Recent drama at the Liberian Senate when both Montserrado County Senator, Abraham Darius Dillon and Nimba County Senator, ex-rebel leader turned politician, Prince Y. Johnson clashed over the establishment of a War Crimes Court in Liberia during the regular session at the chamber of the senate on whether the court should be established, the Nimba County Senator angrily expressed his rejection.
Defending his role played in one of the most devastating and brutal civil war on the continent of Africa which killed over 250,000 people where the Nimba County Senator, than rebel leader of the defunct faction of the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL) personally killed a sitting President, Samuel Kanton Doe at his Caldwell base near Monrovia, justified by asking his colleagues, “When they were killing the people of Nimba what did you want us to do. That’s why I said, if you talk again I will get to you,” Senator Johnson angrily said.
Although he refused to say what he meant by that statement which was obviously directed at his colleague Senator Dillon, Johnson warned, “If you want disruption it will happen. Because they slaughtered my people, they killed the children, they slaughtered people and declared Nimba enemy of the state…and deployed all the dirty weapons in Nimba and slaughtered. And so we had to fight! We fought in defense. So, if you want to bring War Crime Court, bring your damn War Crime Court…”
Many Liberians who listened to the Nimba County lawmaker wondered as why Senator Prince Y. Johnson always in defense of perpetrators of the Liberian civil war, when in fact he is not the only Liberian warlord that fought and killed innocent people, and destroyed the country and its infrastructural.
Johnson, a former rebel commander of the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia, a breakaway faction of the Charles Taylor led National Patriotic Front (NPFL) captured, tortured, killed and mutilated former Liberian President Samuel K. Doe in September 1990. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report indicted Johnson and others and among several findings, recommended that the notorious former warlord be prosecuted for his role in the war. Johnson is also accused of killing other innocent civilians.
Johnson who was later elected by his people as Senator has consistently resisted the establishment of a War Crimes Court and has even threatened to go back to war if he is called to account. The former Administration of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf dragged its feet implementing recommendations of the TRC. The Weah Administration is also refusing to commit to implementing the recommendations contained in the TRC Final Report.
In March 2021, Ms. Elise Kepler, Associate Director of the International Justice Program of Human Rights Watch (HRW) called out the Liberian Government. “Liberia’s justice minister, Frank Musa, gave a misleading statement at the United Nations Human Rights Council on March 17 regarding the government’s purported efforts to ensure much-needed justice for widespread atrocity crimes committed during the country’s back-to-back civil wars between 1989 and 2003 by international non-governmental organizations including the U.N.”
According to the HRW official, “In any event, the path forward should be clear without additional consultations. Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended the creation of a war crimes court over a decade ago. International law requires states to prosecute serious crimes, such as war crimes, which helps ensure victims’ rights to truth, justice, and an effective remedy, while combating impunity. In addition, victims, activists, community leaders, politicians, and members of the general public in Liberia have backed a war crimes court, even marching in the streets to show their support…”
Some Liberian lawmakers have signaled their support for the establishment of a War Crimes Court; however, the leadership in the Executive and Legislative branches of Government have refused to actively support any mechanism for the establishment of the Court. Liberians have also signaled support for accountability to deter future occurrences.
The U.N., the U.S. other western countries, global rights groups and non-governmental organizations continue to urge the Weah Administration to prioritize the establishment of an Economic and War Crimes Court. So far, the Government continues to dodge its obligation, obfuscate and ignore the matter. No one has been prosecuted in Liberia for atrocities committed during the war. In neighboring Sierra Leone, individuals were prosecuted and are serving lengthy jail terms.
Senator Dillon is, meantime, urging Senator Johnson to go before a War Crimes Court to defend his role in the war. “At this point, the impunity in this country is emboldening people to even be more corrupt and to do things to hurt this country with no fear that justice will be meted against them…,” Dillon said to the media in his reaction to the outburst of Senator Johnson.