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Following The Issue

Is Prince Johnson for or Against War Crimes Trial?

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A Look at His Inconsistent Positions

The Issues Desk wishes to look at the position – or, rather, positions – of Senator Prince Johnson on the issue of the establishment of a war crimes court in Liberian and the prosecution of those believed to have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during Liberia’s period of unrest. There are many reasons why considering his position is needed.

First of all, the “look” at his positions is necessary because it is not clear exactly where the former warlord, now senior Senator of Nimba County, stands on the debate. Is he for or against the prosecution of those who committed heinous crimes against Liberians and non-Liberians?

Second. The “look” is germane in that Mr. Prince Johnson was a major player in the unrest that engulfed the nation for years. His unequivocal position on this sensitive and important issue could raise or answer questions in the process. A former warlord supporting or rejecting the existence of a war crimes tribunal aimed at prosecuting war criminals means a lot in the debate.

Third, Mr. Prince Johnson is a national leader. His position or opinion on national issues or debates could influences the direction the debates or issues go, or the decisions that are made in relation to those debates or issues.

Indeed, the Issues Desk would like to know where Mr. Johnson stands on the issue. If he is in favor of, let him state it unequivocally. If he is not, let him also indicate it clearly. Still, if he is incapable of taking a definite stance, let him make that known as well.

All this is said because Mr. Johnson has been consistently inconsistent in his position in the debate. Not only does this tendency befuddle many; it actually presents Mr. Johnson as a flip-flopper, which is not a good characterization of a leader who represents a people.

Let it be remembered that the Accra Peace Agreement that ended the Liberian Civil War and brought to being the Bryant-led interim government  also called for the establishment of a Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to look at the root causes of the unrest and acts committed during the unrest, as well as the roles of the actors involved. The process was also aimed at fostering reconciliation based on truth-telling. But the TRC also had the power to make certain recommendations, including recommending individuals for prosecution.

Millions of dollars’ worth of resources was put into the process headed by Counselor Jerome Verdier. The Commission completed its work and published its report and recommendations in 2009. The report lists Mr. Johnson as the most notorious perpetrator and one of those named for war crimes prosecution for his role in the fourteen-year war.

However, after the issuance of the report and recommendations of the Verdier-led Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Mr. Johnson criticized the TRC and trashed its report, saying that it was an unfair and unnecessary process not in the interest of peace. Predicated on that, many knew and concluded that Mr. Johnson was against the TRC Report. It was clear. That was in 2009.

We ask again. Is Mr. Prince Johnson for or against the TRC Report and its Recommendations, including the establishment of a war crimes court to prosecute people like him? No, he is not, considering his reaction to the release of the TRC Report and Recommendations in 2009.

Then came 2010, when President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf failed to keep her promise to the Liberian people that she would be a one-term president, announcing in January of 2010 that she would seek a second term. To date, many Liberians and non-Liberians consider that a classic deceitfulness on the part of Madam Sirleaf.

Anyway, following President Sirleaf’s declaration of her intention to run in 2011, Mr. Prince Johnson announced his own candidacy. When the campaign season began in 2011, we saw a different Prince Johnson as far as the issue of the TRC and its report and recommendations went.

While delivering his acceptance speech (as Standard Bearer of the National Union for Democratic Progress) in Nimba in May of 2011, Mr. Johnson endorsed the TRC recommendations, saying that the entire TRC Report should be implemented, while blaming President Sirleaf as the person obstructing its implementation.

Let us hear from Mr. Johnson himself, as he said it in May of last year: “I would have liked for the entire TRC report to be implemented. But, unfortunately, President Sirleaf decided that her desire to run for the presidency was more important than implementing the recommendations of the TRC. At her State of the Nation Address in January 2010, (the) President decided to trash the TRC report and announced to the world that she was running for President, even though the TRC has banned her for 30 years. By her action, she completely undermined the recommendations for sanctions.”

If you thought that was all that Mr. Prince Johnson said to register his support for the TRC Report and its Recommendations, wait and read additional statements he made at the same event in Nimba in May of 2011: “The second area of reconciliation is legal jurisprudence. This means holding people accountable for abusing the rights of the people. We set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to ensure that we had genuine peace. At first, we all had reservation about the TRC report. But after reading the entire final report, I must say a big thank you to Chairman Jerome Verdier, Massa Washington, John Stewart and other commissioners who were brave enough to put my name, President Sirleaf and other prominent Liberians in the report.”

Is Mr. Prince Johnson for or against the implementation of the TRC Report and its Recommendations, which include the setting up of a war crimes court to prosecute those who are believed to have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity? Oh, yes, he is totally for it, as can be seen in his acceptance message in May of 2011. Mr. Johnson is for the establishment of a war crimes court to prosecute war criminals. This is lucid enough.

But, wait a minute. Maybe we should not be that fast as 2011 is not 2012. Every year could bring a different position on the issue. Is Mr. Johnson in favor of a war crimes court for Liberian war criminals?

No, he is not. He is against it. Representative J. Baron Brown of Ground Bassa County has submitted a bill calling for the prosecution of those bearing greatest responsibility for heinous acts committed during the war. Mr. Johnson is against the bill, indicating that he will kill the bill in that it has no amount of significance and that it is intended to divide the Liberian people rather than heal the wounds afflicted as a result of the war. He has also said that TRC Report is unrealistic and biased. Yes, the same TRC report he praised in 2011.

Is Mr. Prince Johnson really for or against the establishment of a war crimes court for Liberian war criminals? We don’t really know. He is the best person to ask. However, we are able to say this, as we shift in person. If you are talking about 2009, then he is against it. If you are thinking about 2011, then, for sure, he is for it. Do you have in mind 2012? Well, then he is against it.

Will Mr. Prince Johnson ever take a definite position on the issue and go with it consistently? We hope he does. In fact, it is why we wish to know exactly where he stands, after having identified his inconsistencies.

Believe me, my people. We will never stop following the issues.

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