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Liberia's Truth Commission Hears From Victims of Country's Civil War

Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission this week began taking testimonies from people who say they or members of their families were victimized during Liberia’s 14 year-old civil war. On day one of the public hearings this week, Liberia’s sensational young musical star Sundagar Dearboy was implicated by two witnesses who told the commission that Dearboy as a commander in Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front rebel movement committed untold atrocities, including rape and murder in Grand Bassa County. J

erome Verdier is chairman of the commission. From the Liberian capital, Monrovia, he told VOA that all accused persons would be given the opportunity to defend themselves before the commission.

“The mandate of the TRC is such that we are to delve into the root causes of the conflict, we are to identify victims, recognize and identify their experiences. We are to identify those who perpetrated the atrocities against victims, and make recommendations that will, in a lot of ways, contribute reconciliation, unity, and the avoidance of violence conflict in the future. Because of that, we are also charged with creating a forum where constructively victims and perpetrators can share their experiences. Having said, that whoever is named by a victim, including the prominent Liberian you’ve just mentioned, has equal opportunity to appear before the TRC and make their representation,” he said.

Verdier responded to criticism that the TRC process is only after little people while those who committed the most heinous crimes during Liberia’s civil war, like Prince Johnson the man blamed for killing President Samuel Doe is today a Senator from Nimba County. Verdier said no Liberian, whether as a victim or perpetrator who be spared.

“All Liberians, prominent Liberian politicians, activists who played roles during the conflict as heads of warring factions, politicians who have been involved in the political life of the country from 1979 until 2003, journalists who covered most part of the conflict, including national and foreign journalists, anybody who in the conviction of the TRC has information relevant to its work would be called before the commission to appear and share that information with the commission. So at this point, and as the president state, no one is exempt from the TRC process and that extends to our legislators,” Verdier said.

He said a number of prominent Liberians, including former heads of warring factions during Liberia’s civil war have asked the commission to appear before it to testify.

Verdier responded to criticism by former Liberian presidential candidate Winston Tubman that the TRC is wasting its time digging up the past when it has no prosecutorial powers to bring perpetrators to justice.

“The TRC is not about settling the personal vendetta or the ambitions of people for vendetta. It is not about parading perpetrators. What it is about is about healing and reconciliation and to restore the dignity of victims. That is why in the collective wisdom of the commission we determined and very consciously so that victims should be given the first preference, victims should be heard as a way of creating as much moral pressure on those who prosecuted the war to understand that indeed there are real victims,” Verdier said.

He said the TRC would be making recommendations to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf at the end of its work in terms of who should be pardoned and who should be prosecuted because the commission is not the implementer of whatever the outcome of the process would be.