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U. S. Congressional Caucus To Issue “Support” For War, Economic Crimes Court In Liberia

Liberian warlords and those accused of committing serious rights abuses during the country’s back-to-back wars can expect to see the pressure turned up on them in the coming weeks.
They will be made to account for their roles in the war when a statement is issued by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the U.S. Congress but Liberia’s Solicitor General said the vexing paradox is that there are too many strange bedfellows crafting an argument with short and long term motives.
At a two hours hearing on Monday in Washington DC presided over by Co-Chairs Representatives Chris H. Smith and James P. McGovern, members of the Commission heard testimonies from several Liberians on the pervasive culture of impunity and corruption which currently obtains in the West African country since the cessation of hostilities in the mid-2000s.
Witnesses who appeared virtually before the Congressional Caucus to make the case for the establishment of a War and Economic Crimes Court in Liberia included Cllr. Jerome Verdier, Executive Director of the International Justice Group (IJG) and former Chairman of Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), Michael Mueller, Chairman of the Global Initiative for Justice, Executive Director of the Movement for Justice In Liberia (MOJUL) and women’s rights activist Ysyndi Martin-Kpeyei.
Also giving testimony was Dr. Alan White, a former Chief of Investigations of the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
Ms. Martin-Kpeyei recounted horrific experiences during the war including recruitment of child soldiers, systematic rape of women and girls by combatants and urged action to end impunity.
In his statement, the former TRC Chairman Cllr Verdier argued that all of the warring factions were more desirous of battlefield supremacy rather than effecting real change in Liberia.
He charged that the various Liberian factions allegedly committed heinous rights abuses including recruitment f child soldiers, sexual violence and enslavement, and dislocation of the civilian population in a systematic and organized manner.
He further reminded the members of the Commission that U.S. House Resolution 1055 supports implementation of the Final Report of the TRC including the establishment a War and Economic Crimes Court in Liberia.
Justice is very important. Justice is imperative,” Cllr Verdier emphasized, saying, the establishment of a War and Economic Crimes Court will enhance the rule of law in Liberia.
The IJG Executive Director blamed the lack of political will, refusal to make hard decisions in Liberia and fear as factors responsible for stalling the implementation of the TRC Final Report. Verdier called for increased pressure on the Government of Liberia to implement the TRC Report.
According to him, the argument of the Government of Liberia that it lacked funding for the War and Economic Crimes Court was not invalid since donor countries had expressed their readiness to provide funding.
In his address to the Congressional Commission, the Executive Director of Global Justice Initiative Michael Mueller appealed to the Biden Administration to publicly call for implementation of the Final Report of the TRC in order to send a strong message to the alleged perpetrators and rights abusers in Liberia who have so far avoided prosecution.
He recounted how in July 2003 a statement by former President George W. Bush calling for the departure of former rebel-turned-former-President Charles Taylor led to his eventual fall from power, arrest and conviction for crimes against humanity by the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL).
In 1983, Congressmen Tom Lantos (D-CA) and John Edward Porter (R-IL) founded the bipartisan Congressional Human Rights Caucus (CHRC). The CHRC was dedicated to the defense of all rights codified in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Dr. Alan White told the hearing that in order for Liberia to move forward, it must reconcile with its past through accountability. He dismissed the argument that Liberia will be destabilized if alleged perpetrators are brought to account, as was also charged in neighboring Sierra Leone by those who were opposed to the work of the Special Court.
Dr. White reiterated his call to the Weah Administration to begin the process of establishing the War and Economic Crimes Court by immediately requesting assistance from the United Nations in appointing judges and senior staff for a hybrid court which will have international and local jurisdiction to prosecute the accused.
The American investigator charged incumbent President Gerge M. Weah with ignoring the law and will of Liberians since he has done nothing to implement the Final Report of the TRC.
Co-Chair Representative Smith characterized the Tom Lantos Commission Hearing as a “Pivot Point” which is focused on ensuring that Liberians receive justice, and again mentioned the “Kleptocractic Government” in Liberia.
U.S. Congressman Smith acknowledged that he is aware of the angry statements directed at him by some in Government circles and ruling CDC in Liberia after he issued his last critical statement of the Weah Government in March, 2021.
Montserrado County Representative Acarous Gray, in his reaction at the time, said, “…The Representative has seeming had a longstanding objection to the Wiah Presidency, if one can judge from his pre-election remarks about the ruling CDC. And so it appears he’s opting to fulfill his prophesy,”
Gray held and continued, “…I therefore urge the Representative to endeavor to hear every side of the divide.
For instance, despite the uproar from some in the opposition about the disappearance of L$16 billion, an internationally backed investigation, including a U.S.-hired institution, proved that no such money vanished. So if anyone should know the effect of mudslinging in a polarized political environment, it would be the Republican official…” Representative Gray also urged the Liberian Foreign Ministry to respond to the assertions by the U.S. lawmaker Smith.
Dr. White called out former warlord and current Senator Prince Y. Johnson for his alleged role in the killing of American citizen Linda Jury and also detailed an assassination attempt on his own life by assassins who, instead, killed another American John Humphrey. No one was prosecuted for his killing. Dr. White charged that some of the same assassins currently work in the Liberian Government.
