LIBERIA – The Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives of Liberia, Jonathan Fornati Koffa has acquiesced in the establishment of a war and economic crimes court for Liberia. Deputy Speaker Koffa told Liberian Journalist Lyndon Ponnie in an exclusive interview recently that the country can not heal and move forward as long as people who bear the greatest responsibility for the carnage in Liberia continue to roam.
I have expressed my support for the court a long time ago, he told the interviewer.
Cllr. Koffa stated that he supports accountability for those who bear the greatest responsibility for what happened in our national crisis.
The Grand Kru County Representative pointed out that he favors the International Criminal Court taking charge of the prosecution situation for war and economic crimes in the country. Even though he recognizes that there are people who are claiming Liberia did not accede in the Rome Convention at the time the crimes were committed or that the court was already established before the crimes were committed, Cllr. Koffa insists that even if the ICC does have jurisdiction over the war crimes aspect, it does have jurisdiction over tortures and other international crimes committed during the Liberian civil wars.
The Grand Kru Lawmaker reasoned that his purpose for supporting an international trial for the Liberian situation is because he believes a homegrown process will be long, difficult, and complicated. He also disclosed that he’s of the feeling that there is no political will to do so.
Deputy Speaker Koffa said if this process is not pushed to the international level, it will be hard to get the Court underway locally; because you are going to be in a more complicated environment.
To localize the court process will be long and difficult, he said, pointing out that from what he has read from the statute, this is a special court and is a court with final jurisdiction. He added that the problem with that is the Liberian Constitution provides that the Supreme Court is indeed the final arbiter of justice in the country; and in order to make that decision final, you will have to hold a constitutional referendum.
Another reason for which he supports the ICC taking over the process, according to Deputy Speaker Koffa is that there is an infrastructure problem. “Do we have the facilities and security to indict, arrest and hold war crimes suspect until at such time they are tried and sentenced? And if they are tried and sentenced, do we have the facilities to keep them for the duration of their sentence?”, the Deputy Speaker rhetorically asked.
According Cllr. Koffa, another reason for wanting to take the process international is the issue of whether Liberia has the expertise-the capacity of the lawyers and judges to prosecute defendants and adjudge those defendants.
Those are some of the reasons Deputy Speaker says he wants an international touch to the war crimes situation in Liberia. ” So if you go the local routes, it will be a long process because we have to put all those things in place before we issue the first indictment.”
But the Liberian Legislator also supports another process-the Hybrid Court. By their nature, hybrid hearings involve some element of video transmission outside of the courtroom where the judges and some participants are physically present, with the permission of the court.
Like in the Sierra Leonean situation, Cllr Koffa said, a hearing on the Liberian war crimes can be set up outside of the country. “If you go a hybrid like what was done in Sierra Leone where the International community comes in and says we recognize that war crimes took place in Liberia therefore we will create a court that sits in other countries, and we will indict, and try these Liberian war crimes defendants and that the International community incarcerates if they are found guilty, will do. I favor that. I think that is the best approach and belief that’s best suited for Liberia”, he said.
The Deputy Speaker says It is not easy to set up laws to try locally simply because of the configuration of the legislature. He indicated that the process will not be free of politics. “There will be a lot of lobbying for those who do not want to see it; and furthermore, some people will even see it as very divisive”, he continued.
It will be a difficult process if it is solely localized. If we are capable to do a homegrown court, we would have done that a long time ago, he said. We do not have the political will and do not think we have the number to be able to move the legislation., according to Cllr. Koffa.
Even though over 50 legislators issued a joint petition the other time in favor of a war crimes court, but the deputy speaker thinks there will be a fallout along the way.
He states that economic crimes and war crimes are hands in glove, and therefore part of the same process, adding that it was an attempt to rake and pillage the nation that led to the perpetuation of the gruesome wars in the country.
“I don’t think you can prosecute war crimes without prosecuting economic crimes. Economic gains are the motivation for why these wars happened. I think this country can not heal, can not move forward as long those who brought this crisis are not brought to book”, Deputy Speaker Koffa concluded.