Amid U.S. government’s pressure:

MONROVIA – Amid pressure from the Government of the United States of America, that it would do no business with former dreaded warlord now senator of Nimba County, Prince Y. Johnson (PYJ), Senator Johnson, on Tuesday resigned his post, as chairman of the Liberian Senate’s Committee on Defense Security Intelligence and Veterans Affairs, Women Voices newspaper has reliably gathered.

Barely a day after the Senate elected the former rebel commander to its Committee on Defense Security Intelligence and Veterans Affairs, as its chair, the U.S. government through its embassy near Monrovia, released a strong-worded statement on 29 May, condemning PYJ’s election to such post.

The U.S. Embassy in its statement referred to Senator Johnson as a notorious warlord, whose gross human rights violations during Liberia’s civil wars the U.S. Embassy said are well-documented.

On Christmas Eve 1989, including PYJ, rebel forces of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) loyal to jailed former Liberian president Charles Taylor ruthlessly shot their way into Liberia, beginning a senseless civil war that lasted over a decade and claimed approximately 250,000 lives, displaced thousands others, and destroyed tons of private and public properties.

Initially, a member of the NPFL, PYJ would later break away and formed his Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL), and go on to capture, torture, and butcher publicly to death, slain ex-president Samuel K. Doe.

The U.S. Embassy indicated that PYJ’s continued efforts to protect himself from accountability, enrich his own coffers and sow division are also well known, noting that since the Liberian Senate would see fit to elevate the former founder and leader of the erstwhile INPFL to a leadership role – particularly in the area in which he has done Liberia what the Embassy described as the most harm – creates doubts as to the seriousness of the Senate as a steward of Liberia’s defense and security. 

“The U.S. government is proud of our longstanding partnership with the Ministry of National Defense and Armed Forces of Liberia which will continue – but we can have no relationship with Senator Johnson,” the Embassy stressed in its statement.

The U.S. Embassy also noted as well, the continuation of Counselor Varney Sherman, sanctioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury for corruption involving judicial bribery, as chair of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Human Rights, Claims and Petitions, indicating that by giving both Johnson and Sherman these leadership roles, the Liberian Senate is effectively ensuring that corruption and lack of accountability flourish.

In another U.S. Embassy statement arising from a meeting between U.S. Ambassador Michael McCarthy on one hand and Liberia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Maxwell Kemayah and members of the Liberian Senate Foreign Affairs Committee on the other, the U.S. government again, on 1 June, urged that Liberian senators address perceptions of corruption in the legislature and to ensure that investments made in Liberia’s peace, security and development are sustained.  

Last month, U.S. lawmakers through the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission held a hearingon the proposal to establish a War and Economic Crimes Court for Liberia, something which successive Liberian administrations have failed over the years to do since the end of the internecine gun battles in the country.

Formerly the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission is a bipartisan caucus of the United States House of Representatives. Its stated mission is “to promote, defend and advocate internationally recognized human rights norms in a nonpartisan manner, both within and outside of Congress, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant human rights instruments.”

On 21 May, the Commission held a hearingon the proposal to establish a tribunal for Liberia to prosecute perpetrators of war and economic crimes, with the Commission indicating that for the past few decades, Liberians have suffered untold human rights violations while perpetrators acted with near-complete impunity during the country’s multiple civil wars.

The Commission recalls that between 1989 and 2003, 250,000 Liberians died from the bloody internecine gun battles that ensued, and thousands more were conscripted as child soldiers, raped, suffered loss of limb, and other traumatic experiences, adding that “since that time, not a single war crimes trial has occurred in Liberia as part of the country’s judicial process.”

According to the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, in recent years, the momentum has increased for the establishment of a War Crimes & Economic Crimes Court for Liberia to help redress the wounds of the country’s civil war, but its creation is far from being certain despite the recommendations of the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 2009 and continuous pressure from grassroots groups throughout Liberia.

The Commission accuses President George Manneh Weah of back peddling on the establishment for Liberia, a court to prosecute war and economic crimes, noting that the Liberian President “has equivocated with regard to the court’s creation, backsliding from earlier support during his campaign for president.”

The hearing examined the legacy of Liberia’s civil wars on its people and economy, the structure and likely policy implications of a proposed War Crimes & Economic Crimes Court for Liberia, and grassroots efforts to secure rule of law in the country and meet victims’ needs.

The hearing was hosted by two co-chairpersons of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, Congressmen Christopher H. Smith and James P. McGovern, with four witnesses including the former chairman of Liberia’s TRC, Jerome V. Verdier, who is now Executive Director of the International Justice Group; Ysyndi Martin-Kepyei, Executive Director of the Movement for Justice in Liberia (MOJUL); Michael Mueller, Chairman of the Global Initiative for Justice; and  Dr. Alan W. White, former Chief of Investigations, Special Court for Sierra Leone, all give testimonies.

Howbeit, on Tuesday 6 July, which marked his 69th birth anniversary, Senator Johnson, on the Liberian Senate’s 46th day sitting of the 4th Session of the 54th Legislature, tendered his resignation from the chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Defense Security Intelligence and Veterans Affairs.

Women Voices has confirmed that the Plenary of the Senate accepted PYJ’s resignation and thanked the Nimba Senator for his services rendered while serving in that role. Senator Johnson was conspicuously absent from Tuesday’s Session of the Senate.

Meanwhile, Senate President Pro Tempore, Grand Kru County Senator Albert T. Chie, as presiding officer of the Liberian Senate has appointed in place of PYJ, Lofa County Senator Stephen J.H. Zargo, as acting chairman, and Nimba County Senator Jeremiah K. Koung as acting vice-chair for the Senate’s Committee on Defense Security Intelligence and Veterans Affairs.

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