The Liberian government has failed to give an undertaking that it will create a war crimes court to prosecute those who allegedly committed atrocities during the country’s two armed conflicts spanning more than 14 years.
This week in Geneva, the government came under pressure at the 123rd session of the UN Human Rights Commission over the zero prosecution for crimes committed during the civil war, characterised by widespread human rights abuses.
In 2009, Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended the creation of a war crimes court but no action has yet been taken.
Activists are hoping that under new Administration headed by President George Weah, the country will finally be “addressing accountability for the crimes”.
For two days the Commission, which monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by its member states, examined Liberia’s commitment to these principles.
The Liberian government delegation included Deputy Minister of Justice for Economic Affairs Kou Dorliae, the Deputy Minister for Administration and Public Safety, Juah Nancy Cassell, Solicitor General J. Daku Mulbah, and the Assistant Minister for Legal Affairs, Rosetta N. Jackollie.
The delegation did not give any commitment to the creation of the court but explained that for now the new Administration was focusing on reconciliation.
They added that with more Liberians calling for justice and accountability, the government would be making a public statement on implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations on accountability.
Pressure has been mounting on the Weah Administration to act on war crimes.
In the lead-up to the session in Geneva, 76 Liberian, African and other international non-governmental organisations made a submission that “addresses the failure of the government of Liberia to undertake fair and credible persecutions of international crimes committed in Liberia during armed conflicts between 1989 and 2003, and to end impunity for civil war-era crimes”.
The few court cases of civil war-era atrocities had occurred outside Liberia, mainly in Europe and the US.
Two marches were held recently in Monrovia in support of a war crimes court.
“People in Liberia are taking to the streets and insisting their leaders take steps to ensure justice for past crimes,” said Nushin Sarkarati, senior staff lawyer at the Centre for Justice and Accountability.
“The victims and families deserve to see perpetrators held to account.”
Adama Dempster, Secretary General of the Civil Society Human Rights Advocacy Platform of Liberia, said “with a new government elected on a platform of ending corruption and upholding the rule of law in the nation, our organisations call on Liberia to meet its international obligations to prosecute serious crimes and provide justice to victims of the civil wars”.
The ultimate aim of the pressure on the Liberian government, according to activists, was for it to undertake fair and credible prosecutions of international crimes committed during the two civil wars.
The Liberian government should swiftly establish a committee to develop a roadmap for justice for grave crimes,” said Elise Keppler, Associate International Justice Director, at Human Rights Watch.
“Liberia should also support efforts by third countries to bring universal jurisdiction cases for civil war-era crimes.”