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Boakai’s Executive Order# 131 garners global attention

U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for global criminal justice, Beth Van Schaack, congratulates President Joseph Boakai on signing Executive Order #131 to open the Office of War and Economic Crimes Court for Liberia and pledges the United States’ support in ensuring that perpetrators of war crimes in Liberia are brought to justice.

By Kruah Thompson 

Monrovia, Liberia, May 9, 2024- President Joseph Nyuma Boakai’s recent signing of Executive Order #131 to establish the Office of War and Economic Crimes Court for Liberia sparks international interest and global attention.

The decision is being received with widespread support from domestic and international stakeholders, who view it as a pivotal moment in Liberia’s post-conflict reconstruction efforts, with a pledge to support the initiative. 

In a video message on Tuesday, May 7, U.S. Ambassador-At-Large for global criminal justice Beth Van Schaack congratulated President Boakai’s decision to finally bring perpetrators of war crimes to justice after years of civil war marked by bloodbath, torture, and rape, expressing confidence that the long-awaited call for justice will soon be over.

President Boakai, on Thursday, May 2, 2024, in a nationally televised address, signed Executive Order # 131, ushering in the establishment of the Office of War and Economic Crimes Court for Liberia.

In his executive order, the president mandated the office to investigate and design a method deemed necessary for establishing the special court, including a national anti-corruption court that will prosecute economic crimes.

Besides, efforts to prosecute war crimes have been ongoing for years, with civil society organizations, human rights activists, and victims’ groups raising awareness about the importance of holding perpetrators accountable and lobbying the Liberian government to take action. 

Despite their effort, several Liberian presidents, including Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and George Weah, made commitments to address the issue of impunity and to pursue justice for victims of war crimes and atrocities.

However, during their administrations, the process was slowed due to various challenges, including political opposition from some lawmakers and concerns about the potential impact on national reconciliation and state stability. 

Meanwhile, the signing of Executive Order # 131 on Thursday, May 3, 2024, brought relief to many Liberians as congratulations flowed in from across Liberia and beyond. Former Liberian Ambassador to the USA, Canada, and Mexico, Jeremiah Congbeh Sulunteh, also commended the President for his decision.

Likewise, Schaack, in her video message on Tuesday, May 7, applauded the President’s decision and pledged the United States’ support to assist Liberia in ensuring that perpetrators of war crimes are brought to justice.

“I commend President Joseph Nyuma Boakai, Sr., for taking this historic and courageous step to bring justice and accountability for the atrocities committed during the Liberian civil wars. The United States firmly supports Liberia’s establishment of the War and Economic Crimes Court and stands ready to assist all Liberians as it moves forward”, Amb. Schaack.   

The Liberian Civil Wars, which occurred from 1989 to 2003, were characterized by ethnic tensions, economic grievances, and power struggles. Various factions, including warlords and rebel groups, fought for control, leading to widespread atrocities and human rights abuses.

One of the most prominent figures involved was Charles Taylor, who led one of the major factions and later became president of Liberia. 

After the conflicts, Mr. Taylor was prosecuted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone for aiding and abetting RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. He was convicted in 2012 and sentenced to 50 years in Britain.

Another person who was prosecuted is Jungle Jabbah (Mohammed Jabbateh), a Liberian warlord who operated in the early 2000s. Jabbah was prosecuted and convicted in the United States for immigration fraud and perjury related to his role in the Liberian civil wars. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2018.

Additionally, Miss Martina Johnson, a former commander in Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), was arrested in Belgium in 2014 and prosecuted for war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the Liberian civil wars.

On the other hand, Dr. Beth Van Schaack, who was sworn in as the US Department of State’s Sixth Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice (GCJ) on March 17, 2022, with the responsibility to advise the Secretary of State and other Department leadership on issues relating to atrocious crimes, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, said that up to date, those who directly suffered during the civil war continued to live with the scars and have yet to see justice.

She emphasized that establishing the Court would give them the justice they deserve and that America, as a partner with the same history as Liberia, will assist throughout this process.

She congratulated the Liberian president and his team at the Executive Mansion and applauded all those who, according to her, have worked for years to keep the dreams of justice alive, including those in civil society, members of the Liberian bar, victims and survivors, and members of the legislature.

On top of it all, establishing the Office of War and Economic Crimes Court is challenging. Critics have raised concerns about the logistical and financial implications of running such a specialized tribunal to ensure the court’s effectiveness and impartiality and potential resistance from individuals implicated in past crimes.

She indicated that the creation of war and economic crimes court should not be about name blames or judging the painful history but to ensure that Liberia and Liberians can move forward knowing that their history is complete and true.

But the US Ambassador for global criminal justice, Beth Van Schaack, said in her video message that her office here in Liberia, the United States Embassy near Monrovia, and other partners in the United States Government are ready to work with Liberia in this endeavor. Editing by Jonathan Browne

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