ALJA Asks UN To Set Up War Crimes Tribunal For Liberia
The Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas (ALJA) is a newly established organization comprising mostly Liberian journalists who fled Liberia during the country's seven-year brutal civil war. Many of the journalists fled following harassment, death threats, torture and detention in the performance of their reportorial duties.
The civil war cost the lives of an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 people out of a national population of a little over 2.5 million, and the entire country decimated. However, even though the war officially ended in 1997 with the election of a government, a state of terror prevails in Liberia. There continues to be widespread abuses of human rights with impunity, due to the government's failure to take appropriate steps to end the state of lawlessness.
ALJA welcomes your recommendations calling for existing international humanitarian and human rights laws to be ratified and implemented - particularly a treaty that would establish an International Criminal Court to prosecute alleged war criminals. In the interest of justice and accountability, perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity must be made to answer for their conduct.
The move to establish the International Criminal Court as we enter the 21st Century is a reassuring step for victims of atrocities and those struggling for an end to the current wave of terror against defenseless humanity.
We in Africa have a particular reason to be hopeful for these monumental recommendations because our continent is undergoing indescribable horrors that warrant increased international attention if we are to survive and pursue socio-economic development.
Since the end of the Cold War, we have witnessed continued use of politics for criminal activities such as massacres of civilians, the recruitment of child soldiers and looting of national resources by warlords who are accepted by the international community as statesmen.
An International Court is necessary if the apparent double standards employed in dealing with war crimes and crimes against humanity around the world is to end. Although developed western countries have established the foundations for the punishment of war criminals dating specifically from World War II by pursuing Nazi war criminals, and also considering the current United States-led effort to prosecute alleged war criminals in the former Yugoslavia, Africans and third world countries are repeatedly told to live with those who are known to commit war crimes in the name of peace. While Nazi and Yugoslav war criminals are being hunted, Liberians and Sierra Leoneans, for example, are told to elevate their war criminals to national leadership positions.
We applaud your call that the Security Council consider authorizing more preventive peacekeeping missions, and that the Council should not be afraid to intervene in conflicts when necessary. There are many crisis areas around the world, particularly in Africa, where human beings have been reduced to fair game by criminals holding official political titles, and thugs masquerading as state military and paramilitary personnel. Examples of such state of affairs in Africa and elsewhere include Rwanda, where there was an officially-sanctioned genocide, and Bosnia, where the government instituted a policy of ethnic cleansing.
Liberia also stands out as a classic example of a country of lawlessness and banditry. The country is roamed by former combatants of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), the largest armed faction during the civil war, as the state military and paramilitary personnel. Charles Taylor, the NPFL leader turned President of Liberia who launched the armed rebellion in 1989 to overthrow dictator Samuel K. Doe, is proving to be worse than Doe in ways that have paralyzed the entire war-weary population by fear, while there is a steady flight of people from the country.
The following are examples of the state of terror prevailing in Liberia since the Taylor government took office two years ago:
(a) In November 1997, leading opposition leader Samuel Dokie, once a leading figure of the NPFL, was arrested by President Taylor's bodyguard unit and executed along with his wife and two family members. Their mutilated and burnt bodies were discovered only after their family members raised alarm. Those arrested for committing the murders reportedly escaped prison. A kangaroo trial was held for others connected with the murders and they were acquitted. Since then the real killers of the Dokies have not been found.
(b) On September 18, 1998, the government, under the guise of arresting former warlord Roosevelt Johnson, attacked a densely populated area in Monrovia and killed, according to a U.S. Department of State report, "as many as 300 persons, most of them Krahn, many of them women and children..." Determined to neutralize the Krahn tribe of the assassinated President Doe, Taylor's security forces launched a house to house search for real or imagined enemies. Many innocent persons, on the basis of their ethnicity, were arrested and tortured. Among them were 11 Krahn officers of the Armed Forces of Liberia, who were shot. The government declared that the men were killed in an escape attempt. But the U.S. State Department, in its 1998 report, disputed this claim.
