|Former TRC Chairman Jerome Verdier|
Former TRC Chairman Cllr. Jerome Verdier has suggested that the recent ICC accession of the international crimes case in Kenya could be applicable in Liberia, given the reported prevailing lack of political will and the citizens’ mistrust of the criminal justice system in Liberia.
The former TRC chairman made the suggestion when he addressed, early this month, the Public Forum of the Center for Multi-party Democracy (CMD-Kenya) in held in Nairobi in Kenya, on the theme, “Post Conflict Justice, Local Ownership and Interventions of the ICC”.
Juxtaposing the Sierra Leonean and Liberian cases
Cllr. Verdier, who is also a human rights lawyer and civil rights advocate, recalled that victims of the Sierra Leonean war excesses got justice because the international community intervened through a hybrid court. But he said the situation in Liberia, though slightly seen in different context, was terribly lagging behind to the point of taking on the character of support for impunity.
“In a slightly different context, justice is yet to take roots in Liberia, while Sierra Leone following a hybrid court trial the product of international agreement between the Sierra Leone Government and its sisterly partners, has successfully lay to rest the ghost of the war,” he said.
He said without that level of collaboration, such level of the achievement of international justice would never have been possible.
In view of the success of the Sierra Leonean’s search for justice, the former TRC boss said, the victims of Liberia’s brutal civil war were unlikely to get justice unless the nation got the same international legal corporation.
“Without doubt criminal prosecutions in Liberia may never take roots in honest without similar robust assistance of the international community as was done in Sierra Leone,” Cllr. Verdier said.
The counselor’s statement, observer say, second guessed earlier TRC position that political will was all it would require for Liberia to prosecute the 500 plus suspected perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
He said whereas the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation (TR) process ran parallel to the prosecution mechanisms, that of Liberia recommended prosecutions in what he called the “form of a domestic criminal tribunal comprising both Liberian and international jurists”.
Moreover, he said, Liberia’s TRC recommended that a host of lesser crimes be tried under current criminal statutes of Liberia before existing criminal jurisdictions.
The human rights lawyer did not say what was wrong with the Liberian route to justice such that it failed to take on a life of its own where the Sierra Leonean route succeeded, but he said Liberia’s problem was part of a larger African judicial problem.
“While other continents are recovering from their past legacies of abuse, violations of human rights and crimes against humanity, Africa appears to be repeating past legacies of crimes and violence which are no longer viewed in the context of legacies but rather an entrenched culture of impunity which has to be eradicated,” he said, falling short of conceding that the much-sung lack of political will may be an insignificant contributor to the problem of impunity.
In his view however, Africa would shed the legacy of support for its entrenched culture of impunity if it dispenses with the governance notion of ‘strongman or strongwoman’, which he said continues to destroy the continent and negate the values of human rights and promote impunity.
Why ICC takeover
With Africa locked in the vicious cycle of the legacies of the culture of impunity while African politics continues to favor strong-arm politicians, who invariably often reject international calls for the prosecutions of individuals who perpetrate crimes against humanity, it would be appropriate to allow ICC to step in.
ICC, in December 2010, assumed jurisdiction of the ‘crimes against humanity case’ by default due to non-action on the part of Kenyan Parliamentarians and rulers. The court acted in accordance with the terms of the Kenyan National Reconciliation Accord (2008).
Without disclosing details of the terms, Cllr. Verdier said one way Liberia would end the apparent impasse regarding the implementation of the TRC recommendations was for Liberia to adapt the Kenyan example.
“The actions of the Kenya People to invite the ICC is ground breaking and may very well inform situation in Liberia where, as in Kenya, the parliament and largely the entire government is reluctant to pursue the course of domestic prosecution,” Cllr. Verdier said to show similarity between the Liberian and Kenyan situations.
He said the reluctance to prosecute wrongdoers in Liberia, as in Kenya where ICC was now intervening, was that the political elites share greatly in the responsibility for the violence, crimes and war which deprives them of the political will and moral authority to provide pivotal leadership in pursuing justice for crimes committed by their ‘comrades’.
What was regrettable, he said, was that those leaders were using the cliché, “African solution for African problems” as alibi to shield themselves and their protégés and relatives from prosecution.
