In the Book of Proverbs 29:7, God said, “The righteous care about justice for the poor”. The poor victims of the Liberian civil war need justice!
Rev. Dr. Calvin Butts
Bishop of the Abyssinian Baptist Church
132 Odell Clark Place
New York, NY 10030
Dear Reverend Butts:
As an American-based nonviolent human rights advocacy organization, the Coalition for Justice in Liberia (CJL), advocates for justice for the victims of Liberia’s 14-year brutal civil conflict. CJL is also committed to informing and educating the American public regarding the continued fragile conditions for sustainable peace in Liberia. Given your longstanding track record as an iconic American institution known for its enviable civil rights’ record, CJL finds itself compelled to draw your attention to what may well be an unintentional misstep by your decision to provide a platform of your Sunday services to the president of Liberia, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, to speak to your congregation. We are greatly disturbed by this decision to use your pulpit, the most sacred place to preach the words of God, contaminated. We would like to use this medium to register our concerns as well as offer our perspective on the skewed, uninformed, and distorted narrative frequently presented to the American public by the western media on the Liberia civil war and the role of President Sirleaf.
First and foremost, you are aware that for nearly two decades, Liberia was ravaged by a brutal civil war that destroyed every fabric of its society. Not only were the infrastructural foundations completely wiped out, the negative consequences of the civil war produced one of the worst death tolls in human history. More than 250,000 of the country’s able-bodied citizens, including innocent women, children, youth and the elderly, who are the most vulnerable in society, lost their lives in this senseless and savage war. Included in the death tolls are five American Nuns who had provided their invaluable services to the suffering people of Liberia, but were brutally murdered by the faction sponsored by President Sirleaf, and the July 29, 1990 massacre of 600 civilians who sought refuge in a Holy Sanctuary- the Liberian Lutheran Church. What is more, the gruesome nature of this war defied human imagination: individuals were mutilated, tortured alive; children ages seven to eight years old, were abducted and drugged with illicit drugs to carry out indiscriminate killing of their neighbors; whole villages and communities were burned down and their inhabitants, including elders, children and women, were brutally killed and were buried in mass graves; pregnant women were raped and their unborn child decapitated; families were forced to witness the killing of their loved ones and engaged in forced sexual acts with their kin, and more, including near ethnic cleansing. The perpetrators of these gruesome acts of war who aided, abetted, and executed Liberia’s brutal civil war, now walk the corridors of power and have eluded justice today in Liberia, including the current president of Liberia, Madam Sirleaf.
Not surprisingly, one of the untold and underreported stories of this war, which most western media narratives have overlooked or purposely ignored is that the war was primarily conceived, planned, financed, and executed by many of the key principal actors, including Madam Sirleaf, who, ironically, today comprise the political ruling class. There exists no shortage of facts on Madam Sirleaf’s crucial involvement in the civil war, some of which have been provided by her close associates, including Mr. Charles Taylor, former President and leader of the National Patriotic Front (NPFL), recently found guilty by the World Crimes Court for his role in the Sierra Leone civil war. Furthermore, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report (TRC), provides substantial evidence on her role and involvement in the war. In addition, when she appeared on the BBC World News service in January 1990, during the early days of the rebel insurgency, she was famously quoted instructing NPFL rebels “to level down Monrovia [the capital city], we will rebuild it in 3 days”.
Undeniably, this statement emboldened the rebels to carry out indiscriminate and ruthless killing of innocent civilians. Again, when she appeared before the U.S. Congressional Subcommittee on Africa on June 19, 1990, Madam Sirleaf pitched an appeal on behalf of Charles Taylor- a fugitive wanted by the U.S. government- justifying the war as necessary, in spite of the killing, to remove Samuel Doe, the military dictator. Showing no sense of remorse for the rising death toll and prepared to sacrifice the children of Liberia to achieve her ultimate ambition, Madam Sirleaf rationalize the war in these words: “ This revolt symbolizes a civil war which encompasses regions of the country where more than two-thirds of the Liberian people live and the greatest resources are located. The people, many of them children, have joined the struggle for freedom with little more than courage and hope for the future. It is within the context that the uprising represents an opportunity for creative transformation of the Liberian landscape” (Hathi Trust Library). Clearly, the only thing “creative” about this war is the legacy of death and suffering that the Liberian people are still struggling to cope with as their murderers go unpunished for their crimes while holding offices of trust to refurbish their criminal images in America and the international community. No doubt, President Sirleaf has been skillful in manipulating the world in concealing the truth about her role in the Liberian conflict to be issued a prestigious award such as the Nobel Peace Prize and now to enter your Holy Sanctuary with innocent blood of God’s children stained on her hands. Most recently, President Sirleaf was accompanied by the ex- wife of former President Charles Taylor, Ms. Jewell Howard-Taylor, and now Senator for Liberia, to attend the United Nations General Assembly Conference. We wonder about the message this sends to young girls and women around the world!
On the contrary, having experienced the scourge of war, the Liberian people are determined and have resolved to establish a stable, peaceful society that places a high premium on the values of human rights. However, many of the prevailing, pernicious conditions that contributed to the war in the first place continue to persist. For example, the culture of impunity, which underlies the root cause of our problem, has been allowed to blossom and go unchecked. There continues to be many instances of human rights violations against already powerless and helpless war victims, including assault, imprisonment without the right of due process, and police brutality. Moreover, there is a growing economic and social malaise that pervades the country as manifested in the widening income gap between a tiny minority and a vast majority, and as manifested in the social conditions of young people who comprise the majority of the population.
The United Nations, for example, has reported an upsurge in the rate of prostitution among young girls in Liberia. The rise of prostitution among young girls, as young as eight years old, mainly those whose parents were killed as a result of this senseless war, have no opportunity to improve their lives; therefore, these young girls prostitute themselves just to find food to eat in a nation plagued by extreme poverty. In addition, there is a lack of decent education including a high dropout rate among the youth and a growing lack of basic human services for war victims such as clean drinking water, despite the enormous aid from the international community and donors. These conditions not only reflect a culture of injustice, but are not favorable for lasting and permanent peace in a society so badly in need of it.
We recognize and applaud the significant role the Abyssinian Church has played in the civil rights struggle of African Americans in the 60s, and the anti-Apartheid struggles of the people of South Africa in the 70s and 80s. Like the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had dreamed to end injustices in America, we, as sons and daughters in CJL, dream to end injustices in Liberia. Considering the historic role your church has always played in supporting those who are marginalized and disadvantaged, we, members of CJL, whose lives were spared by the grace of the Almighty God, bowed down before your anointed altar, to ask that you and your congregation stand with us in solidarity in our struggle to ensure that sustainable peace gains a foothold in Liberia, and that the victims of the Liberian civil war have justice so that they too can experience a closure in their lives.
Though the country has made minimal strides towards peace supported by the international community- with the holding of two consecutive elections in the last six years, 2005 and 2011, both considered controversial, there still remains a structural challenge to achieving lasting peace in Liberia without reining in the entrenched culture of impunity. In the Book of Proverbs 29:7, God said, “The righteous care about justice for the poor”. The poor victims of the Liberian civil war need justice!
Very truly yours,
Coalition for Justice in Liberia