What’s going on, fellow Liberians? Something strange is happening, and it not only confuses me; it worries me. And that has to do with the international community’s unflinching desire to give justice to the Sierra Leoneans who were the victims of atrocities committed by war criminals, including Charles Taylor, during their ten-year-old civil war, and the same international community’s apparent unwillingness to give similar justice to the Liberian people. Indeed, it confuses me.
It worries me, and confuses me, too, in that it seems those interested in prosecuting Mr. Charles Taylor only wanted the prosecution to start and end with Mr. Taylor. And this forces some to contend that Mr. Taylor was prosecuted for something that goes beyond the charge of war crimes. In a sense, they argue that the ostensible reason for Taylor’s prosecution and conviction is war crimes committed in Sierra Leone, but the underlying reason is something completely different. There seems to be some madness to their logic.
It befuddles me that the world greets Charles Taylor’s indictment, arrest, prosecution and conviction with euphoria, but the same world, especially those who demanded and engineered the prosecution of Taylor; seem to be phlegmatic about ending the culture of impunity in Liberia, as if what happened in Sierra Leone did not happen here.
Acts proscribed by the Geneva Conventions were committed in Liberia. For instance, our mothers and sisters were raped. Young women were used as sex objects and slaves. Individuals and groups of individuals were killed in cold blood because they belonged to a specific tribe. Massacres were committed in various places in horrifying manners. Settings that were not military targets were attacked or bombarded. Civilians were forced into combat.
Children were recruited as child soldiers and sent to the war front. Innocent people were taken hostage, with some of the hostages killed in the process. Whole villages were burnt down for no justifiable reasons. Pregnant women were disemboweled and the baby forced out to settle a what-is-the-sex-of-the-child-in-that-belly argument. Civilians were tortured or inhumanely treated in many different ways. Besides, our country’s resources were plundered and squandered.
What else does the international community want to see or know about the stories and reports of gross human rights violations that occurred in Liberian before deciding to take action? What is the justice-oriented international community waiting for to help Liberians bring to justice those who committed crimes of war and crimes against humanity?
Why does that international community make us look stupid in front of these very individuals and their supporters? Why does the international community make us become a laughingstock before our Sierra Leonean brothers and sisters? Why is the world treating Liberia and its people in this fashion? What did we do? Whose interest is being protected here?
Oh, yes, it flabbergasts us. Mr. Charles Taylor was indicted, arrested, and prosecuted in The Hague for war crimes and crimes against humanity. He was convicted on April 26 because, according to the Court, he aided and abetted the commission of crimes of war and crimes against humanity. Yet, all those who are known to have committed or suspected of committing similar crimes are scot-free. This is shamefully selective, unbearably painful and annoyingly confusing. Don’t Liberians, too, deserve justice?
Oh, this world is full of double standards, mostly based on political and economic interests, rather than on the selfless desire to fairly and equitably dispense justice for the innocent and voiceless.
Let Taylor be prosecuted for what he did in Liberia. Let Prince Johnson, Alhaji Kromah, and all other ex-warlords face a war crimes tribunal for their role during the war. Let others not ex-warlords, but believed to have committed atrocities face the tribunal. Let them be prosecuted.
Where are the Liberian institutions and citizens that used to continuously call for the prosecution of former warlords? Where are the editorials that called for that? Where are the student organizations that campaigned for it? Where are the religious institutions and leaders that sermonized it?
Should we Liberians sit back and reason that the international community will take the lead in bringing to justice those Liberians and non-Liberians who committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during the fourteen-year war that saw some of the most atrocious acts men of evil could ever commit, or is it time for Liberians to take the lead?
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has failed us already. We cannot and should not depend on her. Ask people like Jerome Verdier who campaigned and voted for her in 2005. She has virtually thrown the TRC into the dustpan. It is sad. Most of us believe that the TRC Report and Recommendations are a key step toward the struggle to end the culture of impunity that has taken whole of our society for decades, but those in authority think differently.
But all is not lost. We are convinced that there are scores of Liberians and non-Liberians out there, more than ever prepared to continue the struggle to bring to book those who grossly violated the rights of others. Their voices will be heard at the peak of Mt. Nimba. They will stand on Mt. Wologisi and shout at the highest pitch of their voice, calling for the prosecution of Liberian war criminals. They will determinedly and unitedly march to the summit of the Kilimanjaro Mountain and shout above the usual volume of their voice, saying: “Give us justice, too! We demand justice, too! We deserve justice, too!”
They will spontaneously mobilize themselves and march in the streets of Monrovia and other cities of the nation for the same purpose – to call for justice. They will assemble in the various foreign cities they find themselves to make the same call – Liberians deserve justice, too. They will march in London and other cities in Europe. They will march in New York and other cities in the United States of America. They will do the same in Ghana and other cities in Africa. The message will be the same: Let Liberian war criminals be prosecuted, too.
We are still hopeful that the Liberian voices noted for calling for the prosecution of ex-warlords and other perpetrators of gross human rights violations will see reason to continue the struggle. It is about dispensing justice in order to help end the culture of impunity. There are Liberians who have been in the struggle for a long time and are not ready to let up, and new ones will join the campaign.
Where are the Liberian voices noted for advocating or campaigning for the prosecution of those who grossly violated our human rights? The campaign should not die. It must not die.
Let Siahyonkron Nyanseor of Liberian Democracy Future and his organization continue the campaign calling for the prosecution of all ex-warlords as they indicated in a 1996 article titled “The Bleeding Liberia Celebrates 149th Independence.”
Let the Liberian Contemporary Voice increase their call for the establishment of United Nations-led war crimes tribunal for Liberian war criminals, as they wrote in a 1998 article published in the Conservative Political Newsletter.
Le the Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas (ALJA) continue to call upon the United Nations to set up a war crimes court for Liberia for the prosecution of those who committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, as they did in 1999, when they issued a special statement in that direction, a press statement signed by Gabriel I. H. Williams who was then the Secretary of the organization.
Let the Perspective online newspaper continue to write very strong editorials calling for the establishment of a war crimes tribunal in Liberia, as they did in 2000.
Let Charles Kwalonue Sunwabe, Co-founder and President of the Freedom and International Justice Foundation, and his organization continue the campaign for the prosecution of all ex-warlords before a war crimes tribunal, as they did in 2002.
Let the various Hatai shops that are noted for debating issues focus on the prosecution of gross human rights violators. Let the debate to prosecute those suspected of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in our country be focused on.
Let Liberian students join the campaign. Let the religious community that believes in justice join the campaign. Let the tribesmen of citizens who were killed based on their tribal links join the campaign. Let Liberian politicians who believe in justice join the campaign. It is about ending the culture of impunity. It is about indicating that crime doesn’t pay. It is about indicating that we deserve and want what the victims of the Sierra Leonean war received – that is, justice.
To conclude, fellow Liberians, we urge all Liberians who have been interested in the prosecution of war criminals to join or continue the campaign in various ways. It could be through writing, as some of us have done for the last twenty years. It could be through series of marches in Liberia or in other countries where Liberians are concentrated. Let’s forcefully call for the trial of all ex-warlords and others believed to have committed crimes of war and crimes against humanity, especially as we draw closer to the May 30th day on which Taylor will be sentenced.
Believe me, my people. We will never stop following the issues.