The Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) said President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will have to testify before it. The Commission was set up
to investigate the root causes of the Liberian civil war and the subsequent
human rights violations and corruption and economic crimes that might have been
committed between 1979 and 2003.
It has been alleged by some who testified before
the Commission that President Sirleaf, before she was elected president, played
a role in the conduct of Charles Taylor’s war efforts. Last month, the
president did not show up to testify before the commission as she had promised.
But Justice Minister Phillip Banks has
written a legal opinion to President Sirleaf advising her not to testify on
John Stewart, a member of the Truth Commission told VOA the
commission has made clear to Justice Minister Banks that the President Sirleaf must
does cite constitutional provisions, but those constitutional provisions are
irrelevant in the case on hand because those constitutional provisions he’s
citing, Article 61of the Constitution talked about the incumbency of the
president. But we are talking about a period of review that predates the ascendancy
of President Sirleaf to the office of the president of the Republic of
Liberia,” he said.
In his legal opinion to President Sirleaf,
dated September 2, 2008, Justice Minister Banks cited Article 61 of the
Liberian Constitution as a reason for which the president should not testify
before the commission.
Article states that “The President shall be immune from any suits, actions or
proceedings, judicial or otherwise, and from arrest, detention or other actions
on account of any act done by him while president of Liberia pursuant to any
provision of this Constitution or any other laws of the Republic.”
its response, the TRC told the justice minister, “We refute the substance of
your communication, reject its premise, rationale and conclusion and all its
legal, moral or political foundations. Your opinion, stretching the limits of
Article 61 of the Constitution of Liberia to include the LTRC, a non-judicial,
truth-seeking, reconciliation and peace building institution, advising the
exclusion of the President of Liberia’s testimony from the LTRC process on
matters unrelated to her presidency from 1979 to 2003, is, in the least,
disappointing and appears analogous to and indistinguishable from dishonesty,”
the Truth Commission said.
said the Commission also told the justice minister that President Sirleaf had
earlier publically volunteered to testify before the commission, and that the
President has again said she would testify before the commission.
said to him that President Sirleaf has not only on several occasions publically
pledged her commitment of support to the Truth Commission but also her
commitment to appear before the commission and testify. And even in the face
his advisory opinion, the president did write a letter saying she would appear
anyhow, meaning that she of course will not give heed to his persuasion. She
was a player in the political life of this country, and we believe that she must
appear to testify,” Stewart said.
month, President Sirleaf did not show up to testify before the commission as
she had promised she would.
said this time around the Commission would determine when and how the President
can appear to testify.
we have said is that we have extended our public hearings up to February in
order to accommodate those who have not yet testified and who need to testify.
Additionally, there is cut off period, and the President is fully aware that
there is a cut off period, and any time between now and that cut off period she
can select and we would be pleased to have her,” Stewart said.
his legal advisory, Justice Minister Banks told President Sirleaf that some
members of the Truth Commission would use her appearance before the commission
to ridicule her and the office of the presidency.
said members of the commission were disappointed by the justice minister’s comments.
personally and my colleagues feel that the justice minister has made some
allegations in his advisory opinion to the President, some of them are very
serious, and we asked him to substantiate those allegations and the decent to
do is to apologize,” Stewart said.
said the justice minister’s comments reminded members of the commission of
Liberia’s past during which individuals shielded the President from the public
good with ill-conceived advice, illegal opinions that place the President above