Though the noise over Liberian Senate’s decision to convert cries for War and Economic Crimes Court (WECC) into a lame duck Transitional Justice Commission (TJC) appears diminishing in intensity, it’s not all over yet. Advocates and zealous of the widely-wanted Court are engineering their way out of what many call ‘callous legislative bully’; some still do have some crude words and venoms for the rising pioneers of the TJC in the Liberian Senate. Mr. John Stewart was an aggressive member of the defunct Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which deeply explored the Liberian civil conflict and presented a way out of the social conundrum created by the war. He has joined the WECC-vs-TJC debate, aiming at the Senate rather vociferously, as The Analyst reports.
Erstwhile Commissioner and report writing chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) John H.T. Stewart has strongly reacted to what he described as the “Senate’s handling of the TRC report”, for the purpose of the establishment of another body and said the proposal by the Upper House of the Legislature begs the questions of duplicity, necessity and intent, a gross violation of the Constitution and a decision that is grossly contrived. Mr. Stewart’s reaction also states that as a transitional justice mechanism, the TRC had full legal existence and submitted a Comprehensive Final Report of its work as mandated by the TRC Act.
“The Senate speaks as if the TRC was/is not a transitional justice body. For the sake of information and education, Truth Commissions are also part of transitional justice processes,” the TRC commissioner further reacted.
The reaction by the former TRC commissioner was contained in a statement issued in Monrovia yesterday, Wednesday, August, 4, 2021, in response to Proposals by the Liberian Senate on the establishment of a new transitional justice mechanism.
For the past three weeks, the Liberian Senate engaged in “Public Hearings” on the Recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Liberia following President George Weah’s submission of a Letter requesting the Senate’s advice on how to proceed with implementation of Recommendations contained in the Final Report of the TRC.
In a letter to the Senate seeking advice, President George |Manneh Weah wrote the Senate on September 12, 2019, asking for legislative guidance on all and other necessary measures regarding how to proceed with the implementation of the TRC report, including the establishment of a War and Economic Crimes Courts”.
The letter specifically referred to the outcome of the conference on “National Consensus on the Revival and Growth of the Liberian Economy” at the time, which recommended the full implementation of recommendations of the TRC report.
The conference also noted in its recommendations that accounting for past violations of human rights was essential to achieving sustainable peace and inclusive development.
Following the submission of the letter by President Weah, the Senate deferred the matter to its Leadership Committee that deliberated on it and made recommendations which have since been hotly contested by civil society and others.
Flawed Senate Recommendations
The commissioner Steward of the erstwhile TRC considered the Senate hearings and subsequent recommendations as a flawed exercise which have also claimed the attention of Commissioners of the erstwhile Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“Having fully reviewed the recommendations of the Senate, we the Commissioners of the erstwhile TRC, consider it a duty and compelling responsibility to respond to the issues and points raised,” the former TRC commissioners said. They noted that as a first step, “we wish to state that the Senate did not provide an opportunity for all TRC Commissioners present on the ground to participate in its proceedings.”
Rather, the Senate also published a list of Participants of its hearings including former Commissioner Massa Washington. But Commissioner Washington has since confirmed that she was not given an official invitation to the Hearings.
The commissioners of the erstwhile TRC are further appalled by the misinformation bandied about in the public by senators who claimed amongst others that only four Commissioners signed the TRC Final Report.
“In our opinion this was an attempt to undermine the credibility of the TRC Report which according to the UN High Commission on Human Rights (UNHCHR) now forms the internationally accepted framework of accountability for gross violation of Human Rights and the commission of war and economic crimes in Liberia,” the commissioner of the former |TRC said.
Concerning the constitutionality and Illegality of the Senate’s action regarding the TRC process and Final Report, the commissioners of the former TRC feel there is also a troubling specter in the general scheme of things bordering on the governance of the Liberian state. “The Constitution of the Republic of Liberia is unequivocal in striking a clear balance amongst the three (3) co-equal branches of government, namely the Legislature, the Executive, and the Judiciary,” he pointed out.
The former commissioner pointed to Article 29 of the Constitution of Liberia which grants the legislative power of the republic to the Legislature comprising two separate chambers, including the House of Representatives and the Senate, saying further in addition that Article 34 has vested in the Legislature the power to oversight the Executive branch in specific terms regarding state governance.
