Liberia Deserves A War Crimes Tribunal

By Levi Zangai, Ph.D

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

August 25, 2003

The 14 years of civil war in Liberia is well known to Liberians and to the international community for the numerous cases of gross human rights violations, atrocities and alleged war crimes committed by all the warring factions and the "Armed Forces of Liberia." Specific examples include massacres at the Monrovia Lutheran Church, the Carter Camp and on Duopo Road in Monrovia, to name only a few. Many of these atrocities and alleged war crimes have been documented by domestic and international human rights groups, and the United Nations Waco Commission. The major question that Liberians and the international community must ask and act upon in post-conflict Liberia (post-disarmament and demobilization) is not whether there should be a war crimes tribunal for Liberia. But rather, when and how is it appropriate to initiate such proceedings.

In this respect, I think that the following is a way forward:

(1) There is a need and probably a national consensus for an international war crimes tribunal in post-conflict Liberia, comparable to those established for post-conflict Rwanda, Bosnia and Sierra Leone. Like these other countries, Liberia and Liberians deserve no less. A first step in this direction is the complete disarmament and demobilization of all the fighting forces. A second step could then be a South African-style Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as already agreed to and established by the Accra Peace Accord, 8/18/03, Article XIII (with UN support and supervision). The rationale is that such an initiative will not only discourage future massacres, atrocities, politically-motivated killings, gross human rights violations and hate crimes; but it may also minimize the urge for revenge by aggrieved persons, ethnic groups, religious groups and regional groups; who have had no recourse to justice and to heal. Thus, this is a major part to complete the national healing and national reconciliation process.

(2) Criminal acts such as politically-motivated killings and massacres inspired by ethnic hatred, greed and revenge, especially atrocities committed outside of the war theater, against unarmed civilians and displaced children, women and the elderly, are to be referred to an international war crimes tribunal by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia.

(3) There may also be a consensus in Liberia that, for acts committed in the prosecution of the civil war in actual combat, and particularly in the war theater, a general amnesty may be appropriately granted by the Truth and Reconciliation of Liberia, as was done in South Africa. Perhaps this is what the NTGL Chairman, H.E. Gyude Bryant, is reported to be advocating for all combatants. Clearly, it cannot be the case that the Honorable Chairman is advocating a double standard of justice for Sierra Leonens and Liberians, whereby Charles Taylor and his co-conspirators go to trial for war crimes in Sirra Leone, while Taylor and his alleged partners in war crimes in Liberia are granted unconditional amnesty. The least Liberians can do is to put this question to a national referendum during the 2005 general elections. There is no statute of limitation for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

About the author: Dr. Levi Zangai is a former Minister of Education, Liberia.