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Liberia: Senate votes for transitional justice

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Rejects war crimes court

By E. J. Nathaniel Daygbor

Following three weeks of deliberations that brought together experts from professional and technical backgrounds, the Plenary of the Liberian Senate has overwhelmingly voted for the establishment of a transitional justice commission to probe the Truth and Reconciliation Commission final recommendation.

The proposed transitional justice commission, if accepted by President George Manneh Weah, will lead to the holding of dialogue where Liberians will be given the opportunity to choose between establishing War and Economic Crimes Court for Liberia to prosecute warlords who committed crimes against humanity and other heinous crimes during the country’s 14 years civil war or restorative justice, the latter being recommended that would involve bringing victims and perpetrators together in a palava hut-style reconciliation.  

The proposed transitional justice commission, if enacted, will also seek to review the works and recommendations of the TRC, where necessary, and make additional recommendations on how far back in Liberia’s history should such a transitional justice process go, among others.

Members of the Senate took the decision following debate and recommendations signed by about 20 of the 30 senators from both the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change and the main four opposition Collaborating Political Parties.

The hearings at the Liberian Senate were provoked by President Weah’s request for advice on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recommendations that contain calls for a War and Economic Crimes Court.

President Weah on September 19, 2019, wrote the Senate, seeking its advice on how to proceed with implementation of the TRC final report amid immense pressure by Liberians at home and abroad, and buttressed by international partners, seeking justice for victims of the bloody 14-year civil war that took about 250, 000 lives.

Among trending and challenging issues of international law and domestic law include whether or not Liberia is bound to respect all international treaties, conventions, and agreements it signed (Executive) and ratified (Legislature) as in the case of the Geneva Convention and the Rome Statues that deal with certain crimes defined as war crimes,  whether the Liberian Constitution is subordinate to international instruments Liberia signed and ratified,  whether crimes committed during the Liberian civil war that violated provisions of international law that Liberia acceded to can be pardoned by the Liberian Legislature or other Liberian Authorities and whether accused war criminals would get justice before national criminal courts as expected under international law.

 Other concerns that the President asked senators to look into were making a case for the establishment of a war crimes court presided over by Liberian and foreign judges without violating the Constitution, whether the timing is ripe for such a court and whether there is a statute of limitation for the trial or punishment of war crimes,   without losing sight of peace, security, and development against the demand for accountability and justice.

The recommendations from the Liberian Senate to the President also suggest that President Weah should apologize to all Liberians especially, victims to find a way forward for lasting peace and co-existence among Liberians, where perpetrators and victims will accept each other again. Editing by Jonathan Browne

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