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Liberia: UN Receives Boakai’s Letter Requesting War and Economic Crimes Courts Support As Major Donors Express Concern Over Process for Appointment of Courts Chief

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Monrovia — President Joseph Boakai has taken the first step in inviting international support for the establishment of Liberia’s War and Economic Crimes Courts by sending a letter to António Guterres, the United Nations Secretary General, requesting financial and technical assistance for the courts. Requesting UN support is a crucial part of making the courts a reality.

The Secretary General’s office confirmed to Front Page Africa/New Narratives that the letter had been received on May 9. “We have shared it with the relevant department for the appropriate action/response,” Mr. Guterres’ office said in an email to FrontPage Africa/New Narratives.

But President Boakai has not publicly acknowledged sending the letter to the UN. Presidential Press Secretary Kula Fofana did not respond to multiple requests seeking confirmation of the letter.

The president’s failure to confirm the letter had been sent has angered court supporters.

“I support the War Crimes Court 100 percent, but I don’t like the games they are playing,” said John Morlu, a former head of the General Audit Commission under President Sirleaf who was influential in helping to bring the Boakai-led government to power but fell out with the government alleging poor anti-corruption policies.

“Tell Joseph Boakai to make his letter to the UN public,” said Massa Washington, an ex-commissioner of Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission(TRC), via WhatsApp. “This process must be transparent every step of the way.”

In a copy of the letter, seen by FrontPage Africa/New Narratives, President Boakai told the UN the country can no longer wait for justice.

“We need to bring justice to the victims and healing for the nation by trying those responsible for the most heinous crimes at a tribunal like that of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, allowing for prosecution under international law and international standards. It is my hope that the UN and the international community can assist the people of Liberia in bringing to justice those responsible for such grave crimes.”

“I am convinced, Mr. Secretary General, that the establishment of the War and Economic Crimes Court for Liberia will serve as deterrent to impunity and will contribute to the promotion of the rule of law, peace and sustained development not only in Liberia but also in the West Africa sub-region.”

Before the UN confirmed receipt of the letter two major international donors told Front Page Africa/New Narratives that they were concerned that the Boakai administration did not consult widely with Liberian civil society organizations, victims and legal experts in last month’s appointment of Jonathan Massaquoi to head the Office of the War and Economics Crimes Courts.

The donors spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter. The appointment has been met with widespread condemnation by civil society and victims for the failure to consult with them and vet candidates. That has also concerned donors who said the courts must be led by Liberians with full trust in the process by the public and victims.

The donors’ criticism of the process is particularly concerning because the government of Liberia will only be able to foot a small share of the overall bill for the courts. The UN will call on the international community to donate the majority of the bill that could total tens of millions of dollars. The Special Court for Sierra Leone cost $US350m.

Civil society activists said the lack of transparency in the letter to the UN and the appointment process of Mr. Massaquoi will continue to undermine trust in the government’s commitment to the courts. Most continue to demand Mr. Massaquoi’s appointment was rescinded.

“I think the UN will be looking for a much more detailed and concrete commitment from the Liberian government as a prerequisite to committing the support of the UN,” said Hassan Bility, a leading justice advocate, by WhatsApp. “Liberia needs to consult with civil society, the Liberian National Bar Association, victim groups and the diplomatic community and make the appointment through a vetting process. The appointed individual must be someone with a clear understanding of the TRC, the Liberian human rights community, both at home and abroad.”

Mr. Bility said the government should make the first financial commitment to the court itself immediately no matter how small. Massaquoi has not responded to repeated requests for comment.

By FrontPageAfrica.

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