(c) There have been a well planned campaign of summary execution and intimidation of opponents. Examples include one madam Nowai Flomo, a market women (petty trader) and a known critic of the regime, who was arrested by presidential bodyguards and executed. Officers arrested for killing the woman were subsequently released. Presidential bodyguards also beat a man and cut off his ears for overtaking their vehicle. In September of this year, one Henric Cassell, a deputy commissioner of Immigration and a brother-in-law of Taylor, shot and killed taxi driver Papa George for overtaking his vehicle. Even though he is being tried, the extent to which justice would be served remains to be seen, since there is no precedence. In August 1999, Momo Peters, a young-man seeking employment with a popular independent radio station in Monrovia died after he was reportedly beaten by armed men. His family members believed he was beaten because he was apparently in possession of a press identification card. In December 1997, youthful broadcast journalist Alex Redd was kidnapped, beaten and slashed with a penknife by government security personnel, while investigating the death of opposition leader Samuel Dokie and his wife and family members. He subsequently fled the country, and resides in the U.S.
(d) There is an increased state of lawlessness throughout the country, particularly in Lofa County, scene of recent dissident activities, and Grand Gedeh County, from where people of the Krahn ethnic group originate. In some border towns, soldiers have launched on residents, raping women and seizing their belongings. There is also widespread armed robbery and other criminal acts being perpetrated by military and paramilitary personnel, who are predominantly former NPFL combatants. For example, six police officers were arrested and dismissed from the police in November 1999 for the alleged murder of one James Bestman, a businessman.
(e) As more examples of state-sanctioned witch-hunt, individuals regarded to be government agents and supporters recently attacked the respective homes of political activist Comnany Wesseh in Monrovia and the former President of the Liberian National Red Cross Society, the Rev. Edwin Lloyd , near the Ivorian-Liberian border.
(f) The government has also continued to harass journalists, repress the media and violate the personal freedom of individuals. Several independent news organs have been shut down over the past two years. For example, the short-wave frequency of Star Radio, the only independent station covering the entire country, has not been restored since the station was banned last year and later ordered to resume operation. Out of nearly a dozen radio stations, only Mr. Taylor's private station covers the entire country. During a senate committee hearing in Monrovia recently, the Deputy Minister of Information, Milton Teahjay, sounded the government's threat to deny operational permits to news organs that make the government look bad. The government delegates unto the Information Ministry the power to issue news organs operational permits, renewable annually. Permits have been denied to news organs in the past because their editorial orientations were regarded to be anti-government.
The public is silenced by fear and the media is forced to adopt self-censorship because of the prevailing state of terror in the country.
There is growing fear regarding the rise of fascism in Liberia. With a practically dysfunctional judiciary and a rubber-stamp legislature, and the military and paramilitary nothing more than the private militia and lynch mob of those in power, the general Liberian population is basically disenfranchised.
As a result, hundreds of thousands of Liberian refugees have refused to return home, fearing reprisal and insecurity, while more people are being forced into exile.
In view of the foregoing, ALJA would like to make the following recommendations to the United Nations:
1. That the U.N. Security Council opens an investigation into continued reports of widespread human rights abuses in Liberia. Failure to do so, as recent examples of dissident activities have shown, could plunge Liberia into another round of brutal civil war with more devastating consequences not only for the country but the sub-region as a whole. According to U.N. and U.S. State Department sources, an estimated 50,000 children were killed during the civil war, and over a million of them were exposed to violence or participated in waging violence, while the number of women raped is put at more than 25,000.
2. We call on the U.N. to consider the possibility of setting up a war crimes tribunal to try perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Liberia. If a war crime tribunal can be suggested for the former Yugoslavia or Sierra Leone, we fail to see the basis for which Liberia was conspicuously left unmentioned in discussions about trial for men who knowingly committed serious atrocities against defenseless and innocent people for political and other reasons. We believe that the silence of the international community over past and present atrocities committed by Mr. Taylor and others is partly responsible for the entrenched level of impunity with which human rights and other abuses have continued since Mr. Taylor came to power.
