We cannot allow the death penalty to be used to silence the past

Written by Bernard Gbayee Goah

President, Operation We Care for Liberia

One of the worst evils emerging in present day Liberia is armed robbery. The inability of government to create innovate durable solutions to minimize armed robbery in Liberia is threatening the very existence of a peaceful Liberian society. 

 Armed robbery is spreading through Liberia like an unstoppable dry season bush fire. At first, armed attacks usually occurred at night, but today it is common for anyone to experience an attack in broad day light, sometimes right before the very presence of the police and the UN peacekeepers. As a result, Liberians save the little money they have, not to purchase food or pay their children’s school fees, but to purchase steel locks and iron doors to protect their home. 
Instead of experiencing freedom, citizens are imprisoning themselves within their homes in an effort to protect themselves and their families. Personal testimonies, radio, and newspaper headlines attest to the numerous incidents’ of armed robbery all over Liberia. Insecurity is being felt throughout the entire country. 
The presence of the UN peacekeepers has yielded very little results in creating safety. Just imagine that banks, with all the security at their deposal, are no longer safe from armed attacks in Liberia. Incidents of banks being robbed with arms has become to surface in the country, deterring many prospective business investors from Liberia.

As peaceful citizens continue to press on for national healing and development, the effects of armed robbery in Liberia has begun to quench citizen’s enthusiasm around the rebuilding process. Do we have to wait for armed robbers to attack the Executive Mansion of Liberia before the government develops a sound, thoughtful, and durable solution to combat armed robbery in Liberia?

Liberians must force the hand of the government and insist on action. Action for most Liberians is not the death penalty, a weak and inhuman way to “deal” with trouble makers. Instead Liberians want the government to look at itself, and its role in why there are so many citizens turning to armed robbery.

One area that must be addressed is the lack of support for and integration of former child soldiers. Thousands of combatants under age 18 – some as young as six were illegally recruited by Charles Taylor’s NPFL and other warring factions in Liberia over the years.

During the war in Liberia, child soldiers were often forced to take dangerous drugs and commit serious crimes alongside adult soldiers. Warlords and their financial supporters believed that juveniles committing war crimes would not be prosecuted so there was a very great chance that warlords delegated more atrocities to be committed by child soldiers. Many former Liberian child soldiers are now adults with little or no former educational background. These former soldiers know their former commanders, those who financed the purchasing of the weapons used during the war, those who met them in closed door meetings to encourage them contra positively to kill and destroy.

Let me put it this way: If you were a former combatant of the NPFL rebel faction of Charles Taylor, and if you were fully aware that the present president of Liberia funded and supported the war against the Liberian people, or if you were a former combatant of LURD and MODEL rebel factions, and if you were aware that top people in the present Liberian government who gave you the arms to kill and destroy are enjoying abundant wealth and riding in big cars in the streets of Monrovia while you have become mere street beggars, what would you do?

You have realized that everything they promised is untrue. You have realized that they are no different from those that came before them. You have realized that they are just old wines in new bottles. You have realized that they don’t want to sincerely share their role in the war and you know that they even visited the war front while you were fighting for their cause.

These former soldiers are also aware that those who made them to do what they did are in top positions today in government but have no plans set in place to create educational and employment opportunities for them since the war is now over.

You put your life on the line for them but you have realized that they just think you are an idiot. You are old enough now, but you have no trade. You are now rejected within the civilian society because of what you did while you were a child during the war.

You are exposed and have become community rejects. No one knows your name anymore. All you now know is how to use the AK 47 and the 40 Mac Mac (M203). You now have a wife and children you must support.

You have realized that if you do not do something to support your children to obtain good education, your children could be used by the children of those that used you while you were just a child, and the future of your children would become bleak as yours. But mostly you have come to know that there are no jobs anywhere in the country for the “type” of person you are.

You are not permitted to be enrolled in both the military and the paramilitary sector of Liberia. You are called rebel forever. Sometimes you want to see the president you used to see at the war front while you were fighting but can no longer see the president because you are now considered a dangerous person.

You sit and watch your children cry because they are hungry but you are unable to provide food for them. Although you know that those who gave you the arms and drugs should also be called rebels, they are now called government officials.

You and your children continue to go hungry 24/7 while the President whom you have known from start continues to travel all over the world for reasons you cannot understand.

You see men like Prince Johnson riding around the streets of Monrovia. He is not called a rebel but rather a representative of a county. And you know what he has done and what he has instructed you to do while you were fighting for him as a child soldier. And you wonder why no one is saying anything. Your only option might be to create awareness for the government to do something. Suppose at first you robbed and used force to get things from people, but you have heard that government will now execute any armed robber who is caught. Will you choose to spare the lives of your victims, or would you rather destroy the evidence?

If the Liberian government must take into consideration tangible, durable, but above all convincing solutions that would minimize crime rate in the country, using reasonable judgment is imperative.

Reasonable judgment would be implementing the TRC’s final recommendations as a deterrent factor for the minimization of crimes in the country.

The second deterrent factor is creating a sustainable social and economic reintegration of ex-combatants into a peaceful society along with comprehensive development projects that are not temporary in order to continuously facilitate the transition from war to peace.

The third deterrent factor in the minimization of crime rate is without any doubt the creation of a war crime court in Liberia to bring to justice those responsible for the death of over 300,000 people.
Lastly, The Liberian government must focus on creating an economy that can support its citizens. For the role of government is to improve the lives of its people otherwise, there would be no need for a government. Improving the lives of people means justice and fairness, accountability, transparency, truth telling, and  creating jobs opportunities. Without this, people, regardless of their past will look for other ways to support themselves.


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