Final month, a particular court docket in Paris sentenced Liberian insurgent commander Kunti Kamara to life in jail for his complicity “in large and systematic torture and inhumane acts” towards civilians in Liberia in 1993-1994. This was the second responsible verdict delivered in Europe for crimes towards humanity regarding Liberia’s bloody civil wars. In June 2021, insurgent commander Alieu Kosiah was convicted of comparable costs in Switzerland. One other alleged fighter, Gibril Massaquoi, was tried in Finland however was finally acquitted over inadequate proof earlier this 12 months.
Kamara and Kosiah’s convictions – and even Massaquoi’s prosecution – had been small however much-welcome victories within the battle to ship justice to tens of millions of Liberians nonetheless carrying bodily and psychological scars from the battle that claimed greater than 1 / 4 of one million lives between 1989 and 2003.
Below regular circumstances, three trials and two convictions in relation to a brutal 12-year battle that got here to an finish almost twenty years in the past wouldn’t be worthy of a lot discover, not to mention celebration. However the circumstances should not regular – these few European convictions and prosecutions are the one concrete steps in the direction of holding Liberia’s warfare criminals accountable for the unimaginable ache they inflicted on civilians.
Certainly, Liberia itself is but to attempt a single particular person for the numerous warfare crimes dedicated throughout its civil wars.
Over 10 years in the past, in 2009, Liberia’s Reality and Reconciliation Fee issued suggestions that included the institution of a particular court docket for warfare crimes. Nonetheless, regardless of many guarantees by governments, such a court docket by no means materialised.
Liberia is failing to prosecute its warfare criminals primarily as a result of lots of these criminals have since change into highly effective politicians. The trail to the presidency within the nation is thru forming alliances with such figures controlling massive voting blocks, so no president appears too desirous to greenlight a complete prosecution effort.
Prince Johnson, a former warlord dealing with many credible accusations of crimes towards humanity, is now certainly one of Liberia’s longest-serving senators. His affect over the populous Nimba county has made him a obligatory ally to each post-war president within the nation.
In 2020, Liberia’s senate proposed a Transitional Justice Fee (TJC) to be set as much as ship “restorative not retributive” justice to these affected by crimes dedicated throughout the civil warfare. Nonetheless, even this restrained try went nowhere, main many Liberians to hunt justice exterior the nation’s borders.
Quickly sufficient, overseas courts – particularly these in Europe – got here to be seen as the one discussion board the place Liberian warfare criminals could be held to account.
However this doesn’t imply prosecutions overseas can absolutely fulfill the Liberian individuals’s want for accountability, justice and closure.
There are, actually, many pitfalls to looking for justice overseas.
First, Liberians have little entry to trials in different nations. Most Liberians can’t journey internationally to comply with a trial, and courts typically don’t hassle to broadcast the proceedings on-line. This implies individuals who can achieve essentially the most from these trials stay uninformed and can’t interact with the proof being unearthed by the prosecution. Lots of Liberia’s mainstream media organisations which are both owned or tacitly managed by native political actors additionally largely ignore these trials.
Second, nations world wide have little urge for food for “common jurisdiction” prosecutions like those that resulted within the convictions of Kamara and Kosiah. “Common jurisdiction” is a global legislation precept that gives for a state’s jurisdiction over crimes towards worldwide legislation even when the crimes didn’t happen on that state’s territory, and neither the sufferer nor the perpetrator is a nationwide of that state. Such prosecutions should not solely time-consuming and dear, however can lead to undesirable altercations between governments in circumstances the place the prosecuted occasion enjoys state assist.
This is the reason there have been solely three such prosecutions regarding crimes dedicated over the course of Liberia’s battle so far. The US, for instance, by no means greenlit any such trial and as an alternative prosecuted Liberian warfare actors just for immigration fraud – arguing that they’ve hid their involvement within the battle of their visa purposes. Whereas these trials can even unearth crimes, they’re on no account very best for accountability.
Final however not least, the overwhelming majority of Liberia’s warfare criminals and victims nonetheless reside in Liberia. This implies most victims of warfare can solely get justice if Liberia itself begins prosecuting these being accused of warfare crimes and crimes towards humanity.
Briefly, it’s certainly worthy of celebration that a few of those that dedicated heinous crimes towards Liberians throughout the nation’s civil wars are being put behind bars in Europe. These trials should not solely giving victims hope, but in addition serving to native justice organisations to proceed pushing for extra. However, this isn’t almost sufficient.
Because the twentieth anniversary of the battle’s finish quick approaches, it’s excessive time for Liberia’s leaders to cease placing their political pursuits above the wants of the individuals, and begin working in the direction of establishing a mechanism that might result in significant warfare crimes prosecutions at house.
The views expressed on this article are the writer’s personal and don’t essentially mirror Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.