War Crimes Court Rests With GoL -Congressional Hearing Panelists Concede

The fumbling, panting, stampeding which characterized recent intensified debate about War and Economic Crimes Court (WECC) in Liberia is anchoring on one possibility—that the sovereign Liberian government would have to acquiesce in principle and in deed than anything else. After all the posturing at home and abroad by activists and politicians, and no matter whichever power flexes its muscles, pundits believe it would require the consent, authorization and pleasure of the Government of Liberia to have the court if it would ever be. At least that’s what most topnotch personalities, war crimes court zealots, and including panelists at recent Congressional Hearing about the possibility of establishing the court, are saying also. But as The Analyst reports, there are other considerations and benchmarks needed to be heeded for any WECC can take roots in the country.

High expectations amongst some Liberians and non-Liberians about establishing war and economic crimes court in Liberia are sobering gradually with conclusions now being conceived to the effect that forming the court here is not just a walk in the park.

Even non-Liberians who seek to push for the establishment of the court are acknowledging that seething beneath their activism is the fact that nothing much can be realized in the absence of the cooperation of the sitting government of Liberia.

In recent days, it was portrayed from some quarters as the moment for the government of the United States of America to take firm action on the establishment of the War and Economic Crimes Court (WECC) because as they claimed, the historic tie between America and Liberia has made it mandatory that “Uncle Sam” must act once and for all in the matter that has dragged for so long.

A lot was said about the US Congressional hearing through the bipartisan Human Rights Commission especially from the background of its composition that had Mr. Chris Smith, a ranking lawmaker who had over the time taken serious issues with the government of Liberia on allegations of corruption, disrespect for the rule of law and bad governance.

Early this week the occasion presented itself; however, the much anticipation dried up as the program started and faded away to its conclusion.

Facts emerged later on that the hearing was not to hand down the official position of the US government but to solicit views from key actors especially from the Liberian end who have been in the crusade to establish the court and to see how best the international community can come in to have the process taken to a logical conclusion.

More importantly from the hearing, it was clearly disappointing to some who had initially thought that those who leveraged the whipping power to force the court to come on board, could turn around to say the power to do so rests with the Liberian government and that the citizens must take more actions to compel their government to set up the court. The Analyst goes further into the story and reports:

Participants at the home

Written testimonies came from panelists Ysyndi Martin-Kepyei, Executive Director of the Movement for Justice in Liberia (MOJUL); Jerome V. Verdier, Esq, Executive Director, International Justice Group and former Chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Liberia; Michael Mueller, Chairman of the Global Initiative for Justice, and Dr. Alan W. White, former Chief of Investigations, Special Court for Sierra Leone.

Of the 10 congress persons on the bipartisan Tom Lanton Human Rights Commission (TLHRC) billed to attend the hearing, only four turned out, including the Chair, Mr. James P. McGovern and Chris Smith. The viewership which was dominated by Liberians was not also encouraging as it didn’t go beyond well over 500 persons and diminished significantly as the program progressed to the end.

Contrary to the impression being created out there that the hearing was to convey the official posture of the US government on the establishment of the War and Economic Crime Court, it was found to be far from it and the forum was to solicit opinions on what is to be done and what has already been put in the process starting from the findings of the TRC reports and the various measures being taken.

Former TRC Chief Posits

Mr. Jerome Verdier, former Chair of the TRC who spoke lengthily about the imperative of establishing the WECC said it was high time that the international community, especially the United States government demonstrated the resolve to support Liberia in this crusade so that there will be closure on her ugly past.

“Establishing the War and Economic Crime Court for Liberia will ensure that justice is served for the Liberian people. It will end impunity and take us to the future where justice and equity, rule of law and good governance will reign”, Mr. Verdier said.

He narrated that the recommendations of the TRC have suffered some setbacks in the past and continue to experience the same because those in authority in Liberia have decided not to demonstrate the political will to set up the court. He mentioned how former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf set up committees to look at the recommendations of the TRC but did nothing thereafter to honor the findings of the committees.

Panelist Muller: US Can Turn Tide

Another panelist, Mr. Michael Muller, told the hearing that from what is obtainable in the country, there is no way Liberia can make any progress with the WECC if it does not have the support from the United States. He made reference to the statement from former President George Bush Jr on the need for then President Charles G. Taylor to vacate the presidency and it came to pass.