We appeal to the United States, Britain and other major powers that are permanent members of the Security Council to maintain a policy of non economic and diplomatic support to Taylor's barbaric regime until the regime adheres to basic internationally acceptable standards of human decency. We issue similar appeal to international financial institutions. Continued isolation of the regime would send an unmistakable signal to all similar regimes around the world, particularly in Africa, that the civilized world is no longer prepared to deal with leaders who want to behave like barbarians instead of working for the common good of their people. Destroyers of human life do not deserve the respect and goodwill of others who are making efforts to preserve and improve the lives and conditions of people. We laud the positions taken by the U.N. and the international community against the now fallen regimes of dictator Sani Abacha in Nigeria and military ruler Johnny Paul Koroma of Sierra Leone, as well as the indictment of Serbian President Slobodon Melosovic for war crimes.
4. We hope that the U.N. and the international community would end their silence on the atrocities committed in Liberia. Although the 1996 peace accord signed in Abuja, Nigeria by leaders of the Liberian armed factions included amnesty provisions for the warlords, Mr. Taylor violated a key provision of the accord by refusing to allow for the reorganization of the military and paramilitary under supervision of ECOMOG, the Nigerian-led West African peace keeping force that made so much sacrifice to restore peace to Liberia. After seven years of horrific warfare, the reorganization of the military and paramilitary was very crucial to the restoration of real peace in the country. This was why ECOMOG was to oversee the reorganization process to prevent factional or sectional domination and to ensure professionalism. We, however, welcome reports that Mr. Taylor has called on the international community to help in the restructuring and retraining of Liberia's military and paramilitary.
5. The silence of the international community to war crimes in Liberia has emboldened the perpetrators to extend their tentacles elsewhere. Mr. Taylor stands accused of supporting rebels in Sierra Leone and their campaign of amputations against children and civilians. The Sierra Leone civil war has caused an unspeakable degree of death and destruction to that country. Once again, thanks to ECOMOG and the U.N., Sierra Leone has begun the tedious process of healing. On the other hand, Liberia and its eastern neighbor Guinea were on war footing several months ago, as both sides traded accusations on attacks by dissidents allegedly harbored in each other's territory
6. We appeal to the U.N. to keep in effect the arms embargo imposed on Liberia during the civil war. To lift the embargo at this time would make the U.N. an accessory to the perpetuation of the state of terror in the country. We urge the U.N. to investigate reports that arms are being smuggled into Liberia and paid for by timber and other resources of the country still being looted by Taylor and his collaborators. Endowed with a large part of the remaining rain forest in West Africa, Liberia faces environmental degradation because of indiscriminate logging activities. Two years since the official end of the war, Liberia is widely seen to remain unsafe for the general population and an unstable country in West Africa. It was in light of fear about the danger an unstable Liberia would represent in the sub-region that led Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea, Sierra Leone and the Gambia to form the original ECOMOG force that intervened in the Liberian civil war in 1990. Although the guns have been actively silenced, the country treks on the brink of another human disaster, if national security is not restructured to inspire public confidence. As recent developments have shown with incursions by dissident armed groups that cost innocent lives and property destruction, the opportunity to consolidate peace can vanish anytime and the country will be plunged back into anarchy. President Taylor's inability to bring stability to Liberia is generally seen in light of the fact that he thrives on anarchy.
7. We also appealed to the U. N., as well as other major countries, to provide the level of support that would enable ECOMOG to effectively serve as a regional intervention and peacekeeping force. Having brought the Liberian civil war to an end, ECOMOG is currently involved in a similar task of restoring peace to war-torn Sierra Leone. Despite recognition of its vital importance, financial and logistical support from the U.N., as well as the U.S. and other major powers, have been shortcoming. We concur with President Bill Clinton in his September speech to the U.N. General Assembly that the U.S. "cannot do everything everywhere." However, there is general agreement that the U. S. can certainly help regional peacekeeping efforts like ECOMOG.
We hope that the U.N. and the international community would help to end the state of destitution and hopelessness of the Liberian people by taking some actions.
ALJA seeks to work for the enhancement and defense of press freedom in Liberia; to contribute to the strengthening and consolidation of Liberia's fragile democracy; and to encourage the attainment of good governance and national reconciliation.
Issued December 5, 1999
Signed: Gabriel I. H. Williams
Approved: Isaac D. E. Bantu
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