In Liberia public opinion is divided on the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, based on four years of investigations into violations of human rights and humanitarian law during the country’s civil conflict.
The commission (TRC), which published its recommendations on 1 July, includes President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf among 50 Liberians who should be subject to public sanctions for their association with perpetrators of war crimes.
The TRC recommends an amnesty for children involved in armed conflict; institutional reform to promote good governance and human rights; a national mechanism for traditional dispute resolution; and reparations to communities and individuals who suffered in the war.
The report recommends President Sirleaf be barred from public office for 30 years once her presidential term runs out in 2011, because she failed to express remorse for her support for Charles Taylor –now on trial for war crimes– in the late 1980s. Sirleaf, like many politicians at the time, supported Taylor in opposition to former President Samuel Doe’s regime, and has been open about this support in her memoirs.
Taylor is already on trial in the Special Court for Sierra Leone for 11 counts of war crimes he is alleged to have masterminded in that country during its 11-year war.
The TRC will present its findings to the national legislature and the President in coming days following which the government is expected to outline how it plans to implement the recommendations. IRIN spoke to Liberians about their views on the TRC report.
Russell Allen, human rights advocate with ‘Civil Rights and Protection Forum’ in the capital, Monrovia:
“I would like for the national legislature to take the report seriously and try to pass it into law so that Liberia cannot revisit the past…There is widespread belief that President Sirleaf would manipulate the report so that she and others cannot be prosecuted. If she does, her reputation will be at stake.”
Photo: Ansu Konneh/IRIN
Banner announcing the start of the TRC
University of Liberia student Prince Roland:
“The report is very biased. Some of the people who committed serious crimes in this country – [their] names are not listed. This is a serious disappointment. If other people’s names are not added in this report I foresee [further] trouble taking place here. The TRC commissioners should not pick and choose. Everybody who committed some crimes here should be punished.”
University of Liberia student Bobok Kollie:
“The report is balanced. I do not see any bias in it. Inasmuch as the President’s name is included along with some key actors, we think the TRC did well. We are anxious [to see the recommendations made into law].”
Joe Pemagbi, head of the Liberia Programme of the Open Society Institute, which has supported the TRC:
“There are some recommendations that people consider to be controversial, but that is for Liberians to determine. …We have supported the work of the commission [TRC] and would now like to follow up on the recommendations, including peacebuilding projects and the setting up of the Palava Initiative [traditional dispute resolution]. ...We have worked to help Liberians critique the TRC and to raise awareness of [the commission’s] work, but we also need to look beyond the TRC at all aspects of the peace process.”
Deputy Information Minister Gabriel Williams:
“The government does not have a view on this matter right now. The report has not been officially presented to the President yet so she has not received a copy. When it is submitted we can make a determination on the way forward.”
Emmanuel Dolo, research director, of US-based non-profit Minnesota Minority Educational Partnership (MMEP):
“I believe the TRC missed a tremendous opportunity to heal and reconcile the country. Instead, it allowed personal and political interests to supersede the national interest, resulting in lowering the threshold of its evidentiary standards to simply catch a ‘big fish’ in the form of the President…They had a delicate task in Liberian history, and they used procedures and standards fraught with inconsistencies.”
“There are Liberians who are quite susceptible to being radicalized for a variety of reasons including illiteracy, poverty, and psychosocial factors. The TRC's report failed to…set the basis for healing and reconciling the Liberian people.”
“President Sirleaf…should take the high road and deepen her commitment to democratic reforms…The executive and legislative branches [of the government] should collaborate with civil society and monetize…the recommendations that have reconciliatory value and discard those that do not meet such a threshold. Anything less could spark vengeance or recrimination.”
Kanio Gbala, head of NGO Civic Initiative and member of Transitional Justice Working Group, a coalition of NGOs working on transitional justice issues:
“There are many factors to consolidating peace. One is impunity and ensuring rule of law is in place…when it comes to the names on the list [for prosecutions or sanctions] it is public knowledge what these people did. We do not need to pass a blanket judgement [on them]…some people want to incite division but we must see these recommendations as a tool to move to the next step. People must recognize even if prosecutions are considered, it will take years to put in place.
“We have to go beyond the prosecutions to look at all the recommendations, such as involving communities in reconciliation, institutional reform, guarding the country’s collective memory of the war. We should use these recommendations as a platform for dialogue and discussion to remember this country’s history so we can move on.”