Ahead Of 75th UNGA: Calls For War Crimes Court Intensify

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President George Manneh Weah has, again, come under pressure to bring justice to victims of the senseless 14-year civil war by recommitting himself to the establishment of a war crimes tribunal for Liberia at the upcoming 75th United Nations General Assembly.

   Liberia’s civil wars were characterized by widespread atrocities, including summary executions and large-scale massacres, including at Carter Camp and St. Peter’s Lutheran Church where hundreds of civilians were killed in a single night, widespread as well as systematic rape, mutilation and torture, and forced conscription and use of child combatants.

   Last year, during the 74th UNGA, President Weah said certain mechanisms were needed to be put into place and consultations carried out to decide whether or not the Liberian people want a war crimes tribunal or a reconciliation dialogue.

   He was recorded as saying, “We need to agree on a mechanism that would guarantee the sustenance of peace, stability, justice, and reconciliation, as well as enhance our prospects for economic recovery. Considering the importance of this matter, I have already begun consultations with our National Legislature – the representatives of our people – and we intend to have a broader engagement with the Liberia Judicial System, and with our strategic International Partners and Organizations, in order to determine pertinent issues such as legal framework, timing, venue, and funding, among others.

   A letter addressed to President Weah, dated September 10, 2020, and signed by the Human Rights Advocacy Platform of Liberia, which is a network of more than 40 human rights organizations, including the Foundation for Human Rights and Democracy, Global Justice and Research Project, Global Initiative for Justice (Liberian diaspora organization based in Switzerland), Human Rights and Protection Forum of Liberia, Independent Human Rights Investigators, International Justice Group (Liberian diaspora organization based in the United States), Liberia Massacre and Survivors Association and Rights Alert Liberia, reminded President Weah that the upcoming General Assembly is an opportunity to reaffirm his commitment to justice for victims and to reinforce that commitment by indicating that he moves ahead to request UN assistance in setting up a war crimes court.

   The human rights advocates lamented that concrete progress on a mechanism to ensure accountability for international crimes committed during Liberia’s back-to-back civil conflicts has been limited, but recognized the administration’s effort in allowing foreign investigators into Liberia to freely conduct investigations in order to prosecute abroad alleged Liberian war crimes suspects. They however said more is needed.

    In an annex attached to the letter, the groups emphasized that fair, credible criminal trials of the worst crimes are vital to building respect for the rule of law and a durable peace in Liberia. International law mandates trials for international crimes including war crimes, crimes against humanity, and torture.

   “Justice is also crucial because victims, their families, and their communities are entitled to know what has happened, and to see those responsible held to account. Accountability can help to bring facts to light, bolster the rule of law, and increase the prospect of deterring further abuse,” the letter noted.

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