By: Darlington Porkpa
“This will be my final point; it is not just the Government of Liberia that is responsible for this. You can even argue that this government has just come in and has inherited enormous responsibility to run a country that is very fragile. So it is important not to expect things to happen overnight especially big question like this (establishment of war and economic crimes court), this will require a national conversation,” says Yacoub EL HiLLO, Assistant Secretary General / UN Resident Coordinator in Liberia.
Mr. HiLLO was speaking recently when group of Liberians under the banner ‘Campaigners and Victims for Justice staged a peaceful protest in Monrovia, calling for justice for victims of Liberia’s civil crisis.
The Liberian 14 years of civil crisis led to the death of over 250,000 people and since 2003, the group indicated that there has been no justice for war victims.
They presented their petition to the United States Embassy near Monrovia, the European Union, the Government of Liberia and the United Nations.
At the United Nations Headquarters on the main Tubman Boulevard in Sinkor, the lead Campaigner Emmanuel Savice said the group’s quest for justice is non-negotiable.
Since coming into office a year ago, the government of President George Weah is on record of saying Liberians should decide on the issue of war and economic crimes court.
Meanwhile, the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Liberia Yacoub EL Hillo said in as much as seeking justice for war victims is cardinal, Liberians should also bear in mind that national reconciliation is cardinal to maintaining peace too.
“Liberians need to start talking to each other…as to how this mechanism that we talked about earlier should look like, where it should be run in different parts of the country, what will be its procedures and so and so forth and the fact that it has to conforms to minimum international standard and that it should look credible in the eyes of those who were affected by the was or whose relatives were affected by the war but also in the eyes of the general public so it is not just the government that is expected to deliver on this,” he said.
Yacoub EL Hillo believes that the inputs of all Liberians is cardinal on grounds that every Liberians were somehow affected by the civil crisis.
On criticism that the UN and other development partners were just sitting quietly and doing nothing to ensure justice is serve, the UN official indicated that they have been engaging the Liberian government who of course want to move the agenda but in the context of reconciliation and not losing sight on the question about bringing closure to accountability.
“So we respectfully receive this petition on behalf of the United Nations and we will continue our advocacy…including with the Government of Liberia and by the way though you may have not seen progress or maybe have not felt any progress but I do promise you since our last meeting, we have actually introduce a joint program to pursue ways of bringing the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to life and that program is being done in partnership with the government of Liberia…but also other organs of the government as well as civil society organizations…and others so it is important for you to know that we did not get the petition and put it in a draw, we know that with or without petition, the question of reconciliation in Liberia and the question of bringing closure to the topic of accountability is imperceptive, it’s so fundamental and it is so cardinal to the peace consideration in Liberia and that is why it is not only when we sit and discuss this every six months that you think this is when we actually pay attention to the matter,” he added.
The TRC report outlined series of recommendation including national healing and dialogue, reconciliation and recommended the setting up of an extraordinary criminal court to prosecute those who committed serious crimes against humanity during the civil war.
However, to this end, the UN official reminded Liberians that some of the recommendations are very easy to implement but their impacts, their psychological impact is also so important.
“There is also equally urgent work that needs to be done to address all the other issues so that the society reconcile and Liberians come together and forge ahead building this beautiful country of yours. So here is just an appeal because I know the vigor and passion of which you are carrying out this campaign…an appeal not to lose sight of the bigger reconciliation agenda that also needs to be activated and pursue in Liberia including on the question of accountability. So in other words not to give a sense that if we have a court that means all the other problems are going to be solve, it will not,” he emphasized to the organizers of the protest.
Speaking further, Yacoub EL Hillo indicated that the obsession should not just be with the establishment of war and economic crimes court but to look at the TRC recommendation in totality.
He noted also that the Truth and reconciliation commission had about 209 recommendations, most of whom he said are yet to be implemented.
“…One of them is the court but many other things have also not been implemented and I think when you so passionately and clearly raised the question of the court, I think it is also important that we look at the totality of what needs to be done to foster reconciliation and to really give a sense to the people of Liberia that something is been done to address all the other issues that are also related to the bigger question of reconciliation in Liberia because that too is very important,” he said.
At the same time, the UN official who many feels presented a frank response to the matter appreciated the organizers of being peaceful in their advocacy.
He informed that he was glad that the petitioners were able to deliver the petition once again to other international partners of Liberia but perhaps more importantly, that they (the petitioners) were able to deliver a copy of the petition to the government of Liberia.
Making reference to a statement he delivered few months ago, the UN Official said he on record of highlighting the issue of accountability in the context of reconciliation in Liberia.
“And I do recalled saying that of course closure must be realize because as long as you leave these open wounds open, true reconciliation in Liberia will continue to be challenge if not compromise. But on the question of the court, which is the topic that you’re raising here, perusing, I also recall saying the court does not need to come from outside. The court can actually be a Liberian mechanism, discussed by Liberians, put in place by Liberians and use by Liberians to bring closure on the question of accountability of course with help from the international community including the United Nations,” says Yacoub EL Hillo.
He noted that said mechanism will have to meet international standards and it has to be seen as a credible mechanism in the eyes of the victims and their relatives but also in the eyes of the public at large.
“So the recipe is there. It is actually easy to visualize what mechanism could be put in place in Liberia so that closure on the question of accountability can be realized. And I believe your campaign and your effort and your persistence is going to help the country reactivate the debate and the discussion on how to bring question to this important question so that the country can also forge ahead and addresses its most pressing development needs for Liberia to prosper,” he concluded.