|Back To Archives|
|HUMAN RIGHTS, JUSTICE AND PEACE: TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION IN POSYT CONFLICT SOCIETIES|
|Published on June 29, 2007||Email To Friend Print Version
By Jerome J Verdier, Sr
Chairman of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission of Liberia.
At the 2007 Human rights Awards Dinner of the
Minnesota Advocates For Human Rights
President Aviva Breen and Members of the Board of Directors, MAHR
Executive Director Robin Philips, Her committed Staff and Host of energetic Volunteers, MAHR
Our Distinguished Honorees, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, fellow advocates for human rights
On behalf of, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia and my family, I extend gratitude to OUR GOD, the ALMIGHTY, by whose GRACE this occasion and my presence is possible. We extend appreciation to MN Advocates For Human Rights for the singular honor of addressing this august forum in further validation of its ground breaking partnership with the TRC of Liberia.
Recognition and Honor to MN
Apart from the invaluable contribution of MN Advocates to our work in Liberia, we honored the
invitation to serve as keynote speaker convinced that their work with refugees and immigrant societies, women, human rights education, monitoring and other programs is a profound testimony of a rare commitment to humanity and protection of individual dignities. The noteworthy contribution of professional time and financial resources by hundreds of volunteers and advocates for human rights is evidence of a growing movement to rebuild lives and resuscitate societies shattered by violent conflicts.
Fourteen years of violent armed conflict have decimated Liberia and destroyed all basic infrastructures. A heavily polarized society of 3.4 million, 16 ethnic groupings, 15 counties, 22 political parties, Liberia was contested for by approximately 10 warring factions over the last 10 years in which in nearly two dozens peace agreements were brokered and broken at the same time.
Despite its endowment with vast natural and human resources, Liberia is, in the 21 st Century, an impoverished nation which by 1996 earned for itself the status of having the largest percentage of refugees and internally displaced people of any country in the world.
A 2003 negotiated peace agreement in Accra, Ghana under the auspices of ECOWAS and the ~ deployment of the then largest UN Peacekeeping Mission of 15,000 troops from all over the world secured end to the conflict in Liberia. Elections were held in 2005, a new President Inaugurated January 2006 and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was commissioned the following month to address the issues of sustainable peace, justice and reconciliation. The war ended, leaving in its wake
wide spread human rights violations
aggrieved and helpless victims, screaming for justice;
an estimated death toll of 270,000;
damaged, destroyed or corrupted social, political, economic, governance, moral and
cultural institutions and structures
commercial and productive activities in the formal and informal sectors in a state of near collapse
economic output declined steadily and GDP dropped by more than 85% between 1980 and 2003
poverty correspondingly increased steadily as 75% of the population now live below the poverty line of less than a dollar US a day
exports nearly ceased dropping from US$486m in 1978 to US$10m 26 years later in 2004
supporting infrastructures collapse; as farmers fled their farms, agriculture production
dropped substantially as did mining, timber and mineral resource development and rubber sales, all of which were once high income earners
Government expenditure dropped drastically to US$85m between 2000 to 2005 per capita spending of US$25.000 one of the lowest in the world
a huge debt burden resulting from years of mismanagement and exploitation now estimated at US$3.Ibn, representing 800% of GDP and 3,100 percent of exports; domestic debt alone stood at US$304m
basic road and communication infrastructure are in ruins, seriously hindering peace building efforts and isolating the entire south eastern region from the rest of the country no electricity or running water for nearly 15 years
clinics, hospitals and schools destroyed during the conflict which now puts the physician to patient ratio at 1:60,000
70 per cent of school buildings were partially or wholly damaged; half of school-going age children are out of school while unemployment in the formal sector is 85% posing a continuing threat to political stability, security and economic revitalization
a generalized state of insecurity informed by mistrust and suspicion, corruption, declining living standards and generalized despair subsists.
The TRC and Human Rights
Against this background, the TRC of Liberia has been established with the following mandate:
1. establish and document the root causes of the Liberian crisis
2. Address the issues of justice and impunity in Liberia
3. provide a forum where perpetrators and victims will share their experiences of the past to facilitate healing and reconciliation
4. make a report containing recommendations based on findings to avert the Recurrence of Violent conflicts in Liberia
Reflecting on the theme of this year’s award dinner and the mandate of the TRC, it is obvious that human rights protection and advancement is central to the work of truth commissions in post conflict societies as Liberia is. The work of the TRC is, at its heart, human rights work. The experiences of the Liberian people are well-known: torture, rape, forced displacement, murders, massacres, property deprivation, etc were suffered during the period 1979 to 2003 and even beyond. Documentation of these violations is not enough. The people of Liberia deserve the opportunity to be heard. Human rights will only be achieved in Liberia through public acknowledgement of the violations that Liberians have experienced, followed by a comprehensive reparations, justice and institutional reform program. This will give practical meaning to human rights, guarantee both protection and redress, which is what every society emerging out of prolonged violent conflict needs.
