Civitas Maxima, an organization that represented victims of War Crimes and civil society organizations have concluded a major conference on accountability for war crimes with members of the 54th Legislature. The conference was held at a resort in Monrovia from July 18-19, 2019. Selected members of the House of Representatives were invited, including the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA), civil society organizations and two international experts.
According to Civitas Maxima, the conference was being organized in collaboration with the administration of the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, the Secretariat for the Establishment of War Crimes Court in Liberia, and the Global Justice and Research Project. It was organized upon the request of the House Committees on Claims and Petitions, Judiciary, Good Governance, and Government Reform and the Ways, Means and Finance.
The legislative conference on War Crimes came nine months after the national Justice Conference, held in 2018, when the US House of Representatives passed on November 13, 2018, the H. Res 1055–115th bill, which aims to affirm strong United States-Liberia ties and support for democratic principles, calling for full implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recommendations, particularly the establishment of an extraordinary criminal tribunal for Liberia.
Despite the report of the Liberian TRC issued on June 30, 2009, which recommended criminal prosecutions, and the establishment of a specialized international tribunal, nobody was ever investigated, prosecuted or tried in Liberia for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the two violent civil wars (1989-1997, 1999-2003).
“The country is witnessing a real awakening when it comes to the call for accountability for war crimes. Many members of the Liberian Legislature recently mobilized to fulfill their obligations of implementing the TRC, which includes the establishment of a tribunal to judge crimes committed during the civil wars.
“A strong legislative group is currently working on a resolution to be submitted to members of both houses to rally support for this cause. Following the debate, they are planning to introduce a draft Bill. The Liberian Bar Association set up a committee to work on this bill and its executive council endorsed and adopted a draft Act to establish an extraordinary tribunal for war and economic crimes for Liberia this year,” Civitas Maxima said in a press statement.
During the Legislative Conference, Professor Olympia Beko, head of the international criminal justice unit of the human rights law centre, University of Nottingham, and David Scheffer, first U.S. Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues (1997-2001), will provide expert advice to members of the Legislature and Liberian stakeholders working on the Draft Act to Establish an Extraordinary Tribunal for War and Economic Crimes for Liberia via video-conference. The two individuals negotiated and coordinated U.S. support for the establishment and operation of international and hybrid criminal tribunals.
The Civitas Maxima release added that the two-day conference was intended to provide understanding among legislators on accountability issues for past crimes and to explain the background of a Draft Resolution and the content of the Draft Act. “The conference will also feature presentations on international criminal law, as well as lessons learned from other countries in Africa, where similar courts were established,” the release said.
Meanwhile, Mr. Emmanuel Savice who attended the conference, representing Diaspora Liberians admonished the Legislature to at all times seek the interests of the Liberian people whom the represents, instead of caving to narrow special interests against the state. The war crimes court advocate said after the civil wars, legislators first concern should be to address past crimes, and impunity. Mr. Savice said it is unfortunate that a legislator that should be committed to serving and helping their constituents are succumbing to bad governance and are selling out, that he said was undermining the WCC and ECC conversation and progress. In an effort to see justice done and the rights and dignity of Liberians restored, Mr. Emanuel Savice flew from Canada, attended and staged two rallies in November and April in 2018 and 2019, respectively.
Main photo: Emmanuel Savice