Tales of atrocities dominate accounts of Liberia’s years of civil struggle, however not a single individual has been tried for struggle crimes within the nation’s courts.
And this regardless of the estimated 250,000 deaths – or about 8% of the inhabitants on the time – and the survivors able to testify on the conflicts from 1989 to 1997 and from 1999 to 2003.
On Tuesday, in an unprecedented transfer, a struggle crimes case is because of be heard within the capital, Monrovia. However it will likely be a Finnish courtroom that may maintain a unprecedented session, which won’t be a part of the Liberian judicial course of.
Gibril Massaquoi was residing in Finland when he was arrested in 2020 and is accused of killing civilians, raping and recruiting youngster troopers. He denies the fees.
The case, whereas nicely acquired by activists, raises the query of why Liberian courts have did not take motion.
Arthur Bondo is amongst those that want to see individuals tried in his nation.
He was recruited as a toddler soldier – however not by Mr. Massaquoi – in 1990, when he was 15 years outdated.
He has a vivid reminiscence of the day rebels from the Liberian Nationwide Patriotic Entrance (NPFL) got here to his father’s farm in north-central Bong County.
“They slaughtered the pigs we had been elevating, ordered us to move them with them and compelled us to hitch them,” he says.
“I’ve been via a whole lot of unhealthy issues.”
He doesn’t go into extra element. It’s clear, nonetheless, that he needs a struggle crimes tribunal to be created “to finish impunity”.
Civil struggle in Liberia
Liberia suffered two episodes of brutal preventing in 1989-1997 and 1999-2003
Charles Taylor led an rebellion towards President Samuel Doe, who himself seized energy in a coup in 1980
Doe was executed in 1990 by a insurgent group led by Prince Johnson
Some 250,000 individuals have been killed in all of the preventing
Hundreds extra have been mutilated and raped
Taylor was elected president in 1997 after a peace deal
The struggle was reignited in 1999 when two new insurgent teams emerged
Taylor resigned and went into exile earlier than a peace deal in 2003
The 46-year-old bears the bodily and emotional scars of the battle and needs to verify others do not must undergo the identical factor.
He misplaced an arm throughout this time and is now the pinnacle of a disabled individuals’s affiliation in Bong County.
“The kid troopers who’ve been used dwell in poverty and trauma. If a struggle crimes tribunal involves Liberia and persons are prosecuted, nobody would use youngster troopers once more.”
“Want for closure”
His feedback are echoed by activist Adama Dempster of the Liberia Civil Society Human Rights Platform.
In response to him, “a struggle crimes tribunal would put an finish to the victims of the civil struggle and would additionally give the victims a risk of authorized reparation”.
The testimony of victims has turn into a key component in struggle crimes trials, and the Finnish courtroom might be sitting in Monrovia to listen to these witnesses.
Mr. Dempster additionally believes that the shortage of judicial course of and “the failure to treatment previous human rights violations in the course of the struggle [has led] violation of present human rights “.
It was presupposed to be totally different.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who received the nation’s first post-conflict presidential election, inaugurated the Reality and Reconciliation Fee (TRC) in 2006 to, in her phrases, “assist the therapeutic course of.”
It was a rustic shattered by struggle and searching for a strategy to restore belief among the many individuals.
The TRC was not a tribunal, however was created to determine “the basis causes of the battle, and [determine] these answerable for committing nationwide and worldwide crimes towards the Liberian individuals “.
Its 2009 remaining report advisable, amongst different issues, the prosecution of sure individuals, the creation of a particular tribunal and the ban of sure individuals from public workplace for 30 years, in addition to reparations for the victims.
However the suggestions had been instantly mired in political controversy.
Amongst those that had been presupposed to be excluded was Ms Johnson Sirleaf herself as a result of a previous connection to a former insurgent chief and former President Charles Taylor.
She had admitted that she donated cash for a aid operation that ended up in Taylor’s arms and apologized to the fee – however she didn’t resign.
She was not the one one, and a few stay in workplace immediately. Different individuals in positions of authority have been recognized for prosecution – together with two lawmakers who nonetheless sit in parliament.
“The TRC’s suggestions had political implications for members of the federal government,” stated Liberian transitional justice researcher Tennen Dalieh Tehougue.
“A logical cause they did not signal a struggle crimes and financial crimes tribunal, or different measures, is that it could have affected them.”
She additionally believes that the TRC was a missed alternative as a result of “it didn’t present a platform to talk the reality and the regret of many of the main actors within the struggle. Most of them justified their actions. earlier than courtroom hearings “.
“Why a struggle crimes tribunal now?
The present authorities, led by President George Weah, who ran unsuccessfully towards Ms Johnson-Sirleaf in 2005, has given conflicting messages to a struggle crimes tribunal.
In 2019, he wrote to Parliament telling it he ought to advise and supply steerage on the laws wanted to implement the TRC’s suggestions.
However later that yr he advised reporters that “since we got here to energy [in 2018]I’ve not as soon as referred to as for a struggle crimes tribunal. Why now? When we’ve financial issues, we attempt to develop our nation, why deal with a struggle crimes tribunal now? “.
Contacted by the BBC, Data Minister Ledgerhood Rennie stated that “any determination of a struggle crimes tribunal would emanate from the Liberian individuals via their representatives within the legislature.”
However there doesn’t seem to have been any progress.
Moderately than wait, some activists, together with the Swiss group Civitas Maxima which works with Liberians and offers data to authorities, have tried to seek out different routes to justice in international courts, therefore the Finnish trial of Mr. Massaquoi.
In the USA, former warlord Mohammed “Jungle Jabbah” Jabateh was jailed in 2017 for 30 years, convicted of immigration fraud for mendacity about his previous because the chief of a drive that dedicated a number of murders and acts of cannibalism.
Thomas Woewiyu, who based the NPFL with Taylor, was additionally convicted in the USA of immigration fraud in 2018, however died earlier than conviction.
Taylor’s son, “Chuckie” Taylor, was tried as a US citizen in a US courtroom and sentenced to 97 years in 2009 for torturing and killing individuals whereas he was head of Liberia’s counterterrorism service.
Taylor himself is in jail, however he has been convicted of crimes associated to the battle in neighboring Sierra Leone.
And Alieu Kosiah – a former commander of a insurgent group preventing the NPFL – was tried final yr in Switzerland.
Mr. Massaquoi – who’s Sierra Leonean – had testified earlier than the UN-backed Particular Courtroom for Sierra Leone, set as much as examine struggle crimes dedicated within the battle. He was transferred to Finland in 2008 as a part of a witness safety program, which supplied immunity for crimes dedicated in Sierra Leone, however not in Liberia.
The 2 conflicts had been intently linked.
There are Liberians for whom the recollections of the preventing are too traumatic and so they want to not look again.
Godfrey Konnah, now 40, misplaced his leg after shrapnel from a grenade hit him whereas on his method to purchase bread in Monrovia.
“I do not like to speak about struggle, I do not like to consider it,” he stated.
“I’ve developed whether or not or not they translate a struggle crimes tribunal, I am effective. What God needs to occur would occur.”
However Mr Dempster, who campaigned for a tribunal, believes its creation would give victims hope their issues could possibly be addressed
He provides that the cash would come as soon as the political will is there.
What the trial of Mr. Massaquoi might do is relaunch discussions within the nation to lastly convey justice to the tons of of 1000’s of victims.