOAKAI, NO MATTER TO WHAT DEGREE YOU CHOOSE TO DECEIVE YOURSELF WITH SUCH RANTS AS ”ONLY PEOPLE IN THE USA ARE PUSHING THE WAR CRIMES COURT ON LIBERIA”, YOUR DAMAGE CONTROL FOR BOAKAI, FOLLOWING PRINCE JOHNSON’S DETECTION OF BOAKAI BEING A TRAITOR,, IS A WASTE OF TIME VIZ YOUR LACKADAISICAL DAMAGE CONTROL..

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