“It took the singular action of President Bush to change the narrative against former President Charles Taylor. We need similar action to be taken from President Biden so as to bring this war and economic court on board”, Mr. Mueller said.

MartinKepyei: Survivors Yearn for Justice

Madam Ysyndi Martin-Kepyei, Executive Director of the Movement for Justice in Liberia (MOJUL) told the hearing that since the end of the civil war, there has been mounting pressure from victims and other rights groups demanding for justice to be served in Liberia owing from the untold human sufferings, destruction and frustration the country went through. She lamented that with all that has been said for the end of impunity, it was sad that most of those who make decisions in Liberia are the very ones who took active parts in the carnage for some 14 years of the civil war.

In a similar submission like the other two panelists who spoke before her, she too believes that there must be a force from outside to make the government take action to bring about the WECC.

Alan White: Liberia-Sierra Leone Scenarios Unlikely

Taking the stand as the last of the invited panelists, Mr. Alan White, a former prosecutor for the War Crimes Court in Sierra Leone, who was instrumental in convicting Mr. Charles Taylor, stated that like Sierra Leone, Liberia too can have a similar court established to put on trial all those who took active part in what he called the heinous crimes against humanity committed during the war.

He said the WECC will assist the country to reset itself from the past, restore confidence in the rule of law, democracy and attract foreign direct investment in the country.

However, Mr. White noted that there was no way the success story from Sierra Leone could be applied wholesale to the Liberian scenario.  He said the government in Sierra Leone directly wrote the United Nations for support to establish the court and the world body acted on the request from a sovereign state to honor the request.

“In the case of Liberia, we expect President George Weah to write the UN Secretary General to make the request and the Secretary General will put into motion the mechanism and support to have the court set up. But I don’t see that happening so soon; because in 2019, President Weah spoke at the UN and asked for assistance towards the WECC but upon his return, he denied everything,” Mr. White said.

Mr. White also said the ICC approach cannot easily be applied to the Liberian situation due to some procedural issues which will make it less attractive to donor institutions to fund it.  He maintained that funding from donor agencies and government is key to a successful working of a war crime court that must have the confidence of the people it is meant for.

The renowned international prosecutor however told the audience for Liberian to take solace in themselves through persistence to prevail on the government to take action towards the court, an action that can easily win the support from the international community. He said he was hopeful that the June 24, 2021 mass rally to call for the establishment of the court for Liberia will be successful.

Public reactions

One of the key concerns raised by pundits who watched the maiden hearing on the establishment of a War and Economic Crimes Court |(WCC) for Liberia had to do with a broad based approach when it comes to information gathering on perpetrators of war and economic crimes.

“We had expected the hearing to include testimonials from Liberia-based civil society groups who were in-country during the height of the 14-year civil war up to its end. We wanted to hear statements from witnesses who could actually tell the US Congress what they experienced and know about the issues that were being discussed. Rather, we saw only mainly those same faces from the Diaspora, some of who seem far removed from what is currently happening in the country,” says Madison Weh, a resident of Point Four, Monrovia.

Others highlighted that the panelists agreed that the onus of the establishment of a WECC rests first and foremost on the Liberian government, a call that somehow dampens the expectations of many Liberians who had been hyped about the maiden Congressional hearing, with many cocksure that it would have ended with a call from the US Government enforcing the establishment of a War and Economic Crimes Court, similar to the situation when former US President George W. Bush ordered jailed Liberian President Charles Taylor to leave power immediately.

“We had expected at the hearing to hear from the US Government what would happen if the George Weah Government failed to facilitate establishment of the WECC,” says James Sumo, a resident of Carey Street, adding, he was sadly disappointed such did not happen. “I don’t expect anything from such hearing when they meet again in August,” Sumo lamented.

“I am totally taken aback that some members of the US Congress want to compel this government to establish a war crimes court at this time. Why didn’t they force the past government to do just that? President Weah on his own cannot just force Liberians to do what they don’t want to do. The CPA called for a TRC, which made several recommendations. This government is now working with the Liberian people through their direct representatives in the House to work out modalities on how they want the issue of war and economic crimes to be addressed. What more do they want from this government?” wondered Cletus Seitua, a staunch supporter of the ruling party.

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