The erstwhile TRC Commissioner’s reaction also states that there are, similarly, provisions in the Constitution regarding the exercise of the power of the Head of State, pointing out however that the framers of the Constitution saw wisdom in curtailing the Executive’s overreach by specifying oversight through consent and approval by the Legislature, as indicated in Articles 54, 56 (b), 57, and 58
“There is nowhere in the Constitution, therefore, where the Head of State is required to seek advice from the Legislature or specifically the Senate, particularly as in the current situation on how to implement a law passed by the Legislature.
“Moreover, the Constitution does not state that the President shall cede his or her responsibility under law to the Legislature – as now in the case of the implementation of the TRC recommendations,” they further reacted.
Complete Violation of the Constitution
Stewart recalled the stance of the 53rd Legislature who correctly reminded former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf that it was not their legislative responsibility rather that it was in her presidential domain, when a similar request was made of the legislators then as the case in point.
Noting that the Act of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that gave the Commission its mandate is law, the former commissioner say “To now suggest that the implementation of an Act of the Legislature passed in 2005, should be based on advice from the very Legislature, which should be providing oversight, is a complete violation of the Constitution of the Republic and the Law establishing the TRC.
Accordingly, he therefore view the decision of the Legislature and the process unraveling during the last few weeks as grossly contrived, to say the least, noting that there must instead be a public acknowledgement of the integrity and legitimacy of the TRC process which they insist the Legislature must take cognizance of as its responsibility under the Act creating the commission
Article 10, sections 43 and 48 of the Act establishing the TRC gave the Legislature oversight to ensure government’s unambiguous response to the outcome of the TRC process, including implementation of its recommendations while in section 43, the TRC was specifically mandated to submit its final report containing recommendations “at the end of its tenure to the National Legislature.
This provision, the commissioner indicated, is not and should not be interpreted to mean that the Legislature can do whatever it wants with the Report because a COPY was presented to it; the also added that the TRC ACT did NOT ask the Legislature to “ADVICE” the Head of State/President on the implementation of the TRC’s recommendations.
It also did not instruct the Legislature to hold hearings on the TRC process, and attempt to interpret the recommendations especially recommendations it does NOT like such as the recommendation for the establishment of a war crimes court.
No Need for Senate Advice
The commissioner said there is no need for the President to seek Senate advice. “TRC ACT clearly did not instruct the Legislature to scrutinize the TRC Report nor propose a counter Commission to “‘investigate the TRC Report’,” They said. They also indicated that the submission of a copy of the Report to the Legislature was an action required by law under the TRC Act.
The Legislature’s responsibility, the former erstwhile commission pointed out, is further clarified in section 48, which states: “The Head of State shall report to the National Legislature within three months of receipt of the report of the TRC, and on a quarterly basis thereafter, as to the implementation of the Commission’s recommendations. All recommendations SHALL be implemented.
“Where the implementation of any recommendation has not been complied with, the Legislature shall require the Head of State to show cause for such noncompliance,” the former commissioner quoted the TRC Act as stating.
On why TRC Recommendations have not been fully and timely implemented, the former commissioner blamed the delay on the lack of political will on the part of the leadership of the country. “The TRC recommendations have not been fully and timely implemented because there has been no political will on the part of the Country’s leadership from the beginning to implement the recommendations contained in the report,” he reasoned.
He recalled that TRC in its Final Report, recommended that 49 individuals including President Johnson-Sirleaf, be barred from holding public office for 30 years for their role and involvement in the conflict.
Others accused of committing gross violations and abuse of Human Rights, war and economic crimes were recommended for criminal prosecution. A few individuals were recommended not for prosecution owing to their cooperation with the TRC by speaking truthfully and expressing remorse for their actions, Mr. Stewart said.
Under Article VII (f) of the TRC Act, he outlined that the functions and Powers and of the Commission the TRC is charged to “(f): Help restore the human dignity of victims and promote reconciliation by providing an opportunity for victims, witnesses, and others to give an account of the violations and abuses suffered and for perpetrators to relate their experiences, in an environment conducive to constructive interchange between victims and perpetrators, giving special attention to issues of sexual and gender based violence, and most especially to the experience of children and women during armed conflicts in Liberia.”
With its mandate drawn from Article IV Mandate of the Commission Section 4 (b) which charges the TRC to “Provide a forum that will address issues of impunity, as well as provide an opportunity for both victims, witnesses and perpetrators of human rights violations to share their experiences in order to create a clear picture of the past to facilitate genuine healing and reconciliation.”
Accordingly, thousands of victims, witnesses, and others, were for the first time officially able to recount their experiences in a safe, respectable, and empathetic environment leading the TRC to have collected more than 20, 000 statements and held hearings from over 800 people in-country and the diaspora.
