Liberia is considering trying perpetrators of the worst crimes committed during its 1989-2003 civil war, in which child soldiers were recruited, women raped and thousands killed, the justice minister says.
Justice Minister Christiana Tah told Reuters a committee had been set up to review a report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) late last year detailing evidence of atrocities and that it would advise on whether prosecutions should go ahead. Africa’s oldest independent republic is still recovering from the war that left it in ruins.
But unlike neighbouring Sierra Leone, which swiftly set up an international tribunal to try war criminals in its closely intertwined conflict, Liberia chose to rebuild first. The twin conflicts killed about a quarter of a million people. Trials could upset a delicate power balance in a nation that has kept peace partly by co-opting former combatants.
Some former warlords named by the TRC report have seats in the Senate. Former Liberian president Charles Taylor is being tried for war crimes in The Hague, but only for alleged involvement in Sierra Leone’s war.
“The president set up a committee that includes myself and the head of law reform, because we want accountability. This is not over,” Tah said in a weekend interview. “We’ll review the report and advise the government on the way forward.” But Tah said no decision had yet been made on the issue. “For those who committed the most serious atrocities they are recommending prosecution. That’s one of the questions we have to examine. We’ll try to do that as quickly as possible.”
The TRC was established in 2005 to investigate war crimes. Its report caused a storm last year when it said President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf should be banned from public office for 30 years for backing Taylor’s rebellion. The incumbent admits she provided Taylor with money but says she was misled.
TRC president Jerome Verdier told Reuters even if the move towards trials went ahead it would be a drawn out process. “It would take the next ten years to put all the resources in place to do prosecutions,” he said. “But this is something we cannot escape from. We cannot claim to have ended the conflict in the absence of justice.”