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A War Crime Court may not Bring Healing to Liberia. So What?

Ahead of tomorrow’s Liberia Speaks teleconference scheduled to discuss the issue of a war crime tribunal for Liberia, I wish to offer a brief response for the sake of those who may not have the opportunity or resources to call in. I hope to be on the conference call but incase something else steps in, I would be happy that I have cleared my chest on the subject.

According to the organizers of the conference, the broader question to be addressed during the two hour conference call is “can a war crime court bring healing to Liberia?” Other sub-questions outlined to be tackled include:

• How would a war crime tribunal when instituted help our nation?
• Who would be brought to justice?
• How would a war crime tribunal bring reconciliation to the country?
• How would the country's interest be protected?

Without trying to read too much into the question or diminish its relevance, I will respond with an emphatic “I don’t know.” Not to dismiss the concern for healing as a raison d’être for the establishment of a war crime court, I think we should look at this in the broader context of justice or the rule of law. We need not concern ourselves what the outcome of justice will be before it is sought or rendered. Will a war crime court bring healing, reconciliation, progress and the rest of the good things vital to our wellbeing as Liberians? We don’t know and I don’t think we should become inundated about the exact outcome since we have already established that true justice is the way we had chosen to tread in settling our disputes. As a parent concerned with outcomes may also ask, “will sending my daughter to school earn her a six figure salary?” I don’t know but why should that be a concern? The acquisition of knowledge and skills through formal schooling is already a proven pathway to a better tomorrow so we don’t need to worry about the exact outcomes of sending our kids to school or going to school ourselves before taking the step.

In the same light, we already affirm that “justice should be done to all people.” Whether that justice when it is done will bring about healing or reconciliation is no longer out for discussion. If people commit crimes, they must be taken to court whether or not that process of punishing crimes will bring healing and all the things we hope for as a fulfillment of our dreams and aspirations. If we believe that the killing and maiming of thousands of Liberians including our presidents, burning down structures that took our people years to build, pillaging, raping and looting… for almost fifteen years were the sacrifices of a war of liberation and therefore justifiable, then we need to start rolling out the carpets, decorating our bodies and dancing torkloh for our freedom fighters. But if our laws consider those actions as crimes, why do we need to concern ourselves with healing as an outcome before seeking justice? Unless we no longer ascribe to the principles of equal right and justice; unless we no longer believe that all men and women are created equal; unless we no longer believe in the unequivocal and fair dispensation of justice, we need not dillydally about bringing alleged perpetrators of such entrenched evil to justice.

We have already agreed on those terms under our laws and way of life that the court is the arbiter to whom we all must submit. I therefore see no justification why the court should be selective in the kinds of cases that it should prosecute. What authority has anyone got to exempt the horrendous crimes of the 1990’s from the jurisdiction or adjudication of the court? I get frustrated if not irascible and grumpy if we must prevail on any responsible government to allow the court system to do what it was set up to do. I share the concern of many peace loving Liberians to pressure the government to investigate the crimes of the 1990s and early 2000s but putting fire on a turtle before it moves does not strengthen my faith in the Government of Liberia as the government of the people, for the people and by the people that must lead with justice in its wings. The fact that such dispensation of justice is indispensible as we pull ourselves up by the bootstraps from years of senseless wars, oppression and mismanagement makes the case even more compelling.

It therefore becomes unimportant if not irrelevant whether when justice is served, the blind will receive their sight, the cripple will walk, the dumb will begin to speak instantly and the entire country will begin to speak with one voice. Great if all these things are realized but if that is not the case, so what? Never have we tied justice to healing and reconciliation and there is no reason why those two should be prerequisites to the fair treatment of all under the law. It has never been our prerogative to decide on who to be prosecuted before empowering our court system to do its job and so we must not waste time on determining who to be brought to justice before seeking justice.

Do we have to identify benefits before rendering justice that we long ago resolved must prevail? I wonder what benefits those who have been killed stand to gain if we fail to bring their killers to justice. Or is it just about us, the ones lucky to stay alive that must derive healing and reconciliation benefits before pleading the cases of our brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, friends and neighbors… who were killed even though they did nothing to deserve death and other forms of brutalities? If I, Dennis Tanneh-Chewlae Jah must benefit spiritually or otherwise before talking for Papah, Yee, Teacha Carter, Buster, Karwloteh, the baby who was fed to Adrian the crocodile… or taking their killers to court, then my life, my education and the privileges I enjoy have no meaning.

A war crime court may bring healing or not – I don’t want to know. Will my child earn a PhD or write a book or perform a heart surgery or earn a decent living when I send her to school? Maybe yes, maybe not; but why should that concern me as a factor that should propel me in sending her to school? Just as we don’t think about what our children will become before registering them in Pre-school or ABC because education is a proven system, the same way we need not be cynical about the end result of the court system before advocating for justice.

Call it a war crime court, a war crime tribunal, circuit court, truth court, Supreme Court or what ever name one may call it, the need for justice for the weak and the strong, the powerful and the powerless, male and female, young and old… has never been a point of controversy or relentless uncertainty. Timely and fair court actions against the great evil and organized crimes perpetrated against our country and people for over a decade must not be lost in endless discussions and intellectual discourses of what the outcome may be or for a well founded fear that when we pull rope, rope will pull bush. If in the rendering of justice to all regardless of who or what is involved, rope is pulled or healing and reconciliation become illusive, so what? The fact that justice will be done should be our ultimate goal and end of discussion.

We all may not be aware of or understood what Aristotle meant when he said “in justice is all virtues found in sum,” but we may have heard what Dr. King said that “Justice denied anywhere diminishes justice everywhere.” If we with our actions or deeds deny justice to the victims of the fifteen year barbarism in our country because we are unsure such will bring healing or reconciliation, we may as well forget about talking about justice anywhere and anytime. We are just a bunch of cowards and self-seeking “chop-sleep” and hypocrites.

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