Catholic Church Wants a War Crimes Court for Lawless Fighters

( [email protected] ) Nov 21, 2003 07:56 AM EST

The Liberian Catholic Church founded Justice and Peace Commission (JPC) has said a war crimes court should be established to prosecute armed Liberian groups for gross human rights abuses committed after the signing of the country's peace agreement on 18 August in Ghana.

Francese Johnson-Morris, head of the JPC, told reporters on Wednesday that the need for such a court had been prompted by constant reports of harassment, torture and rape by fighters of the second rebel group, the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL).

Many of the atrocities were being committed in the port city of Buchanan 120 km southeast of the capital, Monrovia. Some were being committed elsewhere too, she said.

As an example, Johnson-Morris, who was chief justice of Liberia from 1996-1997, said the JPC had been informed that MODEL fighters raped a 12-year old girl and a 72-year old woman in District Four in upper Grand Bassa on 9 November.

In another incident, MODEL fighters on 11 November reportedly raped a girl at the Bassa High School campus in Buchanan

Another incident took place on 13 November, when MODEL fighters in Buchanan tortured five residents of the city after allegations that they were thieves.

"The need for a war crimes tribunal over a Truth and Reconciliation Commission is becoming ever increasingly imperative, as the surest way of addressing these flagrantly horrendous human rights abuses," she said

Johnson-Morris said that continuous harassment and torture of citizens in Bong and Nimba Counties was also continuing in a way that was "unwarranted and unacceptable".

Bong is controlled by Liberia's bigger rebel group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), while former government militias, LURD and MODEL fighters all share control of parts of the northern Nimba county.

Liberia's peace agreement signed by the three warring factions- the former government of president Charles Taylor, LURD, MODEL, along with political parties and representatives of civil society, calls for total respect of human rights.

It calls for the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission "to provide a forum that will address issues of impunity, as well as an opportunity for both the victims and perpetrators of human rights violations to share their experiences, in order to get a clear picture of the past to facilitate genuine healing and reconciliation."

The agreement mandates such a commission to "deal with the root causes of the crises in Liberia, including human rights violations."

"We are interested in a war crimes court because of the recalcitrant attitude and unwillingness of the warlords to respect the comprehensive Accra peace accord," Johnson-Morris added.

However, MODEL's Commanding General, Kai Farley, told IRIN on Thursday the allegations by the JPC were not true. He described Johnson-Morris's statements as "negative propaganda to tarnish his organization's image", adding "JPC cannot prove these allegations".

"It completely false that our fighters were involved in rape. As far as the incident in Compound 4 is concerned, I personally interviewed the fighter involved and he admitted to me that he is a fighter of the former government and not from MODEL," Kai Farley said.

Last week, UN Secretary General's Deputy Special Representative to Liberia, Souren Saradayrian, warned Liberian warring parties that there would be no amnesty for crimes against humanity after Liberia had ratified the Convention on the International Criminal Court on 8 October.