Escaping war crimes responsibility

President George Manneh Weah and his ruling Coalition government seem unwilling to yield to increasing demands both in Liberia and from abroad for the establishment of a war crimes court for Liberia to prosecute ex-warlords and other key actors in hideous crimes committed during the 14 years of civil war here.

The President has every reason to feel uncomfortable whenever calls for a war crimes court for Liberia is raised, because senior members of his government, including his personal advisors are members and leaders of defunct warring factions.

The second in command of his government, Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor, is not only former First Lady and former Senator, but estranged wife of jailed former President Charles Ghankay Taylor. Mr. Taylor currently serves a 50 years sentence in Britain for aiding and abetting disbanded RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. He led a rebel invasion of Liberia through the disbanded National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) in 1989 that decapitated the despotic regime of President Samuel Kanyon Doe.

Not only that, a breakaway faction of Mr. Taylor’s rebels – Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia under the command of Field Marshall Gen. Prince Yormie Johnson, now a senator in Weah’s government, captured Doe in the Freeport of Monrovia in September 1990 and butchered him to death. Senator Johnson is a former presidential candidate and key political ally of Weah.
Johnson’s Movement for Democracy and Reconstruction (MDR) party supported Weah in the 2017 runoff presidential elections and the party is member of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change likewise Mr. Taylor’s former ruling National Patriotic Party (NPP) of which Vice President Jewel Taylor is former standard bearer.

But in spite of his apparent sympathy for war criminals, President Weah is under immense pressure to halt the culture of impunity in Liberia with the latest from Mrs. Cyenthia Yormie, widow of the late John Yormie. Mr. Yormie was a senior member of the dreaded rebels INPFL, commanded by now Senator Prince Johnson. Yormie was bundled away by Mr. Taylor’s frontline commander, fugitive Gen. Benjamin Yeaten along with former Deputy Minister of Public Works, Isaac Vaye and subsequently murdered in cold blood.

Ma Cyenthia is calling for justice. She wants all those responsible for her husband’s murder to face the law. In 2008, the government of ex-President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf formally indicted Gen. Yeaten in absentia. He is widely believed to be in exile in Togo, but this has not been independently verified.

Officials of the Weah administration continue to argue against war crimes court for Liberia. They say it is not expedient for the country. In fact, some remind advocates for the establishment of such court that warring parties agreed in Accra, Ghana during the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Accord in 2003 for truth and reconciliation, rather than retributive justice.

But thousands of victims of abuses across Liberia are dying in silence, while others who can muster enough courage like Mrs. Yormie think justice should be served. Who speaks for them if President Weah and his pro poor government are turning blind eyes and ignoring the many calls to bring perpetrators to book and stop the culture of impunity? Surely, these are responsibilities that no responsible government should sweep under the carpet.

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