From the blog

LIBERIA: President Boakai Signs Executive Order Establishing War Crimes Tribunal

President Joseph Boakai has signed an executive order to establish a long-awaited war crimes tribunal to provide justice for victims of Liberia’s two civil wars, characterized by widespread massacres, torture, and sexual violence.

The legislation was passed by the House and Senate, and signed by lawmakers, some of whom would likely be prosecuted.

“The conviction that brings us here today is that for peace and harmony to have any chance of prevailing, justice and healing must complete the groundwork,” Boakai said in a statement.

Victims and justice activists have for decades called for the establishment of a tribunal to try those accused of war crimes. In 2009, a post-war truth and reconciliation commission drew up a list of people to be prosecuted for war crimes, but the government did not act. Justice was a major issue in last year’s presidential election, which saw Boakai beat soccer great and then-president George Weah.

Liberia was established in 1822 to accommodate freed slaves from the United States but declared itself independent 25 years later. The resolution calls on international donors to fund the court.

Several legal steps still need to be taken before an independent and effective tribunal can be established.

Human rights groups have described how girls were subjected to gang rape, while children were recruited to fight, often after witnessing the assassination of their parents. Successive civil wars killed around 250,000 people between 1989 and 2003.

Beth Van Schaack, the U.S. envoy for global criminal justice, said the United States would fund the court, if it was set up appropriately, and that other donors had also expressed interest to support it once a framework and other details were clear.

Human Rights Watch and other civil society groups released a joint report a year ago, calling on the Biden administration to push Liberian authorities to establish the long-awaited court and fund its operations.

Liberia’s post-war truth and reconciliation commission listed eight people as leaders of warring factions, including two who currently serve in the Senate. Both signed the resolution, including former warlord and senator Prince Johnson, who said he supported it because his constituents needed justice. Prince Johnson was also named first on the commission’s list of “most notorious perpetrators” and is accused of, among other things, murder, extortion, massacre, torture and rape.

Other leaders appointed by the commission in 2009 included Charles Taylor, a former chairman. Charles Taylor is presently incarcerated in the United Kingdom, where he is serving a 50-year prison sentence for war crimes, including murder, rape and the use of child soldiers. He is the first former head of state convicted by an international tribunal of war crimes since World War II.