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Following The Issue

Prosecuting For Crimes Against Humanity – Why Not Liberia, Too?

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That life – any, yea, the world – is not fair is evinced in various ways. One of those ways has to do with the international community’s selective prosecution of those who commit war crimes and crimes against humanity in various parts of the globe. It’s mind-boggling that the decision-makers of the world would vehemently fight for and seek the prosecution of certain perpetrators of crimes against humanity, while at the same time wink at – and, sometimes, out rightly reject or oppose – the prosecution of others, including those whose crimes are well-known and well-documented.

A case in point is Liberia, a country whose people experienced some of the worst acts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The civil-war period produced notorious perpetrators – many of them still alive – whose nefarious words and deeds are well-known, well-remembered and well-documented, both nationally and internationally. Yet, these individuals not only move around freely, but also openly glory in their deeds.  Besides, those who have the power to effectuate the establishment of a war crimes trial are unwilling and unready to stand up for justice. Is it because this place is Liberia?

Take, for instance, the recent development in Kenya. It has been announced that the International Criminal Court in The Hague will prosecute some Kenyans – comprising senior politicians, government officials and business people – who are believed to be the most responsible for the post-poll violence that engulfed the country in 2007 and 2008, causing the death of some 1,200 people and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless, following the December 2007 elections. These individuals are associated with President Mwai Kibaki’s Party of National Unity and Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement. The unfathomable aspect of the news of their prosecution is that these individuals are to be prosecuted for being responsible for post-election violence – yes, just post-election violence – yet, individuals who committed serious war crimes and crimes against humanity in Liberia go Scott-free.  If the International Court is prosecuting perpetrators of post-election violence, why aren’t we prosecuting those whose criminal and atrocious deeds are so well-known and well-documented? Why is this so? Is it because this is Liberia, and not Kenya?

Let’s look at Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone went through a ten-year civil war. At the end, a war crimes court was set up to prosecute those playing greater role in the carnage and mayhem that consumed the country during that period. In fact, the international community was at the forefront of the campaign that effected the creation of the prosecution process. Ex-President Taylor is being prosecuted before the court. Here, in Liberia, we experienced a fourteen-year war, a period during which warlords and/or their foot soldiers unleashed terror on the population, committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. However, there is no war crimes trial for individuals whose war-time records are so glaringly fiendish. If Sierra Leone can prosecute its war crimes perpetrators, why isn’t Liberia doing the same? The annoyingly unbearable part is that some of those who should be thinking or talking about defending themselves before a war crimes tribunal are the very ones anxious to run for office or to be appointed to public posts. Isn’t this insulting? Isn’t this what has caused some to opine that Liberians don’t know the essence and role of justice in such an undertaking? Isn’t this the mindset that has caused some to glory in their fiendish words and deeds, suggesting that crimes pay? Why should only Sierra Leoneans feel proud in prosecuting their war criminals, while Liberians walk with shame for protecting war criminals? Is it because this place is Liberia and that country is Sierra Leone?

Furthermore, at the end of the Rwandan civil war, a war during which heinous crimes were committed, a vigorous campaign for the establishment of a tribunal to prosecute those most responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity was launched.  Actively participating in the campaign was the international community. In the case of Liberia, no such campaign or seriousness is there. The perpetrators are moving around remorselessly, with some of them calling themselves honorable men and women, instead of criminal and dishonorable men and women. Why isn’t Liberia following Rwanda’s example? Is it because this country is Liberia and that country is Rwanda?

Besides, in 2004, the International Criminal Court began investigation into reports of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The trial has seen the investigation of warlords like Jean-Piere Bemba, Germain Katanga and Matthieu Ngudjolo Chui. If this can happen to the DRC, why is it not happening to Liberia? Why does justice continue to weep in Liberia without any powerful individual or institution coming to its consolation or rescue? Why is justice treated like this when it comes to Liberia? Isn’t this annoyingly funny? Is it because this place is Liberia and that country is the DRC?

In 2003, the International Criminal Court announced investigation into war crimes allegedly committed in the Central African Republic between 2002 and 2003. Why the Central African Republic, but not Liberia? Is it because this place is Liberia?

Even in Sudan, in connection with the Darfur crisis, a crisis going on, individuals, including President Omar al-Bashir, have been indicted and prosecution has been sought and supported. Yet, in the case of Liberia, it seems the international community is telling us to sweep everything under the rug. But, why? Is it because this place is Liberia and that country is Sudan?

Similarly, in connection with the Ivorian crisis, President Laurent Gbagbo was charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity and sent to The Hague for prosecution. In Liberia, suspected war criminals live freely. It makes one to ask, “Why?” Is it because this land is called Liberia and that country is called the Ivory Coast?

Also, in the case of the Libyan conflict, the late Muammar Gaddafi was accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He was even indicted by the International Criminal Court, and an arrest warrant was issued. However, when it comes to Liberia, no one in the international community seems to have any interest in prosecuting individuals suspected of violating humanitarian laws. This is the kind of thing that can almost want to make someone stand on Mt. Wologisi or Mt. Nimba and shout at the highest pitch of their voice, “WHY NOT LIBERIA, TOO?”

To conclude this article, I will return to the Kenyan prosecution news. Crimes committed in post-election violence are prosecuted in Kenya, but war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Liberia are treated like virtues. Why do these known perpetrators continue to defy justice? Why do they continue to lord over us? Why do they think they are some gods that must be feared and venerated? Why do they feel that their vices are virtues, for which they should be told: “Thank You”? This is baffling! This is insulting! This is incomprehensive! This would be funny, if it were not connected to a serious issue – the need to dispense justice. Oh, I forgot. This country is called Liberia.

It is my prayer and hope that the gods and our Ancestors will one day have mercy and put these killers and destroyers in their proper places – the defendant’s box before a war crimes tribunal.

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

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