War Crimes Tribunal For Liberian Warlords

By Abraham M. Williams

During the fall of 1995 the world community commemorated the 50th anniversary of the start of Nuremberg war crimes tribunal on Nov. 20, 1945. But according to the New York Times, the memory of the historic trial seems clouded.

The trial, which brought the highest-ranking survivors of Hilter's Third Reich, including such men like Hermann Goering, Rudolf Hess and Albert Speer to justice, was set out to establish a new international code of law to deter individuals from initiating acts of war. Regrettably, however, the world's warmakers who prefer violence as an alternative to peaceful resolution of problems, those who believe in conquest as a path to power, have chosen to ignore its noble intent.

Over the year, the international community has spent billions of dollars as well as countless hours of humanitarian initiatives in an effort to maintain the peace. But crimes against peace have steadily increased, costing millions of lives while serious human rights abuses continue unabated across the globe.

As Jutta Limback, the president of Germany's highest court, said in a debate with other representatives during the commemoration, "the lasting contribution of Nuremberg was to make individuals responsible" for the wars they start.

These sentiments are particularly applicable and relevant to the Liberian civil conflict, a war during which more than 200,000 people have lost their lives, and where the warlords continue to carry out wanton atrocities against the peasant population.

The viciousness of the Liberian conflict is awesome and striking. In nearly six years of fighting, there are virtually no prisoners of war. People are being systematically killed simply because they are caught running for survival in areas controlled by opposing guerrilla leaders. Or sometimes just because such victims belong to ethnic groups associated with rival warring factions.

In addition, the Liberian civil war has a distinct and unique characteristic in its use of children as combatants which should concern all people of conscience, regardless of which faction one supports. Not only is the useof children in combat a moral issue, it is also a violation of international law.

Specifically, the protocol to the Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949, which relates to the protection of victims of non-international armed conflicts (PROTOCOL II). The provision of this protocol protects children who have not attained the age of fifteen years shall neither be recruited in the armed forces or groups nor allowed to take part in hostilities. Liberia is a signatory to the Geneva Conventions, and as such, Liberians must be held fully responsible for any violation of its protocol.

It is high time that Liberians, especially those of us who have the luxury of life's freedom in this country, begin to seriously galvanize all efforts to make a moral case for peace with justice to the United Nations, the United States and other world bodies about the killings going on in Liberia.

Unfortunately, there are rumblings in many Liberian quarters when the issue of war crimes tribunal is mentioned. Some people believe the timing is inappropriate, since this could make the warlords stiffen their stance against disarmament; others say we should give incentives which would encourage the factions to comply with the Abuja accord. But let us remember the purpose for war crimes trials is to bring peace with justice; for key players to be accountable for their actions; and more important, to deter similar occurrences in the future. While we understand the sincerity of these sentiments of concern, however, it would be morally incomprehensible for us to turn a blind eye to very important issue. As noted by Valentin Falin, a former Soviet ambassador in Bonn, "Crimes are never anonymous, they are always committed by people. And all crimes must be punished."

In Liberia, some people have committed horrendous crimes againstinnocent and unarmed civilians, and the perpetrators of those crimes must be brought to a forum where they will account for their actions. These include the warlords, their top strategists and other agents of death. Clearly there are identifiable individuals in this category and we will do everything possible to expose them.

There is a cacophony of voices regarding this matter. In other words, many people are speaking out on this issue. From church leaders in Liberia to concerned Liberian citizen groups in the U.S. the call is loud and clear that now is the time that we urge the appropriate international bodies and significant others to empanel a war crimes tribunal for our civil conflict.

During their annual summit in Cameroon in early July this year, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) adopted a resolution recommending the setting up of a U.N. war crimes tribunal to try the warlords in Liberia if they continue to frustrate the ECOWAS initiative in Liberia. But the matter of war crimes must come about without any condition or exception. That means all parties to the conflict will be subject to the tribunal until one can otherwise prove himself innocent.

Besides, on July 17, 1996, civil groups in Liberia, including the Liberia Bar Association, came out in support of calls for stiff sanctions against warlords in Liberia's six-year -old civil war.

Finally, the question of war crimes trial should be based on moral ground; it must transcend political affiliations; and the trial must be held simply because it's just and it's right. It is, therefore, incumbent upon each and every Liberian of conscience , as a matter of moral imperative , to be fully engaged in this basic issue of justice. To do otherwise
we will have been derelict in our moral duty.

Copyright © 1996 The Perspective

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