Liberia’s TRC Begins Statement Taking In America
At Kick-off celebration, TRC Commissioner Massa Washington says "The TRC is mandated to investigate human rights abuses in Liberia"
Commissioner Massa Amelia Washington has told Liberians and other nationals that the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission is mandated to “investigate human rights abuses committed during the course of the 24-year period of conflict that plagued the country from 1979-2003.”
Ms. Washington said he TRC’s mandate includes “investigating gross human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law as well as abuses that occurred including massacres, sexual violations, murder, extra-judicial killings and economic crimes, such as the exploitation of natural or public resources to perpetuate armed conflicts.”
Commissioner Washington was speaking at the formal U.S. Statement Taking Kick-Off Celebration at the Brooklyn Center Civic Center located at 6301 Shingle Creek Parkway, Brooklyn Center, Minnesota last night (February 24). The program was held under the sponsorship of the Minnesota Advocate for Human Rights and The Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the United States.
Ms. Washington, who is Chair for the TRC Committee on Diaspora Relations, stressed that her Commission aims to provide “a forum that will address issues of impunity as well as an opportunity for both victims and perpetrators of human rights violations to share their experiences.”
She noted: “The TRC will also investigate the antecedent causes of the Liberian conflict, conduct a critical review of Liberia’s historical past, and adopt specific mechanisms and procedures to address the experiences of women, children, and vulnerable groups and compile a report detailing a comprehensive account of the Commission’s activities, including its findings.”
She said the TRC provides a forum where all Liberians irrespective of their diversity can come together and recount their experiences thus beginning the dialogue towards national healing.
Liberians in the Diaspora
The Commissioner pointed out that the “expansion of the TRC process to include Liberians in the Diaspora cannot be overemphasized, considering the pivotal role of Liberians in the Diaspora particularly the United States in the body politics of Liberia.”
“Liberians abroad have paid their dues”
She accentuated that “Liberians abroad have paid their dues; they have stuck with their homeland through thick and thin assuming various roles at different times in our national history especially in the peace process.”
Commissioner Washington said “the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recognizes the importance of this Diaspora community and has determined that it is given a voice in this all important national process.”
Appointment of Executive Director Nathaniel T. Kwabo
It can be recalled that TRC recently announced the appointment of Mr. Nathaniel T. Kwabo as Executive Director.
Mr. Kwabo, a veteran Liberian human rights activist who resides in the US, holds a Master’s degree in International Peace & Conflict Resolution and in International Relations.
Past Activities, Accomplishments
Commissioner Washington said the last eight months have been difficult and challenging but the TRC has remained on course with the implementation of its two year-three months mandate, despite serious financial and logistical constraints.
She said the TRC was inducted into office by Her Excellency, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf on February 20, 2006. Following its induction, Ms. Washington said, the Commission demarcated Liberia into eight operational zones with each commissioner having oversight responsibilities of certain County Territories, Thematic and Operation areas.
Ms. Washington, who has more than 20 years experience as a Print Journalist, enumerated the achievements of the TRC.
- In May, the TRC conducted a Nationwide Needs Assessment to introduce itself and determine the status of local residents in all fifteen counties of Liberia before commencing actual implementation of its mandate.
- The TRC also in May 2006 launched a massive and successful pre-launching nationwide Outreach and Sensitization Campaign to educate the pubic about the TRC process and prepare people for the launching of the TRC in June.
- The TRC was elaborately and successfully launched through out the fifteen Counties of Liberia, and also in the State of Minnesota in June of 2006.
- It successfully secured a decent office space less than three months after its launching.
- The Commission has successfully recruited line as well as Secretariat staff, including, the Executive Secretary who is the chief administrator of the Commission, executed leases for local offices in the 15 Counties and forged collaboration with the elections commission in other instances for the use of NEC facilities in 5 counties thus, concluding the formation of a working body.
- Over the past year, it built partnerships and attracted support from non-governmental organization including the Foundation for Human Rights in South Africa, the Open Society Initiative (OSI) in New York, the International Center for Transitional justice (ICTJ) and the Open Society Initiative in West Africa (OSIWA).
- The TRC signed a major MOU with over 80 child protection agencies to work with the TRC in streamlining child rights issues in the TRC process.
- It established several working committees including, Gender, Legislative, Judiciary, Religious, Children, Elderly and Vulnerable Groups, Security, Diplomatic, etc.
- The TRC established the Traditional Advisory Council – to assist the TRC I fostering traditional approaches to reconciliation – comprising traditional leaders from all fifteen counties and 16 tribes.
- The TRC also during the year under review, secured save havens for two witnesses under its witness protection scheme.
- The TRC embarked upon one of the most potent stages of its implementation periods through the Statement Taking process. In September, 192 Statement Takers, Investigators, Coordinators, Assistant Coordinators and Commissioners were recruited, trained and the pilot phase of Statement Taking commenced through out Liberian between September to October for a period of three weeks. While the process was not void of challenges as any other human process nonetheless, gains made overwhelm the challenges thus making the initial statement taking exercise very successful with nearly 2000 quality statement collected in the first two weeks of Statement Taking from around the country as a sign of popular support for the process.
- The TRC in June successfully expanded its activities to Liberians in the Diaspora through partnership with the Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights (working with a consortium of Pro Bono law firms) as implementing partners. This bold step to reach out to Liberians regardless of where they are makes the Liberian TRC the first TRC worldwide to systematically engage nations residing outside of their home County. (There have been established more than 30 Truth Commissions in the world). Between September and October, media, outreach and sensitization exercise was conducted in the United States including the holding of three Zonal Workshops in areas where Liberians predominantly reside.
- Equally so, to ensure that the women of Liberia are an integral part of the TRC process and in conformity with its mandate regarding women, the TRC in December, engaged women through out the 15 Counties of Liberia, from Cape to Cape by the holding of four Women’s nationwide zonal workshops in addition to fifteen town hall meetings in each County, soliciting the opinion and views of women before formulating policy to address how women’s issues are handled at the TRC.
- Have to recorded approximately more than 5,000 statements of violations of different forms within the period October 2006 to February 2007
- Marked the commencement of the momentous task of excavating the truth about our past, reconciling our socially and politically tattered nation and providing a blue-print for ensuing respect.
Welcoming the gathering earlier, the President of the Organization of Liberians in Minnesota, Martha Tala Sinoe said the inauguration of the U.S. Statement Taking Kick-Off Celebration was important.
She appealed to Liberians to cooperate with the Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights by giving their stories to the organization.
Also speaking was Mrs. Robin Phillips, Executive Director of the Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights. Mrs. Phillips thanked Liberians for showing up at the ceremony, despite the inclement weather.
Mrs. Phillips said it is an honor for her to work with Liberians to help bring about reconciliation.
Also making remarks was the newly appointed Executive Director of the TRC, Mr. Nathaniel T. Kwabo. He called on Liberians to support the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and expressed thanks to Liberians in Minnesota and the Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights for their support to the TRC.
During the program, the audience poised questions to Commissioner Massa Washington, Nathaniel Kwabo and Robin Phillips.
Liberian Cultural Ambassador At Large, Juli Endee, sang a few Liberian songs. She said she had traveled from Liberia to support Commissioner Washington and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The occasion was climaxed with a cultural performance by the Nimely Pan African Dance Company.
Visit the Picture Gallery for images from the celebration.
Robert Sayon Morris is a Senior Staff Writer with Mshale. He reports on general assignments. Before moving to the United States, he practiced journalism in his native Liberia.