By Bernard Gbayee Goah
President, Operation We Care for Liberia
The first mass exodus of Liberians from their homeland began in the early 1980s following the overthrow of President William Richard Tolbert and the public execution of 13 of his top officials. The departures accelerated rapidly due to the violent human rights abuses that ensued. Ten years later the country suffered extreme violence at the hands of Charles Taylor, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and others. Liberians were again forced to leave their country because of threat to personal safety. There was neither peace nor Freedom in Liberia. Living in the country was extremely difficult and dangerous. The entire population was uprooted and dehumanized through the use of excessive violence, which includes, mass rape, gruesome murders and other unspeakable atrocities.
There are thousand of Liberians now living in exile for fear of their lives as a result of what took pace in their country. However, they still want to go home.
Liberians living in exile want to return home to reunite with their families and friends. They want to rediscover the beauty of their heritage and resume the pursuit of their individual purpose. They want to re-establish the bonds of friendship, family and nationhood. But when they look at the current leaders of their country today, they become more confused and don’t know if they should go home at this time. As a result of the United Nations peacekeeping troops in Liberia the guns are now silent, but those who use force to drive these Liberians into exile for years are now holding top security positions in government. Liberians living in exile are not deterred by the deplorable condition of their country’s infrastructure; it is the threat to their lives that is keeping them away.
The first task for the sake of Peace and Unity in Liberia should be to create a safe environment where Liberians can reunite and mourn the loss of their dear friends and loved ones. They need time to cry, wail, and release their deep inner pain and anger, reflecting on the awful past while preparing for the promises of the new millennium. What is required to create such a safe environment is to establish a reasonable justice system in place that is capable of holding people accountable for acts committed.
In spite of the enormous difficulties Liberians continue to experience in exile, the lack of interest on the part of their Government in restoring the Rule of Law has discouraged Liberians from returning home since recent elections.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has announced that Liberians living in exile are no longer considered refugee because their country is now safe. UNHCR should have considered the human rights implications should these people return to their homeland. It must be clear to officials of the UNHCR that these individuals are likely to encounter more suffering and would be exposed to greater danger if they should unwillingly return to Liberia where Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Prince Johnson, George Boley, Alihiji Kroma, and others move around freely.
Today in Liberia, elements within the various security apparatus who are personally responsible for disappearances, human rights abuses and secret killings also continue to walk freely.
Rather than pursue national Healing and Reconciliation, the Present Liberian Government has detained more than 7 persons from Grand Gedeh County indefinitely for allegedly ambushing UN troops across the Liberian Ivorian boarder. While it has been established that Majority of those arrested had no fish to fry in what took place in the Ivory Coast, because they are Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Charles’ wartime rivals they become easy targets. If these individuals are found “guilty”, as charged, by law, the consequences are very high. Is this any way to encourage Repatriation, Reconciliation and National Healing in a society that is extremely polarized by a long, brutal and divisive war?
Let’s assume for a moment that those young people arrested carried out the killings in the Ivory Coast even though evidence suggests otherwise. The issue here is: Having given their support to the NPFL rebels, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and former President Charles Taylor have set a terrible precedent in Liberia: Their message to the youth is that they can take anything by force, even if it means destroying the properties of others and committing murder. The minds of our young people are being poisoned into believing that the use of deadly force in order to achieve ones objective can lead to elevation and possible leadership endowment. This is wrong! This is bad! This is downright uncivilized and evil; therefore, it must be stopped!
There will be no lasting peace in Liberia unless those individuals responsible for atrocities and destruction of the country’s infrastructure during the country’s civil war are brought to Justice.
What guarantees do we have that after rebuilding Liberia a “Taylor-copycat” will not again emerge and destroy everything, killing tens of thousands of innocent people and sending many more into exile? Justice does not always mean an eye for an eye; it is also a process for establishing accountability and ensuring that there exists a level of deterrence. And this is only possible in Liberia if the judicial system in Liberia is overhauled and rendered completely independent of the Legislative and Executive Branches of Government. The country’s Legal System must be impartial and transparent. Judges must be elected rather than appointed to office.
This is important because “all power is inherent in the people. All free governments are instituted by their authority and for their benefit and they have the right to alter and reform the same when their safety and happiness so require. In order to ensure democratic government which responds to the wishes of the governed, the people shall have the right at such period, and in such manner as provided for under this Constitution, to cause their public servants to leave office and to fill vacancies by regular elections and appointments.”
Crimes sponsored, committed, or masterminded by handful of individuals cannot be blamed upon an entire nationality… In this case, Liberians!!
The need for post-war justice is a step toward lasting peace, stability and prosperity for Liberia. Liberia needs a war crimes tribunal or some credible legal forum that is capable of dealing with atrocities perpetrated against defenseless men, women and children during the country’s brutal war.
Without justice, peace shall remain elusive and investment in Liberia will not produce the intended results. – Bernard Gbayee Goah