The pitted road to justice: In his monthly round-up of trends in West Africa, Desmond Davies focuses on the still unresolved issues of crimes against humanity in Liberia and The Gambia.

Author:Davies, Desmond
Position:Around Africa: West Africa


Tough questions on prosecuting war crimes

In 2009, Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended the establishment of an Extraordinary Criminal Court for Liberia (ECCL), "an internationalised domestic criminal court", to try those accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international humanitarian law during the country's two armed conflicts between 1989 and 2003.

Nine years on, no such court has been established. Under the watch of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf no attempt was made to set up the ECCL. Now that she is no longer in power, Johnson Sirleaf said recently: "There is no way that we can overlook peoples' quest for justice. It is a legitimate quest."

Although she won the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, Liberians were disappointed that she did not abide by the TRC's recommendations to come up with the necessary legislation to set up the ECCL. Instead, the few cases that have involved those accused of war crimes have been heard in Europe and the US.

For example, former President Charles Taylor was sentenced to 50 years in prison by the Special Court for Sierra Leone sitting in The Hague for crimes that were committed during the civil war in Sierra Leone--not in Liberia.

George Weah under pressure

Now pressure is mounting on President George Wean's administration to try those accused of war crimes in Liberia. For two days in Geneva recently, the government came under pressure at the 123rd session of the UN Human Rights Commission, because no one has been prosecuted for crimes committed during the civil wars that were characterised by widespread human rights abuses.

The Commission, which monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by its member states, examined Liberia's commitment to these principles and asked tough questions about how things would be moved forward. But the Liberian government delegation failed to give an undertaking that a war crimes court would be established, declaring that the new administration was focusing on reconciliation.

Before the session in Geneva, 76 Liberian, African and other international non-governmental organisations made a submission to the Commission to address "the failure of the government of Liberia to undertake fair and credible persecutions [for] international crimes committed in Liberia during armed conflicts between 1989 and 2003, and to end impunity for civil war-era crimes".

Marches were...

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