He said the cliché was based on an African solidarity that holds that “We are all guilty of similar crimes in our respective countries so prosecution for one is precedence for prosecution for all”.
“African solidarity against no action or prosecution of perpetrators of heinous crimes in Africa is at its highest on the continent in this age of liberation, freedom and espousal respect for human rights, justice and the supremacy of the rule of law,” the former TRC boss claimed.
The solution to the growing continental problems therefore, he said, was for ICC to take over the human rights and crimes against humanity cases in keeping with the 1998 Rome Statute, which 106 countries, including 30 from African, ratified.
Already, he said, the court was either handling or have concluded trials on the continent from the Sierra Lone, DR Congo, Uganda, Central African Republic, Sudan and now Kenya.
“The crimes over which the ICC exercises jurisdiction, as are the crimes committed in Kenya, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Uganda, the Sudan and perhaps in Iraq, are of such serious nature that they are at best described as international crimes, the effect of which is international, extraterritorial and beyond borders or without borders for justice,” Cllr. Verdier reiterated without saying how ICC obtained jurisdictions of these trials.
But he said that the 30 African countries signed the Rome Statute without coercion meant that they should have no problem recognizing the jurisdiction of the court.
“African states I believe, sought membership of the ICC on account of the inherent dysfunctional nature of African governance and judiciary structures and institutions. Not only is the judiciary in Africa characteristically weak, they are subservient, compromised and corrupted by greed, political interest and partisanship, patronage and justice peddling,” Cllr. Verdier claimed.
Bottlenecks against Liberia acting alone
The human rights lawyer said the weakness of the courts exposed justice seekers to prejudice and local bias, which often let the accused off the hook without much ado due to their political connections, influence, wealth, power or access to power.
He said a TRC Liberia research revealed that because of inherent mistrust of the judicial institutions in Liberia, justice is not the first interest of victims of war and conflicts.
“Combined with other interests, justice is preferable even in the immediate but of priority to survivors and victims are security and basic survival needs which may take the form of reparations or compensation for their harm,” he said.
The former TRC boss, whose commission based most of its recommendations on the contention that “there can never be peace without justice” surprised observers when he noted that “justice alone was never enough on account of the mistrust and dysfunctional nature of justice institutions in Africa”.
“Hence, never guaranteed of justice, they (the poor) want something for themselves that benefit their families and respond to their survival needs,” he said notwithstanding what observers considered a change of position, which they say may be necessary for a fresh look at the TRC recommendations.
Cllr. Verdier said the way out of the lack of guarantees of justice therefore was for Liberia to establish strong and credible institutions of justice that will be transparent, fair and accountable.
“To do this there must be the political will to dispense justice evenly, fairly and without favor or fear. Further to this, the capacity of judicial institutions must be strengthened and resourced to the enviable point of independence that will boost transparency and reduce the risk of mistrial and the political fallout that could result,” he said without commenting on current efforts in Liberia to reform the judiciary and the security sector and to build anti-corruption institutions.
But even political will and judicial capacity building may be insufficient to guarantee justice in Liberia, according to the justice advocate.
Other obstacles to justice guarantee in Liberia, according to him, was insecurity for those who may want to testify against perpetrators of injustice against the people.
“Without permanent guarantees of security for person and family, foreign venues and jurisdictions like the ICC seems the appropriate strategy for delivering justice to local populations in Africa. This is even reinforced by the fluidity of the political environment in Africa which, far from being stable, is always changing, increasing the risk of reprisals during upheavals that put an entire population at risk,” Cllr. Verdier told his Nairobi audience.
He conceded that allegations of ICC’s biases against accused persons in Africa – such as its failure to prosecute former US president George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair for their roles in Iraq and Afghanistan – may hold water.
But he said the strong judicial processes of those countries allow for strong evidence against their nationals to be prosecuted by their governments.
Meanwhile Cllr. Verdier said unless Liberia made efforts to remove the impasse against the establishment of justice, “we will continue to deprive our people of the justice they deserve and the ICC and other mechanisms will become the appropriate venues by default simply because we fail to lead, govern and be fair, transparent people of integrity and honor who respects human rights and the rule of law and above all else, the people”.