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Senate recommends transition justice commission instead of war crimes court

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The Liberian Senate has recommended the establishment of a transitional justice commission as opposed to the establishment of a war crimes court.

The Senate decision is in response to President George Manneh Weah’s request for advice on the implementation of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that calls for the establishment of war and economic crimes court for Liberia, recommending instead, among others, a transitional justice commission.

The TRC recommends prosecution for key actors, including warlords from the country’s protracted civil crises.

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 buttressed by international partners for justice for victims of the bloody 14-year civil war that took about 250, 000 lives and accountability.

But the President’s request has been shelved at the Senate for almost three years despite demand from the public for quick response.

On Tuesday, June 22, 2021, the leadership on Capitol Hill submitted a three-page document to Plenary, among others, advising the President to constitute a transitional justice commission to determine why the TRC recommendations have not been timely and fully implemented; whether the Commission fully complied with its mandates, such as the face-to-face meeting between perpetrators of crimes and other offenses, and the respective victims.

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The leadership also advises that its proposed TJC should examine the effect of the August 2003 Act of the Legislature that grants amnesty to participants, including warlords; to analyze credibility and legitimacy issues surrounding the TRC Final Report in respect of the fact four (4) of the Commissioners had serious issues with the Report and consequently, two did sign the document but instead presented a dissenting report. 

It further advises the President to examine ratification/accession of Liberia to the Rome Statute in 2004 after the civil war on the establishment of a war crimes court and to separate said court if established, that has an international dimension from an economic crimes court, which already exists in Liberia.

The leadership argues the cardinal purpose for which the TRC was proposed by the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement was “to provide a forum that will address issues of impunity, as well as the opportunity for both the victims and perpetrators of human rights violations to share their experiences, in order to get a clear picture of the past to facilitate genuine healing and reconciliation.”

It points out that in accordance with section 48 of the TRC Report, the President is not obliged to comply with all of the recommendations in the Report, adding that the only requirement for the President’s non-compliance with any of the recommendations is to “show cause” satisfactory to the Legislature, which implies that both the President and the Legislature will eventually determine the best option for healing, reconciliation, and accountability.

“It is clear therefore that the purpose for the establishment of the TRC was to propose measures which will ultimately reconcile the people, and not to open old wounds and divide them further.”

It reminds us that signatories of the Comprehensive Peace Accord envisage a South African-style Truth Commission that supported Restorative Justice rather than Retributive Justice, so the same should be held in Liberia.

Meanwhile, senators are expected to debate the recommendation today, Wednesday, in Plenary and derive a way forward.

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