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War crimes court closer?

At least four Liberian advocacy groups reportedly appear before the United Nations Human Rights Committee in Geneva on Tuesday, 10 July to seek justice for war crimes victims here.

Global Research and Justice Project, Coalition for Justice in Liberia, Fubbi Foundation for Development and Sustainability, Inc and Civil Society Human Rights Advocacy Platform of Liberia, are among a total of 76 groups in Africa and outside the continent that are leading the campaign for justice for victims of hideous atrocities committed across Liberia during the country’s civil crisis, spanning over 14 years.

They want the Government of Liberia to undertake fair and credible prosecutions of international crimes committed during two rounds of civil wars in the country, that left about half million persons killed in various gruesome manners, including massacres.

According to a dispatch from Geneva, the United Nations Human Rights Committee monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by its states parties.

Liberia’s submission was scheduled for July 9-10.

“Since the war ended in 2003, the Liberian government has skirted the issue of criminal accountability for war crimes,” says the executive director for Monrovia-based Global Justice and Research Project, Hassan Bility, noting that “Not one person has been prosecuted for past violations.”

The submission by the 76 groups identifies urgent steps to be taken by the Liberian government to help ensure accountability for serious crimes in the country, to be considered by the Human Rights Committee. It also makes recommendations for additions and changes to the commission’s proposed court to enable fair and credible trials.

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“The Liberian government should swiftly establish a committee to develop a roadmap for justice for grave crimes,” stresses Elise Keppler, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch. “Liberia should also support efforts by third countries to bring universal jurisdiction cases for civil war-era crimes.”

The dispatch notes that Liberians suffered tremendously over the course of the two armed conflicts spanning more than 14 years, and that abuses included summary executions, large-scale massacres, rape and other forms of sexual violence, mutilation and torture as well as widespread forced conscription and use of child combatants.

Two well-attended marches were recently held in Monrovia in support of a war crimes court, with prominent Liberians calling for justice, including Nobel Peace laureate Leymah Gbowee, and leaders in the Liberian Council of Churches.

“People in Liberia are taking to the streets and insisting their leaders take steps to ensure justice for past crimes,” said Nushin Sarkarati, senior staff attorney at the Center for Justice and Accountability. “The victims and families deserve to see perpetrators held to account.”

Although the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Liberia in 2009 recommended a war crimes court to investigate and try people responsible for grave violations of international law, the dispatch notes that the country has never moved ahead with this recommendation, specifically pointing out that the few cases addressing civil war-era atrocities here have occurred outside Liberia, notably in Europe and the United States.

“With a new government elected on a platform of ending corruption and upholding the rule of law in the nation, our organizations call on Liberia to meet its international obligations to prosecute serious crimes and provide justice to victims of the civil wars,” said Adama Dempster, secretary general of the Civil Society Human Rights Advocacy Platform of Liberia.


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