After weeks of consultation with major stakeholders, including legal practitioners, politicians and civil society actors, the Liberian Senate has submitted a report to President George Weah on its recommendation on the implementation of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
They advised the President that a Special Economic Crimes Court should not be established to prosecute companies, institutions or individuals who have allegedly committed economic crimes during the civil crisis.
However, since such economic crimes are national or domestic, not international, they could have been prosecuted in courts, such as Criminal Court “C” or First Judicial Circuit Court, which are already in existence in the country. The apparently inescapable legal hurdle is the limitation period of five years for the prosecution of these crimes as proven by the Criminal Procedure Law. How will this hurdle be overcome?
At the same time, the Senate stated that while it believes that those who committed crimes should not go with impunity, it remains conscious about the constitutional and other legal inhibitions to establishing a war crimes court on Liberian soil.
The Senate urged President Weah to take into consideration that the Constitution provides the Supreme Court has the final appellate jurisdiction in cases of both law and facts, except cases involving ambassadors, ministers, or where a county is a party and that the Legislature is prohibited by the Constitution from enacting any law that would deprive the Supreme Court of its powers.
Meanwhile, the Senate also presented other constitutional issues to the President, which include the effect of the August 2003 Act of the Legislature, which granted general amnesty from all civil and criminal liabilities to all persons who participated in the civil crisis from December 1989 to August 2003:
The effect of Article 21(a) of the Liberian Constitution, which prohibits the enactment of ex post facto laws and how this provision could be reconciled with a repeal of the August 2003 general amnesty law;
The effect of Article 97 of the Constitution, which granted amnesty for all acts done or offenses committed during the regime of the People’s Redemption Council (1980 to 1985), particularly when the TRC recommended retributive justice to be carried out as far back as January, 1979;
The effect of Article 2 of the Constitution, which provides, among other things, that treaties found to be inconsistent with the Constitution shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void and of no legal effect;
Section 4.2 of the Criminal Procedure Law, which provides for a time limitation of five (5) years to prosecute felonies (the economic crimes) in light of the fact that the Liberian Government became aware of these economic crimes latest in 2009 when the TRC Final Report was published.
In a the letter to the President the Senate states, “As representatives of the Liberian people, the Senate is also concerned about the desire and will of the people, especially in light of the Survey Report, commissioned by the TRC, which reveals that majority of the Liberian people at the time preferred restorative justice instead of retributive justice. Has this desire and will of the Liberian people changed?”
The Senate remains firm on the establishment of the Transitional Justice Commission (TJC), which they advised must be legislated into law to determine why the TRC Recommendations have not been fully and timely implemented and to propose solutions to the removal of impediments to the successful implementation of said recommendations.
In a July 19, 2021 letter addressed to President Weah, the Senate indicated that the TJS will also examine the effect of the August 2003 Act of the Legislature, which granted general amnesty to all participants in the civil crisis.
The Senate informed the President it would be cardinal for the Transitional Justice Commission to inquire into and advise how the recommendations of the TRC Final Report can be implemented without violating the constitutional rights of anybody or any institution, including the Supreme Court.