Calls for more sanctions in Liberia?
The Representative of the state of New Jersey’s 44th District at the United States Congress, Chris Smith, has accused President George Weah of running a kleptocratic government that is milking the coffers of the country to the ground.
Congressman Smith who is a Republican and a Senior Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and a Ranking Member on the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations blamed President Weah for the high rate of poverty in the country by using his political power to appropriate the wealth of the county through embezzling or misappropriating government funds at the expense of the wider population.
“In Africa, we have a special relationship with Liberia which was founded by freed American slaves. Unfortunately, President George Weah leads a Kleptocratic government that is engaged in political corruption from the day he assumed office by depleting the government’s coffers for personal use while the people of Liberia suffer,” Smith added.
The New Jersey Congressman at the end of his presentation on Liberia made mention of the then Trump administration’s sanction of Senator Varney Sherman of Grand Cape Mount County as a positive example of fighting graft and corruption in Liberia.
“Liberian Senator, Varney Sherman, was sanctioned by the Trump administration for corruption, which is positive though; but more needs to be done, “Congressman Chris added.
The U.S. Congressman spoke on Wednesday through a live-streamed panel discussion on the Global Magnitsky Human Rights and Accountability act around the World, with Liberia and Nigeria the only African countries highlighted in his presentation.
It is not clear whether the outcome of Congressman Smith’s suggestion for more action on President Weah in the same vein as of Sen. Sherman—but he is known for his role in pressuring former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo to turn over then exiled President Charles Taylor to Liberia to face trial for war crimes in Sierra Leone.
The panel discussion brought together some strong members of Congress and powerful witnesses speaking of specific instances of global human rights violations and institutional corruption. They have also provided interesting data on the number of individuals who have been sanctioned through the GMHRAA and differentiated the individual sanctions from national sanctions/country level sanctions.
The U.S. lawmaker has been in the US congress since 1980, serves residents of the Fourth Congressional District of New Jersey, and is the Co-Chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and Ranking member on Congressional-Executive Commission on China.
Congressman Smith, who has long chaired a number of bipartisan congressional caucuses, was among several who signed a letter to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2003 urging the White House to push for the turnover of former President Charles Taylor.
In April 2012, Rep. Smith hailed the Special Court for Sierra Leone sitting in The Hague for rendering what he described as a “clear and just verdict” in the case of notorious human rights offender, Charles Taylor. “After a trial lasting five years, the Court found former warlord and Liberian President Charles Taylor guilty of 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, ranging from terrorist acts to rape to enslavement to murder,” Rep. Smith wrote.
Congressman Smith’s remark on Wednesday came barely a week after Representative Yekeh Kolubah of Montserrado County District 10 wrote the U.S. Embassy near Monrovia complaining the Weah led government of alleged massive corruption, a communication to which he received a reply the following day.
Rep. Kolubah’s communication to the U.S. Embassy was dated March 17, 2021.
In response, the U.S. Ambassador accredited to Liberia, Michael McCarthy thanked the lawmaker for his letter and concern about corruption within the Government of Liberia.
“Like many other Liberians and those who care about the future of this country, I share your concern,” Amb. Michael McCarthy said. “That is why the U.S. Mission to Liberia has invested heavily to implement increased transparency in Liberia’s budget tracking system, professionalize criminal justice operations and build the capacity of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission and other integrity institutions.”
McCarthy added: “It is my hope and expectation that these institutions and the good people of Liberia will continue the noble and necessary fight against corruption.”
Meanwhile, Congressman Smith’s latest statement is one of several he had made in the past about the political situation in Liberia. In December of 2019, Congressman Smith issued a scathing rebuke of the Weah administration, expressing concerns regarding deteriorating and worsening political conditions in Liberia.
“Human rights advocates are increasingly alarmed by the deterioration of civil and political rights and the corruption that is occurring in Liberia under President George Weah. I am especially concerned by allegations surrounding Monrovia Mayor, Jefferson Koijee and the thuggish behavior of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) security force he heads,” he said in 2019.
He added: “Especially in the light of our historic ties to Liberia, the United States Congress will be closely monitoring the mass public demonstration that is scheduled to occur on December 30 in Monrovia, and I call upon the government of Liberia to respect the free speech assembly rights of Liberian citizens. Anyone who suppresses these fundamental rights, or engages in ongoing corrupt acts, may very well become subject to targeted Global Magnitsky sanctions.”
But the Weah Administration at the time, in response to Congressman Smith’s rebuke, extended an open invitation to him and other members of the U.S. Congress who are long-time friends and advocates of Liberia to visit the country and ascertain for themselves the real situation on the ground “instead of the fictitious report from critics”.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Information has said it reserves comments for the appropriate time, and when necessary.