Will there ever be justice for the mass atrocities committed during Liberian civil wars? The pressure is mounting.
Ever since footballer / soccer player-turned politician George Weah was elected as President of Liberia in 2018, there has been a growing demand on the Liberian government to finally create a war crimes tribunal to investigate and prosecute atrocities committed during the country’s civil wars. While similar demands had been thwarted under previous President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, many saw an opportunity to renew pressure when Weah was elected. Weah had no involvement with any of the factions at the heart of Liberia’s civil wars (and therefore faces no allegations) and had been on record supporting justice and accountability efforts in Liberia. As a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador, Weah declared in 2004 that “Those who armed the children and committed heinous crimes against them should be brought to book.” Many also point out to the fact that Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission specifically recommended the creation of a hybrid tribunal to investigate and prosecute alleged perpetrators for war crimes committed during the civil wars.
While efforts to create a war crimes court in Liberia have gained momentum, significant attention, as well as some international support, to date, they have been stymied be a reluctant government in Monrovia. Weah’s tone has changed from his days as a Goodwill Ambassador. He now insists that Liberians have to choose between a pursuit of justice and the privilege of stability: “I think what we need to do is that, we got to find out what we need. Do we need war crimes court now to develop our country? Or do we need peace to develop the country?” Some personalities implicated in atrocities during the civil wars are also in positions of political power in the country, surely eager to keep a lid on any momentum towards the creation of a war crimes tribunal.
None of this, however, has quelled the efforts of civil society groups to advocate for a hybrid court. One of those pushing for accountability is Adama Dempster, an eloquent human rights and justice campaigner who has worked tirelessly to advocate for justice for victims of atrocities in Liberia. For all readers interested, here is my interview with Adama. It was conducted in March 2019 in Accra, Ghana, during events organized by the Wayamo Foundation.