Liberia and Impunity

Mamos Media

Lekpele M. Nyamalon

By Lekpele M. Nyamalon 

Monrovia- Each time we remember the atrocities of war, we prick the conscience of the perpetrators, thereby ensuring that it does not happen again. To ignore or forget is to set them loose, thereby cultivating a cycle of impunity. 

I witnessed the Liberian Civil war not as a passive and privileged commentator, but as a child who lived through the burnt and ashes of war, endured the nightmares and have a scar of honor as a war survivor.  In 1990, we were enroute to the St. Peter’s Lutheran Church (our family parish) for refuge, but stayed one night short of our journey when soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia stormed the edifice under the cover of darkness and committed one of the most heinous atrocities recorded in our nation’s history.

In 1994, my family and I survived a brutal massacre at the Phebe Hospital and School of Nursing in Suakoko, Bong County, by the skin of the teeth  when fighters of the erstwhile ULIMO-K 

(headed by Alhaji GV Kromah), and a splinter group of the notorious NPFL (Charles Taylor) dubbed them ‘bandits’, took turns to attack the compound of the Phebe Hospital, committing murders in their paths. The ‘bandits’ led a team of disgruntled soldiers on the compound of Phebe Hospital and the Cuttington University, killing scores of medical workers, a University lecturer at Cuttington and other innocent civilians.  How do we ignore the scars of war and pretend like they never happened? 

One of the single biggest mishaps of the Liberian Nation since the end of the civil war is the perpetration of the culture of Impunity. We don’t look to a place where there would be no transgression or injustice or corruption, but we have to get to a place where impunity would belong to the dustbin of history.

A few months ago, a member of the House of Representatives, Dr. George Boley, leader of the erstwhile LPC- “ Liberia Peace Council”  (warring faction) burst into flames when he was allegedly ‘provoked’ by another member of the house, Rep. Dixon Seboe on allegation of war crimes. 

A few days ago, Senator Prince Johnson, leader of the erstwhile INPFL (warring faction) angrily stormed out of senate session for being allegedly ‘provoked’ by another colleague, Senator Darius Dillion for the mention of war crimes court. Both men, Representative Boley and Senator Johnson called separate press conferences to defend their roles and resorted to the usual rendition of justification of their acts in combat and claim to have done nothing wrong. The Truth and Reconciliation Public hearings were a show of grandstanding by leaders of warring factions claiming their innocence to the dismay of helpless victims. 

It is noteworthy to mention that both Rep. Seboe and Sen. Dillion are members of Liberia’s bicameral legislature and have the power to use the law to setup a Court of War Crimes to investigate the roles of warlords during the civil war. Let them use that!  Some members of the Liberian citizenry also, unfortunately, continually support the actions of their kins, i.e. supporters of Alhaji Kromah, George Boley, Prince Johnson, Thomas Yaya Nimely, George Dweh (deceased) Roosevelt Johnson (deceased) Sekou Damante Konneh, Charles Taylor, et al play a double standard in support of their kind due to ethno-political leanings or the Stockholm syndrome. 

I was six years old when the civil war began in 1989 and every living memory of the civil war is etched freshly as yesterday and the only sane approach to true national healing and recovery is the line of the end of impunity. Those who took up arms in defense of ‘their people’ and committed atrocities in their wake should own up to their roles not just for today but for posterity. This will ensure we breed a generation of new Liberians far removed from the use of arms to settle conflicts and governments should not abuse the institutions of Democracy and should not desecrate the institutions that protect the rule of law.  Since the end of the Liberian Civil war, the nation has failed to go on a mental retreat and take a step back and look at what happened and why did they happen. We have, perhaps, let the nation down by failing to have a mental postcard of reflections. This would put us in a state of general reflection that the path to anarchy was birthed in misrule and abuse of power, political corruption and the lack of civic accountability, thus breeding insurrection. When the dust settles after anarchy, those who violated the laws of armed conflicts need to answer, make the ultimate sacrifice and step aside. The call for a war crimes court for Liberia is a genuine attempt to allow perpetrators and victims to come to a place of closure. This is not a political proxy war and should not be used or viewed as such. The need to bring to closure the experiences of the civil war is inevitably the only way we can truly progress as a nation. There are untold stories of people who have never recovered from the scars of war and they look forward to seeing a place where the villains are not the victors, as is the case of Liberia. 

In 2020, I was asked to sit on the board of the Lutheran Church Massacre Survivors Association and to  deliver the  keynote address to members of the Lutheran Church Massacre Survivors and told them to “Get up, take up your mat and walk,” using the scripture of St. John 5:1-8. Using the story of Jesus and the man considered as an invalid who could not walk but Jesus said to him, Get up, take up your mat and walk. How do they get up, pick up their mats and walk? They need closure to those experiences and get up and walk. 

To paraphrase a Liberian psycho-social counselor, Ernest Garnark Smith, Jr, who worked with the TRC psycho-social counseling component, the Liberian Nation lags far behind in the area of mental health rehabilitation as a spillover of the civil war. The sooner we close the gap, the closer we are to full healing as a country. I hope members of the legislature can muster the courage, use the law and bring the court. The Court is not a prison but a place for warlords to clear their names, if they can.

Source Daily Observer.

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