US government ready to fund war crimes tribunal in Liberia

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…. “The Liberian government must be accountable to its people. The U.S. government stands ready to technically and financially support the establishment of a tribunal,” Schaack said yesterday, during a visit to Liberia to understand why the tribunal was not established as recommended by the report. of the TRC.

The United States government has pledged to fund the formation of a war crimes tribunal in Liberia, citing the need for justice for victims of the country’s bloody 14-year civil crisis.

The pledge, announced by Beth Van Schaack, the U.S. Goodwill Ambassador for Global Criminal Justice, comes at a time when Liberia has yet to establish a war crimes tribunal — a most controversial part of the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). recommendations.

The court would hear the prosecution of one of 98 perpetrators whom the TRC finds responsible for various types of gross human rights violations and war crimes.

Schaack, who advises the US secretary of state and other senior officials on issues relating to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, said it was time the government of Liberia “made accounts to his people”.

“The Liberian government must be accountable to its people. The U.S. government stands ready to technically and financially support the establishment of a tribunal,” Schaack said yesterday, during a visit to Liberia to understand why the tribunal was not established as recommended by the report. of the TRC.

“The TRC report contains useful recommendations for combating war crimes and atrocities. We encourage those in positions of power to consider these recommendations very carefully. It’s never late to do justice. The people who suffered the crimes are still asking for justice and those who represent them should heed these calls. »

The statement by Schaack, a former practicing attorney at the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, is a bold pledge by US President Joe Biden’s administration to stand with victims of the civil war. crimes of the time in Liberia.

In the past, the United States has been reluctant to reveal the level of support it is willing to provide for the prosecution of warlords in Liberia, given the fact that Firestone Liberia, an indirect subsidiary of Bridgestone Americas – which is part of the Bridgestone Group – was one of 19 companies that the TRC asked to be investigated and prosecuted for economic crimes.

But Schaack’s remarks indicate some shift in US policy towards establishing a war crimes tribunal in Liberia, knowing that the issue of criminal responsibility for civil war atrocities enjoys broad support in the Liberia.

The US government has played a central role in promoting accountability in West Africa, including in the historic trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor by the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

“The Lutheran massacre was not committed by rebel forces but by government forces,” Schaack noted. “That’s why it doesn’t matter who is in charge as leaders… It’s a government affair. “I don’t think it’s about creating a big pitch. It won’t be like the court in The Hague.

“The creation of hybrid courts to deal with cases close to citizens is now the model. No one is taken from the country to another country to be tried or convicted.

Schaack’s remarks on the Lutheran massacre come nearly three months after a federal court in the US state of Pennsylvania awarded historic compensation totaling US$84 million to four victims of the Lutheran church massacre, the one of the deadliest attacks on civilians during the Liberian civil wars. .

The court’s damages ruling follows a September 2021 ruling holding Colonel Moses Thomas, a former member of the Armed Forces of Liberia, liable for war crimes, crimes against humanity, extrajudicial executions, attempted extrajudicial execution and torture that took place during the massacre. Thomas, a former resident of Pennsylvania, is now back in Liberia.

The TRC

The TRC, which operated between 2006 and 2009, in its report details evidence of various types of gross human rights violations, war and economic crimes.

He then called for the establishment of a war crimes tribunal – as the 14-year civil war has resulted in widespread human rights abuses such as massacres, rape and other forms of sexual violence, summary executions, mutilation, torture and the use of child soldiers.

Eight leaders of different warring factions, including Senator Prince Y. Johnson of Nimba County and Representative George Boley of Grand Gedeh County, along with 21 others, have been recommended for prosecution for war and economic crimes along with 19 corporations , institutions and state actors.

The TRC report also called for 52 people to be re-sanctioned and banned from holding public office. However, since the TRC report was submitted in 2009, the administrations of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and current President George Manneh Weah have shown no willingness to establish a war crimes tribunal for coping with the legacy of the country’s 14-year civil war, which killed an estimated 250,000 people.

Judicial authorities in the United States, Belgium, France, Finland, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom have prosecuted criminal cases related to Liberia’s civil wars in recent years, often spurred by civil society efforts.

Reviews

Critics of the court have argued that his absence is a move to safeguard the country’s constitution and peace. They also cited challenges that would often arise if such a tribunal were created.

These challenges include the protection and support of witnesses and victims, the safety of judges and staff, ensuring fair judicial proceedings, and educating local people about the court.

This criticism then fueled the decision of the Liberian Senate a year ago to call on President George Weah to set up a transitional justice commission to determine whether the commissioners of the TRC were respecting the mandate, as the meeting opposite face to face with the perpetrators. and other offenses and their respective victims in light of allegations by some former warlords that the TRC never contacted them.

The Senate had argued that the Commission, once established, will examine the effect of the August 2003 Act of the Legislature, which granted blanket amnesty to all participants in the civil crisis, a major obstacle to prosecution against the warlords.

However, the Commission has not yet been created.

Schaack disagrees

But Schaack disagreed with the criticisms against the TRC. According to her, the TRC report contains strong and important recommendations that are helpful in addressing the legacy of war crimes and atrocities in the country.

The US envoy noted that although there was no accountability in Liberia on the criminal or civil side, the TRC report must be implemented in order to hold those accountable for the abuses.

“You can think of justice broadly: it can be criminal justice for those who were directly involved and caused so much harm. Participating in a war is not necessarily a crime in itself, but it is the architect of violence. They are the most culpable. You can also include restorative justice which can help rehabilitate victims and perpetrators of physical injuries or psychological conditions. Some might involve apologies,” she said.

“You have come a long way as a country, but you haven’t implemented anything yet. We will meet with the Legislative and the Executive to find out why the delay in setting up a tribunal to try cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Meanwhile, Schaack noted that when justice exists and is applied appropriately, corruption is minimized and development is achieved, “roads can be built and children can have access to quality education and a good health system can be achieved”.

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