The first and most important part of a TRC work is to reach out to every person who has been affected or victimized by the conflict in Liberia. To accomplish this, the TRC has demarcated the 15 counties of Liberia into 64 districts and assigned three field workers to each of the districts, not only to take statements but also to raise awareness and educate people about the TRC process.
In addition, an extensive effort has been made to inform and involve the Diaspora, such as Liberians who have settled here in Minnesota. Every Liberian, in Liberia and abroad, must have the opportunity to participate in the process: to tell his or her story, to be heard and acknowledged by the TRC and the nation. This is a much more comprehensive effort beyond the traditional human rights reports of various human rights institutions which interview only a few of those affected or violated. After the work of the TRC, no one will claim they were denied opportunity to engage the commission. By this focus, the TRC is hoping to create a national experience of the conflict, foster unity and reconciliation1, overcome suspicion and restore hope where despair has grown so strong.
The work of the TRC is very local and personal to many Liberians. Each of us have experienced the conflict in so many different ways. But the work is also very international. The conflict in Liberia, as well as the rest of the nation’s history, was not only a civil matter, but involved players on many levels
in many parts of the world. It resulted into Liberians fleeing their country and are now hosted as refugees in Ghana, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Nigeria, the USA, etc. Besides, several foreign nationals lost their lives in Liberia including six American nuns; peacekeepers from several countries and citizens of almost all countries in the West African sub region. For these and so many other reasons we very much cherish the partnership of MN Advocates for Human Rights in accepting the challenge
of spearheading our Diaspora Project. This project is for the first time giving valuable voice to the
Liberian Diaspora community and ensures that they are both participants and beneficiaries of a lasting peace and reconciliation process. -
In order to accomplish its mandate, the TRC must have the support of-the international community. Indeed, it must have not just the stated support but the full backing of international human rights organizations and the governments of other nations. It is not enough for international human rights organizations to do their own human rights investigations in Liberia. It is not enough for donor nations to claim that they are funding reconstruction efforts in Liberia in the name of human rights. Human rights organizations must contribute their expertise to the TRC; governments must provide funding. Without a fully-funded, fully-supported TRC, without a TRC that has successfully reached out to every Liberian, all prior international efforts and peace investments and dividends will ultimately become unsustainable and come to naught. The work of the TRC is vital to the future of peace, justice, and human rights in Liberia.
Too often human rights work consists only of a report nice words and a pretty picture to be placed on, a’shelf. Too often human rights advocacy takes place only in the major capitals of the world. Liberians ‘ need the truth about what happened during the conflict, but they need the truth in their homes, in their communities and in their hearts. They need advocates in New York, of course, and in Geneva and the
Hague. They also need ad\ ocates where they live, in Monrovia and all parts of Liberia and yes, even in the twin city.
A more practical meaning to human rights will ensure justice for the innocent and the guilty; will ensure legal representation and guidance against arbitrary arrest and detention; guarantee freedom of speech and expression; liberty and adequate health care and access not only to justice but to education and information as well. Human rights for the people of Liberia will mean debt waiver of the over USS3bn debt Liberia owes that was contracted by unaccountable and corrupt regimes without and
material benefit to the people of Liberia. It’s a gross violation of the human rights of the people of Liberia who have suffered a devastating civil war to pay and endure a debt burden that didn’t benefit them. It is a crime against humanity to impose such a huge a debt burden on an entire nation and people, over 75% of which live below the poverty line of one US Dollar a day, and who were neither privy to nor beneficiaries of the incurred debt.
Our vision and human rights aspirations for Liberia is the same as any other stable, democratic, and accountable society in the world for peace, justice and the rule of law. The work of Minnesota
Advocates and the pool of volunteers associated with the TRC Diaspora project is contributing to the realization of this vision.
We envisage by this process the foundation for a new Liberia that is at peace with itself, reconciled with its past, united in its diversity and humane in its justice. It is a nation where people can feel safe in their homes and everyone has the basic necessities including food, shelter, and hope. We want us to grow into a nation without the threat of war and with respect among the international community. We want to know that every child has the chance for education, and that our own children can walk the streets safely and without fear. Most importantly, also, we want a Liberia where instead of seeing one’s neighbor as the victim or perpetrator in a war, we see a human being, a fellow Liberian, and a friend. The goal of the TRC is to prepare people’s hearts for contrition, forgiveness and reconciliation so that Liberia can reclaim its ‘Nobler Destiny’ again.
1 . The media has played a key role in the process. They have appreciated their moral obligation to report truth and foster healing and reconciliation, and have helped to advance the process by doing just that
2. Poor communication, transport infrastructure has hampered the ability of the commission to reach out to as many persons as it would desire.
4. TRC a new concept needing discourse and constant interaction with the populace 5. Limited resources not matching with the intensity of the task due to limited time frame
6. Weather is six months rainy which imposes further constraints
Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the Truth and Reconciliation of Liberia, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude and appreciation for all of your hard work in the human rights field.
Your efforts have not gone unnoticed. Please remember that it truly is by the Grace of God that we are all here tonight. Let us continue in our pursuit of justice and human rights for all, going to bed with a full heart every evening, knowing that we have done everything possible in that day to help our fellow
men and women.
I Thank you