The Issues Desk wishes to look at some people’s inability – or, rather, unwillingness – to bring to justice those who committed war crimes and crimes against humanitarian during the civil conflict. There are people who will do everything in their power to see Liberians settle down with blanket amnesty, blanket reconciliation and a continuation of the culture of impunity.
As I have written and debated over the years, it is in the collective interest of Liberia and its people for those who are suspected of violating humanitarian law to be prosecuted. If it can happen in the Ivory Coast, it can also happen here. If it can take place in Sierra Leone, it can also happen here. If Rwandans have gone through it, we, too, can go through it. Gross violators of human rights must be prosecuted.
But why shouldn’t they be prosecuted? Why? Too many people were killed for no good reasons. Our mothers and sisters and wives were raped. Pregnant women were disemboweled as the resolution of a can-you-tell-what’s-the-sex-of-the-baby-in-that-woman’s-stomach dispute among a group of fighters. Villages and towns were set on fire at will. Churches and mosques were set ablaze by marauding “freedom fighters.” Sacred traditional places were desecrated. Hundreds of villagers were forced in attics and suffocated with burning pepper from below. Some had their family members killed right before their eyes and told to look, but not cry. Different groups of Liberians and non-Liberians were massacred in various places and ways.
Indeed, there is a need to prosecute those responsible for the atrocious acts mentioned above, and those who reason that because the war years have come and gone, the stories that characterized those years should also be gone and those who committed those acts should be let go are making an egregious mistake. Sweeping grave human rights violations under the carpet does not help.
Personal stories and other pieces of information available
A Review of Massacres (1990 – 2003)
2. On 30 May 1990, armed men entered the compound of the United Nations on the Old Road and killed scores of unarmed civilians. Many people believe that AFL soldiers carried out that massacre, others don’t. Why shouldn’t we hear the true story?
3. In July 1990, scores of our kinsmen of the Mandingo ethnic group were massacred in Bakedu, Lofa County. It is said that the fighters of Charles Taylor’s rebel group killed these kinsmen.
In July of 1990, armed men entered the compound of the St. Peter Lutheran Church on 14th Street and massacred more than 600 of our compatriots. It is generally believed that some members of the AFL and the SATU carried out that massacre. Most people have a general picture of what happened, but not detailed information. Is it wrong for us to call for the prosecution of those planning greater responsibility in all this?
5. On 6 June 1993, armed men entered Carter Camp in Harbel and massacred more than 600 women, children and defenseless people. The Amos Waco Committee set up to investigate the massacre, blamed members of the AFL. However, many people believe Charles Taylor’s rebels carried out the massacre. Should those responsible not be investigated?
6. In December of 1994, about 48 (some say 60) civilians, mainly women and children, were massacred on the Duport Road, a massacre also referred to as the Cowfield Massacre. Wait a minute! So, we should never hear the true story?
7. On 9 April 1995, more than 70 civilians were massacred in Yosi, a village near Buchanan. The victims were mainly women and children. Oh, so we should never get to know the truth of what really happened?
8. In March of 1995, scores of our compatriots were massacred in Meekor Town in Grand Cape Mount County. Why shouldn’t we hear the true story?
9. On September 28, 1996, scores of civilians were brutally massacred in Sinje, Grand Cape Mount County, by unknown gunmen. Some of those who survived were taken to Monrovia for treatment; among them was an eight-month-old baby whose right foot had been cut off. Oh, wait a minute! So, the stories are not worth telling?
10. According to reports, more than 100 civilians were killed in Zarway Town, Cape Mount County, on 23 May 2002. Shouldn’t we get to know what really happened?
11. Information has it that in February of 2003, about fifteen civilians were killed in Jorjorma Town, along the Monrovia-Tubmanburg Highway. Why shouldn’t we hear the truth, my people?
12. According to reports, more than 360 local people were massacred in three towns in River Gee, in April of 2003. Among those killed were babies, children, pregnant women and prominent figures from those towns. Many believed pro-Taylor militia fighters carried it out. Don’t we have the right to know what really went on? Oh, so, we should not investigate?
13. In August of 2003, it was reported that a massacre was carried out in Bahn, Nimba County. Some reports say 100 people were killed, others say 1000 were killed. It is believed that the killing was done by rebels from the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (Model). Are the proponents of the just-forgive-and-reconcile argument telling us that we should never hear the true story?
14. Different massacres and summary executions were carried out in different parts of Liberia, and in different ways. The list goes on and on. Massacres were carried out in Cheesemanburg, Sukroma, Yeala, Fassama, Nyekebozo, Gizeboiga, etc., etc. I believe we do not have full information on all, neither do we know about some. That’s why we MusT give the survivors, the witnesses, etc., the chance to tell their stories freely and openly. We must look for them and give them the opportunity to narrate the stories. This could be the beginning of a genuine reconciliation and forgiveness.
For more information on some of the massacres, summary executions and brutal killings that were carried out in Liberia, as well as the identities of some of those who are responsible for these ugly acts, check http://www.nextliberia.com/major.html.
Most of us are aware that it is impossible for all of the stories to be heard, because of one reason or another. But this does not mean that those that are possible to be told should be forbidden. I know that Liberians are forgiving people, but they must be given the chance to know or hear what they have to forgive. Besides, as we all strive for forgiveness and reconciliation, those who did wrong to others in the past should be remorseful for their actions. They should sincerely confess and ask for forgiveness. If they take pride in their ugly deeds, openly boast about it, or arrogantly deny what is known to be true, those who have been wronged will find it hard, if not impossible, to forgive the wrong-doers. This is another point to consider.
Even Biblical reconciliation and forgiveness call for admission and confession of wrong. I John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Here we see that confession precedes forgiveness. We see a similar picture about the prodigal son in Luke 15. The Bible tells us in verses 17-24 that when he (the prodigal son) realizes his wrongdoing, he repents, goes back to his father, apologizes and asks for forgiveness. His father forgives his past and accepts him back into the family. Again, we notice that confession or admission of the wrong precedes forgiveness and reconciliation.
Let the stories of the heinous acts committed in Liberia, against Liberians and non-Liberians, be told. Let them be told in central Liberia. Let the stories be told in northern Liberia. Let them be told in eastern Liberia. Let the narrations be heard in western Liberia. Not only that. Let the accounts be heard in the southern part. Let the Bassa, Dei, Krahn, Kpelle, Kru and Grebo people narrate their experiences. Let the Lorma, Kissi, Mandingo, and the Gbandi people tell their stories. Let’s give the Mano, Gio, Gola, and Vai people the opportunity to continue the narrations.
Permit the accounts to be heard from Maryland to Grand Cape Mount and from the mountains of Nimba and Lofa to the shores of the North Atlantic Ocean. Simply put, let the stories be told, for when we allow the stories to be told, when we permit them to be told sincerely and remorsefully, we open the door for true reconciliation and forgiveness. Not only that. When we let the stories be told candidly and sorrowfully, we can easily formulate strategies and policies to prevent their recurrence. LET THE STORIES BE TOLD.
To conclude this article, I will leave you with the words of Aldous Huxley, a British writer (1894-1963): “Experience is not what happens to you; it is what you do with what happens to you.”