War Crimes are international crimes
In the 2003 Act of Legislature Granting Amnesty, the statement said firstly it is important to understand that war crimes are international crimes, when committed, they are perceived as having been committed against the international community, while national crimes are perceived as having been committed against a specific jurisdiction. In that case, the Government of that jurisdiction can have some pardoning powers over said crimes unlike in the case of the TRC recommendations.
Second, the Liberian Government (in this case the Legislature) makes laws that are generally restricted to a particular jurisdiction, in this case, Liberia; and additionally, they may have powers, for example, to grant amnesty and clemency to crimes that were committed against the Liberian state, which powers do not extend to, or include crimes that are of an international nature, such as war crimes which no single jurisdiction (Country) has the power to grant either amnesty or clemency for these violations.
Accordingly, the Liberian Government (Executive, Legislative or Judiciary) does not have any legal authority to grant pardon to any individual(s) accused of committing war crimes. Such crimes are of an international nature with Universal Jurisdiction. The trial of former Chadian dictator Hissene Habre in Senegal is an example of Universal Jurisdiction, amongst others.On the Supreme Court Opinion on some issues arising from the TRC Report, the former TRC commissioner’ reaction furthered reminded state the public that what is now unfolding is nothing new, recalling attempts by some individuals sanctioned in the TRC Report to have the Liberian Supreme Court hijack the process of accountability by ruling that the TRC recommendations were illegal because it denied due process to those sanctioned in the report.
“But far from the truth, the TRC provided ample opportunity to all listed in the TRC report to appear before the Commission. Invitations were sent out to all concerned. Additionally, the names of all persons of interest to the TRC were published in the local dailies and aired on radio public service announcements,” the former TRC commissioner statement asserted, adding that some individuals responded and came to the TRC while others elected to conveniently ignore citations/invitations from the TRC.
Misinformation and half-truths
The statement chided the Senate for disseminating what they called “misinformation and half-truths”. They, by virtue of their default and noncompliance, were subsequently sanctioned based on the TRC’s evidentiary standard of Preponderance of Evidence,” the statement noted.
Espousing the validity of TRC Report based on signatures of commissioners, the former TRC commissioner reacted that they are appalled by the misinformation and half-truths publicly bandied by some Senators that the TRC was plagued by internal divisions so deep to the point where only four Commissioners signed the report, and that two Commissioners did not sign the Final Report.
Contrary to such misinformation and half-truths, Mr. Stewart in his statement noted that all six (6) Commissioners out of the total of eight Commissioners, signed the Final Report while two (2) Commissioners did not.
“Those who signed the Final Report include Commissioners Jerome Verdier (chairman), Dede Dolopei (vice chairman), Gerald Coleman, Massa Washington, Oumu Sylla and John H. T. Stewart, while the two Commissioners who did not sign the Final Report were: Pearl Brown Bull and Sheik Kafumba Konneh (now deceased).
Initially, nine (9) Commissioners were appointed by the National Transitional Government Chairman Gyude Bryant in 2005, following an extensive process of public vetting. Commissioners were officially inducted into office by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in 2006, he recounted.
“One of the nine (9) Commissioners, Methodist Bishop Arthur Kulah, early on resigned to take up an assignment as interim Bishop of a diocese in Nigeria. He was never replaced and the TRC remained as an eight (8)-man body up to the end of the completion and submission of its final report,” the statement clarified, noting that those Senators who purvey such deliberate misinformation and half-truths fail to acknowledge, perhaps out of ignorance, that decisions made by TRC Commissioners were done by consensus.
In Mr. Stewart closing Comments, he said ten (10) years have elapsed since the TRC published and presented its Final Report to the Nation and nineteen (19) years since the guns of war went silent.
“A new generation has since emerged with no memories of conflict and war. What we now see happening is a concerted attempt driven by those vested interests referred to earlier to create new but false historical narratives of the 14-year civil war, which narratives are intended to cover up their role as organizers, financiers and leaders of bands of armed gangs that raped, looted, murdered, tortured, terrorized, forcibly displaced local populations and pillaged the resources of Liberia with wanton and reckless disregard for anyone except their leaders,” the statement accentuated .
The statement also indicate that While leaders of the various armed gangs/factions have since ascended to positions of power and influence and ungainly acquired considerable wealth, their victims have been left to their own devices to suffer in agony and deprivation, their hopes for justice quashed, the statement signed by Chairman of the Report Writing Committee of the then TRC, Mr. John H. T Stewart concluded.