Adama Dempster, a long-time human rights defender and Secretary General of Civil Society Human Rights Advocacy Platform of Liberia, attended the African Human Rights Leaders Summit, on the eve of President Joseph Biden’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C. 13-15 December 2022. “War crimes [justice] is a huge part of my work,” Adama Dempster said on the sidelines of the Summit.
He expressed this viewpoint that, while the number of people who suffered from war crimes in Sierra Leone is less than those who suffered the same plight in Liberia, Liberia should have been further along in achieving justice for victims.” In Washington, Dempster was seeking answers on the sidelines of the U.S-Africa Leaders Summit, and urging increased backing for a war crimes court of law to be set up in Liberia.
On Liberian soil, no-one has yet been tried for war crimes from the two consecutive civil wars waged in Liberia. Dempster is working towards the establishment of a war crimes court inside Liberia. While there have been a few, recent successes in U.S. and European courts, Dempster stands by his perspective that the perpetrators of the heinous war crimes against innocent Liberians ought to be tried in a Liberian war crimes court to restore hope for the people of Liberia.
On the second day of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, U.S. Ambassador Beth Van Schaack, who is the Ambassador-at-large for Global Criminal Justice, released an open letter from the U.S. Department of State to the people of Liberia addressing calls by human rights activists like Dempster, and other groups, who long have been calling for justice for victims and their surviving families and friends to hold accountable the those responsible for war crimes and war-related atrocities in Liberia. Among other things, she highlighted that, “a suit was filed in the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on behalf of the survivors of the massacre at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church. The basic claim: that Liberia has failed to provide victims justice.” Ambassador Van Schaack applauded the efforts of Liberians who, rigorously, reliably, and with unwavering integrity worked to keep the dream of justice alive. ” For Dempster, Liberian activists, and the international human rights community against war crimes, much more needs to be done.
At the African Human Rights Leaders Summit, Dempster was a panelist on a Human Rights Promotion and Protection: What Work and What is Needed discussion in Washington, at which former First Lady of Mozambique, Graça Machel, gave a keynote address. It was focused on spotlighting “effective tools and tactics in promoting and protecting human rights and how the US government and US civil society can better support them. They will discuss practical examples of collaborations and successful projects,” according to the event hosts. It was sponsored by Humanity United, Human Rights Watch, John Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, Amnesty International, and Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED). Adama Dempster is known for being adept at presenting war crimes arguments for the court in media and in international forums, including with emphasizing the crucial role the U.S. could play.
For activists in Washington during the Summits, one question remained unanswered: Why support war crimes justice for Sierra Leone, Ukraine, and other countries and be less vocal about war crimes justice for Liberia? For now, victims continue to wait for a war crimes court on Liberian soil.
Pearl Matibe is a Washington, DC-based foreign correspondent, and media commentator with expertise on U.S. foreign policy and international security. You may follow her on Twitter: @PearlMatibe