For establishment of war, economic crimes court, Dr. White says
MONROVIA – Internationally recognized criminal justice expert, Dr. Alan White has inferred that the Liberian government under the leadership of President Dr. George Weah is not serious for the establishment of a court to prosecute war and economic crimes committed against Liberia and Liberians.
On Christmas Eve in 1989, rebel forces then under the command of now jailed former President Charles Ghankay Taylor waged war on Liberia, resulting to the wanton destruction of lives and properties, including the deaths of approximately 250,000 people and the displacement of thousands of others.
Since then, in spite of recommendation from the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) final report among others calling for the establishment of a tribunal to bring to justice those bearing greater responsibility for the mayhems perpetrated during the fratricidal war that spanned over a decade, such court is yet to be set up.
Following an investigation that sought to unravel the causes and consequences of Liberia’s internecine conflict, the TRC collected more than 20,000 statements and released a 370-page report, recommending among other things that dozens of individuals who bear greater responsibility of the war that displaced millions of Liberians, left a quarter of a million dead, and countless more raped, disabled, and traumatized, should face further investigation and prosecution.
Howbeit, in an exclusive interview with controversial talk radio presenter Henry Pedro Costa last Thursday, the Chief for Investigations of the United Nations backed Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) which tried and found ex-President Taylor guilty of aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone, Dr. White, when asked whether if the Weah’s administration was to reach out to international actors including him regarding the establishment of a war and economic crimes court for Liberia, the American criminal justice expert, who specializes in anti-corruption, due diligence, international criminal and fraud investigations, including war crimes and crimes against humanity, said for the last three-plus years, based on the demonstrated performance of the Weah’s administration, it doesn’t appear that the government of the retired footballer is serious about establishing a war crimes court.
Dr. White maintained that despite the fact that the Weah-led government’s campaign for election to assume state power was run based on the establishment of a court to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity; the administration does not appear serious about the establishment of such tribunal.
He recalled that in September of 2019, when President Weah made his debut appearance before the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN), “for over 20 minutes of his speech, he asked the international community for their support to set up the war crimes court – and as soon as he returned to Liberia and was asked a question by the press about that, he denied that he ever brought that up.”
But Womenvoices newspaper recalls that in November 2018, upon his return to the country from the maiden edition of the Paris Peace Forum, President Weah, at the time responding to a reporter’s enquiry as to what was his position on the establishment of a war crimes court for Liberia, the Liberian leader laid the responsibility squarely at the feet of the citizens, stating that it is the prerogative of Liberians to decide whether they need the court as opposed to development or vice versa.
“We have our liberty, we all have different minds, we’ve got different views and opinions; some people [are] calling for war crimes court, some people [are calling for peace. So I think what we need to do is that, we’ve got to find out what we need – if we need war crimes court now to develop our country or we need peace to develop the country – so that’s where all of us Liberians need to sit and talk about advancement,” President Weah said at the time.
However, Dr. White intoned that Liberia’s TRC Act authorizes and instructs that a war crimes court is established, adding that the Act also requires the Government of Liberia not only to set up such court, but to seek international amenity, as well as international support for the establishment of a tribunal to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity.
He then recommended that in establishing a war crimes court for the country, the Sierra Leone module be used, stressing that in his opinion, this is exactly what’s needed to be done in Liberia.
Regarding the Sierra Leone module for the establishment of a war crimes court, it took former Sierra Leonean President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah courage, adding that Kabbah He sent a communication to the Secretary General of the UN requesting for the establishment and support of a war crimes court for Sierra Leone.
“He did not have the capacity, and he did not have the funding,” said Kabbah, but indicated that the Sierra Leonean leader at the time called for the establishment of the war crime court for his country.
“So the Secretary General in concert with the other member states agreed to support that. And he created an international hybrid,” Dr. White further said, adding, “So to avoid the conflict of interest, mitigate corruption, it was agreed that this would be an international hybrid court, which means it had international jurisdiction and it also had national jurisdiction.”
He said in order to have avoided any form of corruption, to mitigate risks, and conflict prevention, and to make sure it was done transparently; the Sierra Leone Special Court was staffed primarily by internationals.
“That would be the module that I would suggest – and I would suggest that President Weah immediately send the letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations requesting that the court be established and request funding and other necessary support, which include perhaps security,” said Dr. White, who disclosed that the Sierra Leone Special Court had a UN Mission but eventually left – however, he stated that the SCSL had its own armed security that was established, noting that those are things that can be done to protect the court and protect the people that work with the court.
Thirdly, Dr. White recommended that because Liberia recently went from number 20 to number five, as the fifth most corrupt country on the continent of Africa, in his opinion, when established, nobody from the Weah-led government should be in charge of the war crimes court for Liberia.
“Somebody in civil society with the legal background that is highly regarded and highly respected in Liberia should be the point person for this to interact with the international community – and I think that would be the module that will be used,” Dr. White further recommended.
He also recommended that the framework for the establishment of a war crimes court for Liberia, a treaty be signed between the UN and the Government of Liberia.
For what Dr. White calls the greater good of the Liberian people, when the court is established, he also wants majority of the senior positions, including the prosecutor, registrar, and the majority of the court members on the trial chambers, and also on the appeals court, to be appointed by the UN Secretary General.
This he said, would relieve the pressure from anybody inside of the country from being subject to collusion, threats, bribery, or any other concerns that can happen in calling into questioning of the integrity of the court.
Dr. White, who was the founding Chief Investigator of the UN backed SCSL from 2002 to 2005 and directed and supervised all global criminal investigations involving war crimes, and crimes against humanity, whose efforts resulted in the indictment, and conviction of Charles ex-President Taylor, is of the opinion that the establishment of a war crimes court for Liberia is achievable, but was quick to point out that President Weah needs to initiate such venture it.
“If he does not, the people of Liberia through their legislators on Capitol Hill, Monrovia, can do so,” Dr. White added.
He intimated that all the lawmakers need to do in this case, is to enact into law a war crimes court and economic crimes court statute and send same to President Weah for his approbation.
He noted that in the event President Weah fails to give his approval unto such legislation, the legislators, under the TRC Act, can then override the President’s veto, enact the Act into law and it can then be implemented.
“The legislators, both in the Senate and in the House, need to hear from their people,” he emphasized.
Asked what advice would he offered President Weah, who in the face of a litany of issues pointing to bad governance under the watch of the Liberian leader, and consequently, a possible US government’s increased sanctions on several public officials, Dr. White, who served for over 30 years in the US government and was a member of the Senior Executive Service and held a variety of leadership positions as a federal law enforcement executive, said it’s very difficult if one is very deeply involved in what’s going on in Liberia.
However, he said it’s not for him to decide, noting that “it’s up to the Liberian people.”
He said as far as the war crimes court and the economic crimes court are concerned, earlier advice to the Weah administration would suffice, reiterating that the Liberian leader writes the Secretary General of the UN requesting immediate assistance and establishment of the war crimes and the economic crimes court.
Dr. White added that in President Weah’s communication to the UN Secretary General, he needs to seek financial assistance and support in bringing international staff to staff the war and economic crimes court upon its establishment, saying, “That will be the first thing, if he was serious about rectifying and bringing accountability and the rule of law, I think that will go a long way for the people of Liberia.”
Olando Testimony Zeongar writes