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A Response to Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf: Presidential aspirant or war criminal?

I have not made up my mind completely about which candidate I would vote for were I not in the predicament of being in the US and not being able to afford two trips, back to back, to Liberia to register and then vote.

However, I deplore people who write op-ed in the guise of true and unbiased news reporting. Ms. Johns, it is obvious that you are biased against Ms. Sirleaf's candidacy. It appears that you feel that she, like Charles Taylor is a war criminal. Let us not forget that when Charles Taylor started the war , through its progression, and up to his final victory, most Liberians were happy to see someone come in with an iron fist and put an end to the bloodshed. Further, the atrocious things that Charles Taylor did towards the middle and end of his regime was not, I am certain, supported by Mrs. Sirleaf. Mrs. Sirleaf, like most wise men/women, made a turnaround to Charles Taylor once she realized that much of what he was doing was not beneficial to the revitalization of Liberia.

Having known Mrs. Sirleaf while growing up and through many years of my adult work life, I can vouch that she is a fair and well meaning individual. I may not like some of her personal tactics but then does anyone of us like everything about one individual? I would think not.

Would you classify the new Pope, Pope Benedict XVI as a Nazi today because he was conscripted into one of Adolph Hitler's youth group? The world body of cardinals did not and elected him Pope. Mrs. Sirleaf's situation is not the same but there are some similarities. We can recognize mistakes of the past and when it becomes obvious that the road we are travelling is fraught with obstacles and leading to hell, it is the wise man that chooses another path.

Let us refrain from destroying the integrity of the few good remaining Liberian leaders as a means to promoting our own writing / journalistic ends. When writing articles like this one about Mrs. Sirleaf, make sure that you and others state emphatically that they are "personal opinions/opinion editorials (op/ed)". That disclaimer will do a lot in furthering your credibility and career.

Julius L. Weeks

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf: Presidential aspirant or war criminal?

By Bendu Koryon

I read with interest, Madame Johnson-Sirleaf's "sincere" apology to the Liberian people. I continue to ponder upon the sincerity of the apology. Should we Liberians show profound gratitude for an apology, which I deem at best lackadaisical? If sincere in her apology, should that apology not have been said in Liberia, to the people who most suffered during our civil conflict? Why did she have to come to the United States in order to find the courage to address an issue on which she had denied culpability so many times? Could she not look into the faces of the still suffering masses and utter these words? Does Madame think that the vote of the masses is so unimportant that they do not warrant an apology on their own soil? I sincerely hope that Madame understands that the lack of education is not the same as ignorance. The Liberian people are not stupid!!! They deserve an apology from Madame on their own soil. In her act of purging, Madame Johnson-Sirleaf also admitted aiding Mr. Charles Taylor in the early stages of the war. I found this statement to be the most profound statement made by Madame Johnson-Sirleaf.

In her admittance of aid to Mr. Taylor, indicted war criminal, Madame Johnson-Sirleaf has implicated herself as a coconspirator. Let's look at hypothetical Liberia in March 2006. Madame Johnson-Sirleaf is president (please know that this is just a make believe scenario). President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria is now ready to turn Charles Taylor over to the new democratically elected government in Liberia to face trial. Now I ask you, will Madame carry out the mandate to prosecute Mr. Taylor, having previously admitted being his coconspirator? I think not!!! I now bring you back to present day May 2005. I would like to take an in depth look at the definition of war crimes and war criminals.

Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention defines war crimes as: Willful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, including… willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement of a protected person, compelling a protected person to serve in the forces of a hostile power….

The statutes of The Hague tribunal (the international court of justice) say the court has the right to try suspects alleged to have violated the laws or customs of war. Examples of such violations are given as:

  • Wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity
  • Attack, or bombardment, by whatever means, of undefended towns, villages, dwellings, or buildings
  • Seizure of, destruction or willful damage done to institutions dedicated to religion, charity and education, the arts and sciences, historic monuments and works of art and science
  • Plunder of public or private property.

The tribunal defines crime against humanity as crimes committed in armed conflict but directed against a civilian population. Examples of these are given as:

  • Murder
  • Extermination
  • Enslavement
  • Deportation
  • Imprisonment
  • Torture
  • Rape
  • Persecutions on political, racial and religious grounds

War Crimes are basically divided into two broad categories. The first are called crimes against peace. Crimes against peace include the planning, preparation, or initiation of a war of aggression. The second category is called crimes against humanity; this would include crimes against civilians and soldiers.

Please check off on this list anything you think may have happened in Liberia in the past two decades. Was there anything left off the list? I did not think so! If Mr. Taylor were to be charged with any of these crimes and brought to trial, it would seem to me that the trial should involve all of his coconspirators also. The special court in Sierra Leone was given the power to prosecute persons who have committed and 'bear the greatest responsibility' for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international humanitarian law. If Mr. Taylor is to be brought to justice under this court, then the "other" persons must include all of those misguided members of the then Association for Constitutional Democracy, Madame Johnson-Sirleaf included.

This is important because at the heart of the concept of war crimes, is the idea that an individual can be held responsible for the actions of a country or a nation's soldiers. Madame Johnson-Sirleaf has admitted that she was one of the persons who put money into the hands of Mr. Taylor to buy guns that (in her own words) indiscriminately killed thousands of innocent Liberians. If this is true, then how can an admitted coconspirator of war crimes embolden herself to run for the highest office in the land? Is she above the law? Does she think that the Liberian people are too ignorant to understand the intricacies of international law? I say again that the Liberian people are not stupid; we know all those who are responsible for the destruction of our beloved country. We will bring all these people to justice, presidential aspirants not withstanding. We will prove to the world that justice is not just a word, that it is real.

As a Liberian, I cannot close my eyes, cover my ears or remain silent. I must speak for the tens of thousands of Liberians who lost their lives in our civil conflict, a conflict for which Madame Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf bears responsibility. I must ask the question: Has Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf committed war crimes in regards to aiding Mr. Taylor with money to buy guns which were used to conduct a war on our people? The answer is a resounding YES!!! We must bring Mr. Taylor, Ms. Johnson-Sirleaf and all of their cronies to justice. We must reveal their criminal conduct to all of Africa and the world. We must repudiate this criminal conduct and let the world know that Liberia and Africa will no longer accept it. To do this, we must enforce findings of the International Criminal Court by bringing war criminals to justice, wherever they are and whomever they are, presidential aspirants notwithstanding. Ms. Johnson-Sirleaf has expressed regret at the indiscriminate killings of Liberians and other foreign nationals by Mr. Taylor's forces and has expressed the hope that Liberians can begin an era of national healing and genuine reconciliation. I say that this era will not soon be upon us until Madame Johnson-Sirleaf takes full responsibility for her part in the "indiscriminate killings" as she calls it.

Madame has spoken of her clear agenda to see Liberia renewed. She has said that our country can start again and together we can do it. I say to Madame Johnson-Sirleaf that we can indeed start again, but, not with her. We do not need a war criminal at the helm of a new Liberia. Our agenda (the Liberian people) is clear: prosecute all war criminals and conspirators, regardless of who they are. We'd like to see Liberia start again with those responsible for the slaughter of our people brought to justice. Would this not include the presidential aspirant Madame Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf?

The writer who is a Member of the Concerned Group of Liberian Commentators Worldwide (CGLCW), lives partly in Liberia and the UK and can be reached through Mardea Johns at mardeajohns@hotmail.com


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