According to him, the U.S. Government should consider tying future public funding to the Liberian Government to implementation of the TRC Report and the use of the Global Magnitsky sanctions can be impactful in helping to move things along in Liberia.
Asked why the TRC Report was not implemented by former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Dr. White argued that while there was some attempt at reconciliation under the Johnson-Sirleaf Administration, the Ebola pandemic breakout between 2014- 2016, “Excuses are over. Let’s hold these people accountable,” he said firmly.
Cllr Verdier noted that while the Final TRC Report sanctioned former President Johnson-Sirleaf and barred her from holding public office, “she was conflicted on the implementation of the TRC Final Report but tried to implement some aspects of it. He stated categorically that President Weah who campaigned on implementation of the TRC Report has ignored implementation.
The Commission Co-Chair Representative James P. McGovern called for a State Department briefing on plans by the Biden Administration to strengthen support for setting up of a War and Economic Crimes Court in Liberia.
The Commission members also heard of coordination by various Liberian and local diaspora groups to support efforts for justice in Liberia. The Liberian National Bar Association (LNBA) is reportedly planning a peaceful march on Thursday June 24th to deliver draft bill to the Liberian National Legislature for the establishment of the War and Economic Crimes Court plans.
Member of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee
Texas Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, a member of the Commission spoke of spearheading an anti- Child Soldier Recruitment Bill in the Congress and urged the Tom Lantos Commission to, as a first step, issue a strong statement calling for support for the implementation of the Final Report of the TRC in Liberia.
The U.S. lawmaker also promised to assist with contacting the U.S. Bar Association to provide whatever help it can.
Hundreds of Liberians in and out of the country watched the hearing and have taken to social media to express support for efforts by the U.S. lawmakers to support the process of ending impunity in Liberia.
International and local rights groups have grown increasingly frustrated with the Weah Administration’s laissez faire attitude and failure to comply with its obligations to implement the recommendations of the Final Report of the TRC.
More than 250,000 people died as a consequence of the war. No one in Liberia itself has faced prosecution over the alleged role.
In extemporaneous remarks at the hearing U. S. Congressman Smith clearly signaled that the Commission is prepared to use all available tools including the Global Magnitsky sanctions to apply pressure for implementation of the Final Report of Liberia’s TRC.
He also obtained clarification that a statement from President Joseph Biden would be impactful.
The mission of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission is to promote, defend and advocate internationally recognized human rights norms as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and other relevant human rights instruments, in a non-partisan manner, both within and outside of Congress.
However, in the government of Libera’s response, Solicitor General, Syrenius Cephus’ said the public hearing on Liberia failed to unveil the character of a true national debate that requires the participation of all Liberians.
He said there were fundamental flaws and hasty generalizations of issues presented as critical but from a careful judicial analysis, they are flagrantly far-fetched and contained a cacophony of innuendoes, half-truths and blatant lies and need to be corrected to help the US House Committee understand what is being suggested in Liberia and why now.
He said the real debate of engaging public opinion is abandoned adding that the presenters represent three groups, namely the Jerome Verdier in the USA and the Taiwan Gongloe in Liberia simply want recognition as ‘champions’ of War & Economic Crimes Court in Liberia, and are using the debate to make friends with the people on Capitol Hill.
“The second group is the CPP. Its only interest is to intimidate, hoodwink and bait former warlords to their side as a form of political capital for the ensuing 2023 elections. The last group is headed by Mr. Alan White and his associates, who are none but job seekers,” Cephus noted.
“They have no links, no family ties to Liberians but they are playing active political roles in Liberia in undermining national cohesion. They are the choir masters of the campaign. The Hearing itself created more questions than answers,” the Solicitor General expressed.
“For Cllr. Jerome Vedier he get caught in the media frenzy and seemingly stage fright, he became academic, using words such as thieves and murderous have hijacked state power even though at elections already certified by the international community. In the case of the only lady on the team, she was falsely emotional and quite sensational and would do well in a “theatre” to help people ephemerally laugh off their frustrations. In her account, she alleges that people have been working and have not taken pay 10-12months in Liberia, women and girls are being raped, there’s killing all over the country, thus there’s a complete state of “pandemonium in Liberia. These allegations need fact-check to counter these sorts of claims. The most shameful and poor argument came from Mr. Alan White, the head of the job seekers,” Cephus said.
“He was very much legalistic and in the process committed an avalanche of egregious and abominable errors. First, he claimed to have the model, which in his view should be the same as that of the UN created Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL). He is wrong. The Sierra Leone’s Constitution calls or provides for the creation of a hybrid Court with concurrent jurisdiction to that of the Supreme Court but the 1986 Constitution of Liberia does not. See Articles 65 &66. He correctly concedes that the ICC model is problematic but ignores the fact there are fundamental constitutional inhibitions and bottlenecks that require a sovereign national decision pursuant to Article 91 to amend several constitutional articles before the creation of the court. More so, he pretended not to have known and failed to say the TRC Report was declared unconditional by the Supreme Court of Liberia,” he concluded

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