Minneapolis, Minnesota – A Coalition for Justice in Liberia (CJL) two days symposium geared toward training staffers on how to unearth and report gross human rights abuses, including war related massacres taking place around the world, ended here last week with both participants and facilitators pledging to work together in order to end a “culture of impunity” by perpetrators of genocides. Most of the speakers at the ceremony vowed that war criminals that are living in the US and Europe will eventually be booked no matter how long they will run or evade justice.
The conference was held at the Brooklyn City Center (City Hall) and brought together a group of hardcore international human rights activists, lawyers and representatives, some from the US Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security and Naturalization based in Washington D.C. They were: Kathy Roberts, Legal Director, Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA), Yonina Alexander, Legal Fellow (CJA), Dr. Christopher Hayden of the U.S. Department of Justice, and Dr. Abbey Weiss, Clinical Psychologist, Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) among others.
Liberian Human rights journalists were also among the panelists at the forum; among them were CIVITAS’ Director Mr. Hassan Bilityand former Associated Press correspondent James Kokulo Fasuekoi. Mr. Bility who presently runs CIVITAS, a human rights group based in Liberia, suffered severe torture at the hands of Charles Taylor’s securities prior to the fall of Taylor’s regime. Bility spoke about his ordeals in the former dictator’s prison and the process which led to his released. Taylor had agreed to free Journalist Bility but only if he Bility would agree to leave Liberia. Mr. Bility was later flown to Ghana, and then to the U.S. after the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia reached a compromise with the former warlord.
Journalist and author, Mr. James Fasuekoi who covered the civil war for more than a decade before escaping the country two years after Taylor became president, introduced a new dimension to the event. He screened vivid photographic slides of child-soldiers, mass starvation, massacres, warlords and rebel commanders, which brought fresh memories of the war. Some of Fasuekoi’s war-images were so tasteless and ghastly that some members of the audience had to turn away from the screen. Among panelists for day two were University of Liberia Political Science Professor Alaric Tokpa and Mr. Tony Leewaye, a Minnesota based Liberian community mobilizer and social worker. Mayor Tim Wilson, Mayor of the City of Brooklyn Center was among U.S. officials who graced the event.
During the conference, participants /presenters spoke of gross human rights abuses including genocides carried out in Liberia with a focus on “people” whose actions one way or the other, led to the carnage and mayhem that characterized the 14 years brutal war. Other places where gross human rights violations have occurred in the past such as the East African country of Rwanda and Guatemala in South America were placed under the spotlight and U.S. human rights activists and lawyers attending the forum briefed the audience on the level of progress they have made so far in those countries in terms of prosecuting perpetrators of abuses and massacres via international justice systems.
It can be record that in early 2012, former leader of the defunct Liberia Peace Council, Dr. George S. Boley was deported to his native Liberia after US Immigration authorities found him guilty for his role in the alleged massacres of scores of civilians by his rebel Liberia Peace Council which seized a large portion of the southeastern region then occupied by Taylor’s rebel National patriotic Front of Liberia during the country’s civil war.
Earlier, during opening remarks, founder and interim president of the Coalition for Justice in Liberia, Miss Lovetta Tugbeh, lamented the plights of vulnerable women and children throughout Liberia the wars and described both groups as the “most victimized.” “Soldiers [rebels] forced men to rape their daughters in front of others…mothers were forced [by rebels] to have sex with their sons; sisters with brothers,” Miss Tugbeh told the audience.
She urged the US States Department of Justice as well as the Department of Homeland to work hand in hand with rights groups in and out of the U.S. in order to track down and subsequently prosecute “perpetrators of heinous crimes against humanity” and not allow them use the U.S. as safe heavens.
Speaking further, the young rights activist assured the audience and victims of war that her new organization would not only limit itself to the provision of rehabilitation and trauma counseling for raped and war victims, but would also strive make free medical services available to them.
Former chairman and commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia, Mr. Jerome Verdier was expected to speak on the topic: “Human Rights in Liberia & Stopping the Culture of Impunity.”
However, Mr. Verdier along with several other guests including survivals of the July 1990 Lutheran Church and the June 1993 Carter Camp genocides that were expected to give testimonies, failed to appear. Both Mr. Sayon Nyanwleh and Mr. James Kpanneh Doe served as organizers and moderators for the occasion; Text & pictorial by a correspondent.