Written by Laura Golakeh
Source: Frontpage Africa
April is a month Liberians can never forget. April 26, 2012 is also a day Liberians will never forget. This is the day, Mr. Charles Ghankay Taylor, “the people’s man” was convicted for 11 counts of war crimes he committed in Sierra Leone. What interests me is not only the political and physical side to the announcement of the verdict but the natural side
with a rainbow circling the sun the first I have seen. I feel pity towards him because he is my former president, a father, a charismatic person and who in spite of all the odds against his regime, always had the expectations of the people at heart (I guess you are thinking about the rice price scenario but there is more to the Taylor’s regime than that). This trial is indeed a significant one. One which has given me hope that a war crimes court is possible in Liberia and can be an essential part of Liberia’s development initiative. It has even erased every doubt that such court could lead to war and open new wounds. See Sierra Leone today ,has the war crimes open new wounds or contributed to war? That is not the case.
I have noticed Liberians not actually as a forgiving people, but I would rather say a forgetful people. Very soon we have forgotten what we went through during the 14 year long civil crisis in Liberia. We have also forgotten that those who aided and perpetrated violent acts against unarmed civilians are around us today free as the stars of the night. They enjoy, while those who suffered from their acts still suffer the trauma to this day. What did the Truth and Reconciliation process that we supported achieved? Warlords upon warlords lied to the Liberian people at the hearings and one even paraded himself as a saint. What a disrespect to the people who lost their lives and future? We hide behind a reconciliation story for Liberia but are Liberians really divided? Is reconciliation now a political thing in Liberia that is used to gain favor from outsiders? I would think so.
I always hear people talk about reconciliation but my question to them is what is reconciliation when there is still the absence of justice, the absence of economic improvement for the ordinary Liberian in Gparpolu, or the lack of educational opportunity for the son of a subsistent farmer in Bomi? Our “big people” think reconciliation is just going under the palava hut and talking. But is talking really necessary without concrete action? What is reconciliation when they that are supposed to be heading the process have not yet reconciled amongst themselves? You will wonder what does this word “reconciliation” has to do with my topic but I tell you it was because a certain group of Liberian at a peace talk chose reconciliation over justice that today thousands of Liberians who lost their family and loved ones are yet to see perpetrators brought to book. It is because of reconciliation those responsible for my odd and crazy childhood are still around here today reaping the fruits of their labor.
They are riding the best of cars and are in positions of authority. Let me tell you about my childhood. I was born in the 90s during the civil unrest in my country, not knowing I would still feel the hurts of conflict in my early teens where I saw friends and loved ones die from hunger and bullets. I grew up in a society where the sounds of guns replaced the sound of music, where poverty was accepted as a norm, where mothers looked helplessly at hungry babies they couldn’t help and where fathers were hardly heard saying “I am off to work”. I took my first earthly steps in a cold and wet jungle. In short, my childhood was robbed.
Mine is just one of the many horrible stories of young women my age today. Young women whose future were robbed, they were denied of education, they could have been doctors, lawyers, professors, ministers of government, entrepreneurs, but their future were destroyed. Because of the greed for power, these young women are today living a life of despair, they are married at a young age because they lack the opportunities to move forward and decide their own future. They are teenage mothers now with no hope of going back to school all because of a crisis that I and many Liberians feel was senseless. Do you think these girls only need reconciliation? I would think not. They also need justice not only political justice but economic justice. They need a place in society, a place they were denied of. That is why we need a court in Liberia modeled after the one in Sierra Leone. We need to hold people accountable for what they did during the crisis in my country. Let me give you my reasons for the establishment of war crime court in Liberia.
The establishment of a court could contribute to a real civilian protection and lay the foundation for a lasting peace based on the rule of law, a peace that every Liberian craves right now. There can never be a perfect and successful reconciliation without justice. The war crime court when established will serve justice for the poor and weak and aid the reconciliation process in Liberia. With the establishment of a war crime court in Liberia, the culture of impunity will be broken. Legal system is one of the very important elements in the backbone of a country. In the case of Liberia, it is important that courts like these be established to serve as a deterrent to people who feel that resulting to violence is the best and only means.
Those people who were representing Liberia at the peace talks did not have the country at heart. In short, they were the same people who supported or perpetrated acts of violence in the country and they felt that opting for a war crimes court in Liberia would be like shooting themselves in the leg so their option for reconciliation was not that they thought it was the best for Liberia. A cross section of Liberians who were victims of violence during the crisis was not represented at the peace talks so their aspirations were not met. (Ask a majority of Liberian today and they will tell you they prefer a war crimes court to be established in Liberia). Those who committed heinous crimes like rape, torture and the enlisting of child soldiers which are war crimes should be tried in a war crimes court for historical purposes.
As a country that is healing and clinging to the ideals of universal human rights, such court when established will add essence to the legal system. The absence of a war crimes court for those who engaged in gross human rights abuses against innocent civilians to go unpunished clearly frustrates the human security objectives of the relevant rights treaties like the Vienna Convention and other human right treaties that Liberia is a signatory to and serves as a complete irony, that a country that supports human rights is not respecting the rights of its citizens. The war crimes court can also be a testimony to the world that the people have said no to violence and yes to the rule of law.
With all of the reasons I provided above, I know you can know agree with me that a war crime court is extremely needed in Liberia. This is the time for us to take real action. As the people of Sierra Leone demanded a war crimes court, so we can and Yes we Can. There can be no lasting peace without justice. My idea of justice is bringing perpetrators of our crisis to book. We need to end the culture of impunity in Liberia now.