The President of the Liberian National Bar Association, Human Rights Lawyer, Cllr. Tiawan S. Gongloe is calling on Liberians to choose accountability over impunity in addressing atrocities perpetrated during the more than a decade of civil wars that ravaged the country.
According to Cllr. Gongloe, the age of impunity is over, and it is now time for Liberians to speak in favor of accountability for perpetrators of crimes committed in the country during the civil hostilities. Making presentation during a retreat sponsored by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Liberia Country Office and the UN Women for members of the House of Representatives of Liberia under the theme “The Role of the Parliament in Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Gender in Liberia”, Cllr. Gongloe said although Liberia seems relatively peaceful but without accountability, the peace is still under threat.
“The atrocities in Liberia were committed during the age of accountability and not during age of impunity. Therefore, those who are promoting impunity by suggesting that Liberians should let bygones be bygones are just too late” said Cllr, Gongloe. He said to sustain peace there must be a clear and an unequivocal opposition to violent crimes and perpetrators should know that for every violation there is a consequence.
He continued “The best way to begin to prevent violent crimes now and in the future is to address the violent crimes that were committed here for a period of fourteen years. Therefore, those who committed atrocities during the Liberian civil conflict must be held to account for their past actions”.
In his presentation titled “Human Rights and Accountability in Liberia; The Way Forward”, Cllr. Gongloe said the major obstacle to accountability in Liberia is the fact that instead of punishing those who committed atrocities against innocent civilians during the Liberian conflict, they were rewarded with elected and appointed positions in government, thereby putting them in driver’s seat running the Liberian state.
“This is where the difficulty lies in putting a closure to the fratricidal conflict that existed in Liberia for a period of fourteen years. The perpetrators want amnesty, but the victims want justice in the form of prosecution. These are the two choices that are being debated in Liberia”, he added. He challenged the lawmakers to listen to Liberians who want justice and ensure that they are provided justice.
“The people of Liberia are calling for justice, the legislature must listen and act consistent with the call of the people. It is important for Liberian lawmakers to underscore the fact that amnesty promotes impunity and impunity promotes injustice and conflict, but accountability promotes justice and sustainable peace”, he continued.
Mixed views on wars crimes court
The interactive session of the discussion on whether Liberia should opt for a war crimes court or find other means of addressing the past, raised huge debates amongst the lawmakers.
Some lawmakers including Acarous Gray of the ruling Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) accused the erstwhile government of playing double standard with the issue of setting up a war crimes court. According to lawmaker Gray, during the regime of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf when he and others were advocating for the establishment of a war crimes court they were perceived as troublemakers but today, those who accused them of making trouble are now pushing for the same cause. Other lawmakers disagreed and expressed varying views on the ongoing debate about whether Liberia should establish a war crimes court.
A Commissioner of the Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR), Atty. Tonieh Alexandra Talery- Wiles, outlined the statutory roles of the INCHR.
The Commissioner, amongst other things spoke on the INCHR role to investigate issues of human rights and also make reports to the National Legislature on the state of human rights in country.
Commissioner Wiles explained that INCHR is mandated to inquire or investigate on a complaint presented to it by a victim or any person on his or her behalf and to exercise powers to handle such complaints, investigate human rights violations and conduct hearings consistent with due process of law.
Another presenter, a Program Specialist at UN Women, Nyasha Chidau presenting on ‘Gender Responsive Budgeting’ (GBR) said the process is a means of disaggregating the budget in terms of impact on men and women. Outlining the benefits of gender responsive budgeting, the UN women Program Specialist said it promotes government transparency and accountability, addresses discrimination, inefficiency, improves policies and contributes to economic growth.
She observed that there are challenges Liberia faces in introducing Gender responsive budgeting including limited or no expenditure data on women and men, limited commitment from line ministries, agencies and commission, Liberia’s Public Financial Management Law is not clear on Gender responsive budgeting and limited or no instruction from the National Legislature.
The National Legislature, she says has a key role to play in gender responsive budgeting including enactment of organic budget law incorporating gender budgeting, assigning lead role to Ministry of Finance in collaboration with ministry responsible gender related goals and spending ministries and integration of gender budgeting into program and results-based budgeting sectorial identification of goals and identification of desired outcomes.
The retreat is part of series of activities being undertaken by OHCHR to create the platform for public dialogue on issues of human rights. OHCHR has over last several months being conducting such dialogue for stakeholders including different government agencies, civil society, human rights actors amongst others.
About OHCHR Liberia Office
The United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Liberia signed its host country agreement with the Government of Liberia on 4 August 2017 with a mandate to promote and protect human rights through different strategies including; technical cooperation arrangements, capacity building, training, awareness raising, technical assistance, human rights monitoring, investigations, documentation and report to strengthen strategic evidenced based advocacy with government authorities and other oversight and institutional mechanism to demand for accountability, prevent impunity and promote respect for human rights and Rule of Law.
Following the departure of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) in March 2018, OHCHR Liberia country Office was established to contribute to consolidation of achievements made after UNMIL and to ensure sustained peace, reconciliation and conflict prevention.
The Government of Liberia has elaborated a Strategic Roadmap for National Healing, Peacebuilding & Reconciliation to provide overall policy guidance to deepen peace and reconciliation efforts in Liberia. OHCHR brings its human rights technical expertise to provide technical support to the Government of Liberia and relevant interlocutors to strengthen requisite capacities of national interlocutors and institutional mechanism. It adopts rights based, victim centered and gender sensitive approaches to strengthen ongoing initiatives aimed at contributing to long term sustainable peace and reconciliation through ensuring that human rights of victims to effective remedies, recognition of harms suffered, gender sensitive reparations and other forms of restitution are guaranteed.