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An Open Letter to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf: “When will Justice Come?”

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Madam President:

Season’s Greetings!

The holiday season is a time of joy and celebration for Christians and non-Christians alike who find hope and comfort in the birth of our lord Jesus Christ, who was born and died so that all of us can be free from the original sins of commission and omission. The season is also a period of reflection. This is a time when people engage in deep reflection on their experiences, their trials and tribulations, and explore new meanings in their lives that would give them a springboard and usher them in to a new and promising year.

Madam President, as you are aware, this year coincides with the twenty-third anniversary of the Liberian civil war, and we in the Coalition for Justice in Liberia (CJL) believe it represents a critical time to reflect on the much-neglected issue of justice that has bedeviled the survival of our nation since its birth. Sadly, there are thousands of Liberians who will not experience the joy of this season because of the bad memories they still have of how their lives were uprooted and destroyed by an armed rebellion launched on December 24, 1989 whose consequence wrecked havoc on the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent Liberians, mainly vulnerable women and children.

In fact Madam President, as much as we have tried to ignore, pretend, and camouflage that the lack of justice for the victims of the Liberian civil war is no longer a priority because of the peaceful strides that have been made since the cessation of the war in 2003, and since the prosecution of Mr. Charles Taylor by the International Crimes Court (ICC), the fact still remains that the issue of justice is still fundamental to having sustained peace and strengthening the foundations for national unity in our country.

Moreover, on this twenty-third anniversary of the Liberian civil war, we in the Coalition for Justice in Liberia (CJL), wish to call your attention to the fact that there is an overriding concern for justice for the victims of the civil war. This is the unvarnished truth that your leadership must confront now to demand a high standard of justice to end the culture of impunity in Liberia. The hard truth is that due to the greed, selfishness, and power-obsession of a few men and women, our country was plunged into national chaos that brought untold death and suffering to nearly 250,000 thousand of our able-bodied citizens and their families who are still experiencing the after effects of this senseless war that was waged to satisfy their raw political ambitions.

When will justice come? What justice has been brought against those who perpetrated this war in order to restore the humanity and wholeness of our people and bring national healing? How long will those who have suffered going to wait before justice takes its course? Where should our people turn for justice? When will justice reign on the souls of innocent victims of massacre in Sinje Grand Cape Mount County, massacre at Lutheran Church in Sinkor Monrovia, massacre at Barclay Training Center (BTC) Beach, Montserrado County, massacre in Bopolu Gbarpolu County, massacre in Bawon Town, massacre in Nikagabozu Lofa County, massacre in Tappita Nimba County, massacre at Phebe Bong County, massacre at the Episcopal Church on Camp Johnson Road Monrovia, massacre in Firestone Margibi County, massacre at LAC Grand Bassa County, massacre in Greenville Sinoe County, massacre in Neeswen Town Rivercess County, massacre at Bakedu Lofa County, Massacre in Grand Kru County ,massacre of American Nuns, massacre of Senegalese ECOMOG soldiers and countless gruesome killing in various parts of the country? Madam President, it is now twenty-three years and our people are still seeking answers in order to bring closure to their lives.

Especially today, many of our people who are victims of this war continue to suffer in silence. Some have endured mental anguish for years often expressed through depression, anger, and violence. Others, including women, who were raped and victimized, continue to experience problems in their family relationships. Yet still, there are those who continue to experience all kinds of physical, emotional, and psychological pain for which they have no answers. How long will these citizens of ours continue to wait for the bells of justice to ring so that some form of healing can begin? Madam President, When will Justice Come?

We in the Coalition for justice in Liberia recognize that the implementation of justice is a very vital part of any national development initiative. We want to remind you that since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), completed and submitted its report more than two years ago, there has been no action taken on its recommendations. The report has been set aside and continues to languish, giving credence to the prevailing perception that this was a meaningless exercise, and that those who experienced years of hurt and abuse by warlords and their marauding gangs, have not been heard. In our view, this report represents the last best chance and hope for bringing justice, peace, and reconciliation to our country. Madam President, as we remember this twenty-third anniversary and look towards entering a new year, we call upon you to implement this report so that you can set into motion the true process of genuine peace and reconciliation.

Finally, Madam President, we in the Coalition for Justice in Liberia (CJL), believes that our country stands at a crossroads for justice: there is an opportunity to create a memorable legacy for justice that this generation and those yet unborn will always remember; or leave unattended the legacy of injustice that embroiled us in an ugly past that continues to undermine the potential and promise of a better nation.

Madam President, we urge you to do the right thing for justice as we enter a new year so that when this season rolls around again, the victims of the Liberian civil war can truly celebrate with joy and happiness. We leave you with these parting words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu who too is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa, who said that” Peace is impossible without JUSTICE.”.

Lovetta Tugbeh
Interim Director, Coalition for Justice in Liberia

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