The issue of setting up a war crime and economic court in Liberia remains one of the most dominant discussions in post war Liberia. The intensity of the discussion on the subject matter has created two schools of thought with one favoring the court as means to bring closure to the unfortunate occurrences during the brutal civil war, where those found guilty would be punished and on the other hand, another group diametrically opposed to the process as according to them, it will lead to opening old wounds that will further divide the people.
Weighing in the back and forth propositions in the premise, President George Manneh Weah wrote the Senate requesting its advice on how his administration should proceed with the issue so as not to injure the hard fought peace that the country currently enjoys.
Well, the House of the Elders, as the Senate is aptly referred to, got back to the President yesterday, Tuesday, June 22, 2021 through a 24 detailed document, among which is for the President to set up a transitional Justice Commission to get a deeper understanding of the discussion while at the same time reactivating the dormant Palava Hut Dialogue Approach designed by former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf meant for the promotion of national reconciliation among the Liberian people.
One striking understanding of the documentation from the Senate showed that the original intent of the TRC was not to set up a war crime court to try people as was agreed at the Accra Peace Conference where the signatories of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement were heads of warring factions who, under no circumstance would have sanctioned for a war crime court that would put them on trial at the end of the day.
So what does the latest decision from the Senate mean for the quest for the establishment of the War Crime court for Liberia? The Analyst reports
No doubt, one of the many issues President George Manneh Weah has had to contend with is the ongoing heated debate on whether a war crime court should be established or not. The pressure on him to act for the court can be taken from the background of his position during his candidature in 2017 to push for the establishment of the court if he wins. Fast forward, after his ascendency to power, Mr. Weah seems to have reneged on the promise, apparently after seeing the other reality on the ground.
The response from the Senate must have amply provided the relieve he may need after the upper chamber recommended for the President to set up a Transitional Justice Commission, to perform such tasks, but not limited to , to determine why the TRC Recommendations have not been fully and timely implemented, to determine whether the TRC fully complied with its mandate, such as face to face meeting between perpetrators of crimes and other offenses and their respective victims, to examine the effect of the August 2003 Act of the Legislature, which granted general amnesty to all participants in the civil crisis and to analyze credibility/legitimacy issues surrounding the Final Report of the TRC in respect of the fact that four (4) of the commissioners had serious issues with the report and subsequently, two of the commissioners did not sign the Final Report, but instead presented a dissenting report.
Other terms of reference include to examine the effect of the ratification/accession of Liberia to the Rome statue in 2004 (After the end of the civil crisis) on the establishment of a War Crimes Court, to consider the separation of the establishment of a War Crimes Court, which has international dimension, from the establishment of an Economic Crimes Court, which already exists within Liberia’s judiciary and for which prosecution can take place using domestic laws, and to consider the effect of the constitutional and other legal implications of prosecuting war crimes at a War Crimes Court, when domestic laws and criminal courts for the same offenses exists and to also consider the constitutional implications of appeals from decision from a War Crimes Court, as the Constitution provides that the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of all legal proceedings and every person has absolute and unfettered right of appeal to the Supreme Court.
The other two are to review the work and recommendations of the TRC, where necessary, and make additional recommendations when necessary, such as how far back in Liberia’s history should the transitional justice process go and to plan and implement programs and activities to solicit the opinion of the majority of Liberians on the issue of retributive justice versus restorative justice ( war crimes court, South Africa styled truth and reconciliation commission.
Among other things ,The Senate recommended that the Transitional Justice Commission(TJC) establishment should be enacted into law, that while the TJC is working on the issues discussed above, the President should without delay continue the National Palava Hut Program, an accountability and traditional dispute resolution mechanism, to foster healing and reconciliation within communities across the country, that the government should establish a Reparation Trust Fund, aimed at restoring victims and communities worst affected by the conflict, which will provide psychosocial relief for victims suffering from psychological and physical scars of the war, and other community-based reparation programs as indicated in the TRC report , as well as calling on the President to “offer an apology on behalf of the state to the thousands of victims and the Liberian people in general for its role in the long conflict and for the injuries and losses suffered by individuals and communities as consequences of the civil crisis”
According to the reports from the Senate which was signed by the leadership committee made of 10 senators, it reviewed the President’s request under the following framework and scope, among which are Review of the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement(“ACPA”) signed by all the warring factions and political parties on August 18, 2003. This document mandated the establishment of the TRC and contains its overall objective, the Act Establishing the TRC, review of steps taken by the Administration of former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in respect of the implementation of the recommendations of the TRC and an Act of the Legislature granting amnesty to all participants in the civil crisis from civil and criminal liabilities and responsibilities.
Others are reviewing the Supreme Court opinion on some of the issues arising from the TRC Report, some international precedents regarding transitional justice, such as the South African model and the Sierra Leonean civil conflict, dissenting report filed by some of the Commissioners of the TRC and the issue of whether restorative justice or retributive justice should be meted out to perpetrators of crimes during the course of Liberia’s civil crisis.
The Senate also noted that Section 48 of the TRC Report clearly stated that the President of the Republic is not obliged to comply with all of the recommendations contained in the Report and that the only requirement for the President’s non-compliance with any of the recommendations is to “show cause” satisfactory to the Legislature which implies that the president and the legislature will eventually determine what best provides healing, reconciliation and accountability.
“It is clear therefore that the purpose for the establishment of the TRC was to propose measures which will ultimately reconcile the people, and not to open old wounds and divide them further”, The Senate reminded the president.
See full text of the Senate’s Position on Pages 6, 7, 8 & 9 of this edition