Decades after civil war ended, Liberia moves to create war crimes tribunal

Liberia’s president signs an executive order establishing a war crimes tribunal, the culmination of decades of efforts to bring justice to victims of two civil wars that killed an estimated 250,000 people between 1989 and 2003. .

Lawmakers in Congress, including some who are expected to be prosecuted in court, passed a resolution calling for the move last month.

“Justice and healing must complete the foundations if we are to have any chance of winning peace and harmony,” President Joseph Boakai signed the executive order on Thursday to applause from lawmakers and ministers.

While some of the ringleaders of the violence have been prosecuted abroad, no one at home is to blame for the massacres, rapes, torture and conscription of child soldiers that scarred generations of people in Liberia, a founding nation in West Africa. No legal liability has been imposed. 200 years ago, by slaves who were freed from America.

It was unclear Friday how many cases would come before the court or when they would begin. Many of the perpetrators and their victims subsequently died.

Mr. Boakai’s executive order also paved the way for an economic crimes tribunal that would target companies and individuals who financed the various factions in the war, but Congress would first have to pass legislation to establish it. There is.

After decades of impunity, many Liberians had given up hope for justice.

“No one expected this to happen,” rights campaigner Adama Dempster said. As a young man attending school in northeastern Liberia, he watched his friends being drafted into the military as child soldiers. Like many Liberians, he witnessed summary executions and other crimes almost daily. Now in his mid-40s, he has campaigned for the creation of such a court for many years.

Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, established by Congress nearly 20 years ago, ended its operations in 2010 with the following statement: call for the establishment of a court Bring those responsible to justice and pay compensation to victims.

However, the government of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who led Liberia from 2006 to 2018, was voted out of office at the end of last year, and her successor, who went from being a soccer star to becoming president, was voted out. George Weah’s government also failed to act on the committee’s policy. We are making this recommendation due to lack of resources and security.

On Thursday, Boakai said the country needed to reveal the truth about the violence and “fairly apportion responsibility and reward, no matter where the lies lie.”

His executive order did not mention reparations.

Liberia’s first civil war began in 1989, when warlord Charles G. Taylor led a rebellion to overthrow the military regime of President Samuel Doe, who was later mutilated by fighters under another warlord, Prince Johnson. and was killed. Mr. Johnson, now a powerful senator known by his initials PYJ, was videotaped drinking beer while ordering his troops to cut off Mr. Doe’s ear.

During the Second Civil War, which ran from 1999 to 2003, two rebel groups attempted to unseat Taylor, who by then had become president.

Tenen B. Dariye Tehaung, a Liberian academic who focuses on justice, peacebuilding and reconciliation at Dublin City University, said the reason it took so long to establish the court was because the key figures in the war This is because they held government jobs, political power, and economic influence. Ireland.

“They refused to support any measures or mechanisms, including punitive measures,” she said.

Mr. Johnson, now 71 years old, was one of those central figures. But in the end, he and others involved in the conflict signed a resolution calling for the creation of a court.

Why they ended up doing it remains a mystery, but Tehaung said he believed it was a case of “big man syndrome.” Even as he signed the petition, he said he “assumed that criminal prosecution would never occur.”

“We want peace, we don’t want any trouble,” Johnson told reporters in the capital Monrovia after signing the bill. Nevertheless, he justified his own actions in the civil war, stating: I came to liberate my people. ”

Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, raped or made homeless in the conflict, which Human Rights Watch has called a “human rights disaster.”

Taylor, now 76 and a former warlord turned president, once coined the campaign slogan “He killed my mother, he killed my father. But I’ll vote for him anyway.” He originally ran as a candidate.

He is currently serving a 50-year sentence for crimes committed during the 1990s civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone. However, he was never tried for his actions during the Liberian war.

Many Liberians expressed relief Thursday that there would finally be some accountability.

“Many victims and survivors never believed there would be justice in their time,” human rights activist Dempster said.

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