Establishment Of War Crimes Court: Do We Have The Guts?

By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)

For sometimes now I have been hearing about the establishment of a war crime court in this country to prosecute Liberians who bear the greatest blunt for crimes committed during the many years of civil conflicts in the country. The situation in recent times became so profound following news about the arrest of Mr. Tom Woewiyu, former defense spokesman of the defunct National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) of former President Charles Taylor. Mr. Woewiyu was reportedly arrested in the United States for allegedly giving false information on his role during the Liberian civil conflict.

Already, there are claims that pieces of evidence are being gathered to begin the process of the prosecution and that Mr. Woewiyu has consented to serve as witness. However, what I have not been able to gather is the venue of the court.

The issue of whether or not Liberia should have a war crime court or as Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) became a matter of public discussion in the aftermath of the last conflict that ended in 2003 during the administration of Charles Taylor. Unsurprisingly during the marathon and painstaking peace talks in Accra, Ghana, that culminated into the Comprehension Peace Agreement (CPA), when Liberians at that meeting resolved to have the TRC rather than the war crime court because of the peculiarities of the years of conflicts.

At that conference which I also attended, the delegates, including representatives of warring factions, political parties and civil society, it was generally accepted that the TRC, given the nature of the conflicts over the years, was the best option to reconcile the country that has experienced many years of conflicts.

On the other hand, it was believed that the TRC was preferred because the warlords felt unsecured should there be war crime court, with the likelihood of being indicted for human rights violations during the conflicts. Those who hold this belief feel that this was only intended to shield those warlords and their forces for acts committed.But at the end of the day, the TRC triumphed.

In the provision establishing the TRC, the agreement said in ARTICLE XIII, states,”A Truth and Reconciliation Commission shall be established to provide a forum that will address issues of impunity, as well as an opportunity for both the victims and perpetrators of human rights violations to share their experiences, in order to get a clear picture of the past to facilitate genuine healing and reconciliation; In the spirit of national reconciliation, the Commission shall deal with the root causes of the crises in Liberia, including human rights violations; This Commission shall, among other things, recommend measures to be taken for the rehabilitation of victims of human rights violations; Membership of the Commission shall be drawn from a cross section of Liberian society. The Parties request that the International Community provide the necessary financial and technical support for the operations of the Commission.

As a result of this, the TRC was constituted, with Cllr. Jerome Verdier as its Chairman. Other commissioners were: Cllr. Pearl Brown-Bull, Ms. Massa A. Washington,(former female editor of THE INQUIRER); Mrs. Dede A. Dolopei, Mrs. OumuSyllah, Mr. John A. Stewart, Rev. Gerald Coleman, Former United Methodist Bishop, Arthur Kulah (who left later to take on an assignment in the Methodist Church in Nigeria)and Sheikh KafumbaKonneh.

Upon the formation of the Commission, it then began work and executed the mandate for which it was established. It started with county hearing which was followed by public hearing at the historic Centennial Pavilion on Ashmun Street.

Sadly to note, years after the TRC completed its work with recommendations that are yet to be implemented, some Liberians are again advocating for a war crime court to prosecute all those it is believed are responsible for heinous human rights violations.

Furthermore, it is also being said that all those, including President Sirleaf who provided assistance to some of the warring factions should also be held liable for the acts of the commanders and fighters. The President has admitted that she gave the former NPFL US$10,000 for humanitarian purposes. Despite her repudiation, she is still being accused of being a major supporter of the former warring faction-NPFL.

Today, I decided to make this an issue of the kind of people we are. Today, we are talking about war crime court and tomorrow when the process starts and people are being indicted, we would again, begin to express regret for the actions being taken to prosecute. I recall following the 1980 coup; we jubilated when 13 former officials of the William R. Tolbert government were executed. Today we regret the action.

Similarly, when the late President Doe was captured and killed, we rejoiced and even queued to take a glance at his corpse. Today, again, we regret this action. Also, when Taylor was arrested and brought home to be taken away for war crime, there was a gloomy day, as many regretted that action when he was being taken away for trial for war crimes.

Just recently, many persons upon listening to a recording of Chucky Taylor, son of President Taylor who is serving a jail sentence in the United States for acts committed while his father was President, asking for forgiveness, accepted his plea. I even saw some people being compassionate on his plea.

I am raising these activities because many of us are fond of calling for certain actions or hailing some actions and later express regrets when those actions are being implemented. Today, some of us are calling for the setting up of a war crime court; tomorrow, we will be the same people regretting such action. This is why I am asking in the headline as to whether we have “THE GUTS” to withstand all it takes to have a war crime court.

Whenever one speaks of “the guts” in the Liberian parlance, it means whether one is indeed prepared to accept the consequences of certain decision or actions to be taken. That is if this issue of a war crime court is accepted, are we prepared to see some of our big, big people, including politicians being arrested and taken to court for war crimes?. Wouldn’t we say; “Your leave the people;” or say for the “sake of peace?” This is our sociology.

Even in the war against corruption, whenever some accused are being prosecuted, there is always this sense of sympathy and sentiments for them, thus undermining the resolve to have people prosecuted. This has also made the war against corruption difficult because of the attitude and behavior of some of our people.

Sometimes, paid agents or proxies for accused, take on the anti-graft institutions like the General Auditing Commission (GAC), the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) or the Public Procurement, Concession Commission (PPCC). Also, at times I hear people saying that these accused are not the first persons to be involved in such act.

Once more to those who are advocating for a war crime court, I am still wondering as to whether they have the guts to see Liberians, including some of the ‘big boys” or “big girls” as well as other prominent citizens around here, some of whom are in positions of trust in both the public and private sectors being arrested and prosecuted for war crimes.

Whatever way, I will continue to monitor the process. Until then, I REST MY CASE!