The Liberia Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been touring the United States and holding workshops with Liberians. The TRC is charged with the task of investigating human rights and other abuses committed from 1979 to August 2003. One of the workshops was held over the weekend at the campus of Howard University in Washington, D.C. VOA English to Africa reporter James Butty was there, and talked with TRC commissioner Massa Washington who explains the purpose of the commission’s visit to the United States.
“The purpose of my visit, James, is to actually engage Liberians here in the Diaspora, explain to them where we are currently in executing our mandate under the TRC Act. My visit is also to conduct a couple of workshops with the community in terms of training them as to the statement-taking process. As you know one of the major components of the TRC is statement taking that leads to the hearings of the TRC. So I’m here to solicit the views and opinions from Liberians in the Diaspora on the statement taking process and also to recruit for the TRC volunteer statement takers.”
Commissioner Washington says the TRC intends to take statements from Liberians in the Diaspora, including the United States.
“We want to hold hearings in the United States as much as possible. We have majority of our people who fled the country during the conflict period residing in the United States. We want to make sure that these people are not disenfranchised. Now the statement taking process is a process that is like prelude to the hearings. The statement takers will be trained, and we are hoping that they will be the ones who will go out into the different Liberian communities here to take and record the statements of people who’ve got something to say whether victims, whether perpetrators, whether witnesses who will come forth with their stories, with experiences, not only during the conflict period but any other period in Liberian history that they feel comfortable to discuss.”
Commissioner Washington says a team of pro bono lawyers is looking into the legal ramifications of the statement taking process. But she says the TRC Act clarifies the usage of statements that might be obtained during the process.
“The TRC Act says that whatever statement is given to us under oath and based on the clause of confidentiality we cannot use that statement in the court of law to prosecute anybody making that statement. But however, that information can become public to anybody after 20 years of the TRC dissolution.”
The TRC is mandated to investigate gross violations of human rights and other abuses from 1979 to August 2003, and Commissioner Washington says the commission may call some former presidents and even President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf if needs be.
“The TRC is not witch-hunting anybody, but yes, it is very possible that any of these individuals could to answer questions. That is if people send in complaints or if they stated or listed anywhere in any of their stories or statements that we receive. Yes, the commission will be calling anybody. No one is immune from the TRC process.”
Commissioner Washington says President Sirleaf has assured the TRC that if the TRC deems it necessary for her to appear, she would be willing to appear before the commission. She says her commission is prepared to carry out its mandate, but it needs the support of the Liberian people and the international community.
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