Society and communities
Roadmap to accountability: Overcoming barriers to justice in Liberia (part one)
Liberia experienced two extremely violent Civil Wars between 1989 and 2003, which had a devasting impact on the population. Despite widespread torture, sexual violence and the prolific use of child soldiers, the victims have not had justice to date.
The Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) issued its final report in 2009, which recommended domestic criminal prosecutions as well as the establishment of an Extraordinary Criminal Tribunal (War Crimes Court). However, over a decade later, Liberia still has not prosecuted war crimes and crimes humanity connected with the Civil Wars.
On 18-19 July 2019, the University of Nottingham Human Rights Law Centre brought together Liberian stakeholders and international experts in Monrovia for a historic Legislative Conference on Accountability for Past Crimes in Liberia. The Conference focused on a Draft Act to Establish the War Crimes Court and culminated in the presentation and signing of a Resolution for the establishment of the Court. Whilst the Resolution has been signed by 52 members of the House of Representatives, progress has stalled as attention turned to addressing the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.
To jump-start the discussion and re-focus on the question of accountability and justice, Professor Olympia Bekou, Head of the International Criminal Justice Unit at the University of Nottingham’s Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC), has worked with the Liberian non-governmental organisation, the Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP). As calls for justice have continued to come from the Liberian population, this joint project seeks to centralise the voices of stakeholders and community members from across Liberia in a collective call for action on an unprecedented, nation-wide scale.
"It is clear that we cannot delay justice any longer. By collaborating for sustained action, the creation of the War Crimes Court is within reach."
Working both remotely from Nottingham and with GJRP within Liberia, the teams have sought the opinions of people from across five counties (Monrovia, Grand Bassa, Bomi, Bong and Lofa) in order to identify barriers to justice and the action necessary to overcome them.
Amid consistent calls for the establishment of a War Crimes Court and spirited debate on issues including funding, security and political will, one participant from Montserrado County stated: “The perpetrators are still moving and living freely a good life whilst the victims have become servants for them. If you want to catch the chicks around the hen, you need to catch the hen first”.
Another said: “In Liberia people with money and power used their money and positions in government to turn the rights of innocent people to wrong. We will celebrate if the War Crimes Court is established in Liberia to deal with the past”.
Participants from all five counties identified and discussed action ideas to break down barriers including sustained advocacy, outreach and education. Taking key messages from this first phase the Nottingham and Liberian teams have sought to collaboratively create a ‘Roadmap to Accountability’.
Professor Olympia Bekou noted “It is clear that we cannot delay justice any longer. By collaborating for sustained action, the creation of the War Crimes Court is within reach”.
The Roadmap has been developed with Liberian stakeholders and was presented at a Conference which took place in Monrovia in March 2021. It will be explored next time in Overcoming barriers to justice in Liberia: Part 2.