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Those skeletal remains deserve justice

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The United Nations Mission in Liberia or UNMIL on Friday, 17 February handed over to the Government of Liberia partial skeletal remains of 27 individuals believed to be victims of possible extrajudicial killings by armed groups during the country’s civil crisis in or prior to 2003.

According to UNMIL, the remains were recovered from seven locations in Liberia during a joint investigation “Operation South” conducted by the United Nations Police (UNPOL) and the Liberia National Police (LNP). The investigation reportedly opened in January 2004 following the discovery of remains in Maryland and River Gee Counties, respectively in southeast Liberia.

“Operation South” was reportedly conducted pursuant to recommendation in a report by the United Nations Secretary-General (S/2003/875) that UNMIL and Liberian authorities collaborate to investigate serious violations of international humanitarian law and other serious crimes. The exercise gathered information and evidence, including declarations from witnesses, and found that the remains may be related to possible extrajudicial killings carried out by various Liberian armed groups in or before 2003. 

We understand the remains were interred over the weekend in a designated, marked grave at the Disco Hill Cemetery in Margibi County, pending further investigation.

We hope this would not be the end of the matter, because thorough probe should be conducted by the state to establish exactly when those killings were committed, and by whom or which armed group or groups during the civil war.

The skeletons of those victims and no doubt their relatives, who are yet to be identified, would be delighted if perpetrators or their assassins were booked and brought to justice.

The 27 victims could be just a tip of the iceberg regarding the depth of extrajudicial killings that were executed across Liberia during the civil way, including the infamous massacres in 2003 on the Meher Bridge along the Grand Cape Mount highway in western Liberia and the Todee Massacre in the 1990s in an area that was heavily contested by Charles Taylor’s NPFL and troops of the disbanded Armed Forces of Liberia.

Summary of final report released by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Liberia indicted nearly all of the armed groups that participated in the country’s civil crisis, including the disbanded National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), Liberian Peace Council (LPC), Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL), United Liberation Movement (ULIMO), Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), United Liberation Movement-K (ULIMO K), Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL), and United Liberation Movement-J (ULIMO J), among others.

The Commission established, among other things that: “All factions engaged in armed conflict, violated, degraded, abused and denigrated, committed sexual and gender based violence against women including rape, sexual slavery, forced marriages, and other dehumanizing forms of violations”; and stressed that a form of both individual and community reparation is desirable to promote justice and genuine reconciliation.

It is from this background that we strongly think and recommend here a need for penalties against perpetrators and some level of reparations should be paid to victims’ families or communities and regions to minimize the depth of hurts and forgiveness in our society.

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