In Liberia, the guns fell silent in August 2003, the official date of the end of a 14-year civil war. It will have killed 250,000 people in a country of 3.3 million inhabitants. Yet to date, the Liberian state has not prosecuted anyone for war crimes, nor compensated any victim. However, this is what the Truth and Justice Commission recommended in 2009.
This time, at the instigation of President George Weah who is calling for a roadmap, the Senate voted a series of recommendations to finally turn the page on this war. It starts with the creation of a victim compensation fund. But if the will is commendable, there are still many gray areas.
As the Africa Report website explains, “The conflict in Liberia is a conflict that has engulfed the whole nation, with effects on the entire population, and therefore almost all Liberians, in Liberia during the civil war, can claim victim status.” Likewise, the notion of “most affected victims” is also very subjective. Is rape more important than torture? Is seeing loved ones massacred secondary when you have escaped it? What can we say about child soldiers? Both victims and executioners. The government will therefore have to establish precise criteria before considering granting reparations.
On this point, the Senate advises the government to create a Reparations Fund initially credited with $ 2.5 million and supplemented by donations from individuals or companies that will have to be found both nationally and the international. The report of the Truth and Justice Commission estimated the needs at 500 million dollars. In neighboring Sierra Leone, the compensation program was cut short for lack of money. Fewer than 50,000 people benefited from aid, which often did not exceed $ 100.
No reparation possible without conviction. However, to date, none of the warlords involved in the conflict has been tried in Liberia. The few convictions have been handed down by foreign courts. Sometimes even, and this is the case of former President Charles Taylor, for their involvement in the extension of the conflict to neighboring Sierra Leone.
Conversely, Gibril Massaquoi, a Sierra Leonean, was tried in Finland for war crimes committed in Liberia. He had obtained immunity for bringing evidence to convict Charles Taylor. But this immunity did not apply to his actions in Liberia.
As we can see, the procedures are complex and prosecutions are only possible according to the jurisdiction of the courts. So the Liberian warlord Alieu Kosiah, who for twenty years lived as a refugee in Switzerland, was prosecuted only thanks to the recently acquired jurisdiction in the matter of war crimes, of the Swiss Federal Criminal Court.
Debates are therefore launched in Liberia for a special war crimes tribunal be created. “It is important to establish a war crimes tribunal not only to deliver justice for atrocities committed during wartime, but also to ensure justice for post-war corruption and to fight impunity.”, valued Aaron Weah a specialist in legal issues.
This was already a recommendation from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (created in 2006). President Weah, who supported this creation during the election campaign, now leaves it to Parliament to decide. The former footballer is clearly hampered by his electoral deals with former warlords like Prince Johnson.
The latter was recently appointed head of the Senate Defense Committee. An appointment which “sows doubts as to the seriousness of the Senate and its ability to manage defense and security issues “, reacted the US Embassy in Liberia.
In this context, Weah is however one of the few politicians in the country not to have been involved in the conflict. He can complete the process, provided he gets rid of troublesome allies.