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Liberia's Truth Commission Under Siege


The Liberia Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), charged with investigating crimes committed during the country’s civil war, is claiming that elements in higher places of society are trying to discredit its work. But TRC chairman Jerome Verdier told a news conference in Monrovia Thursday that all those who committed crimes during Liberia’s civil war from 1979 to 2003 would be brought before the commission irrespective of their status.

The latest episode stemmed from an allegation that the commission or one of its members might have bribed a witness to testify that Liberian singing sensation Sundaygar Dearboy committed war crimes while he was a member of Charles Taylor’s rebel National Patriotic Front of Liberia. Dearboy, who now works in President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s government, admits being a rebel commander but denied committing atrocities.

John Stewart is a member of the Truth Commission. He told VOA the TRC believes there are some people in President Sirleaf’s government who are working with Dearboy to thwart the commission’s work by applying political and financial pressure.

“This press conference was prompted by stories surfacing in the media by a witness (David Sayweh) who had appeared before the TRC months earlier that his sister was gang raped on the orders of Sundaygar Dearboy, and she died as a consequence. Since that testimony, we have received reports that Mr. Sundaygar Dearboy had sent a team of people to the town in Grand Bassa County from which the boy comes. And this is being orchestrated by Mr. Dearboy and some of his supporters, some of whom work in high places because they fear that the TRC is uncovering things that they will not want to bring before the public,” he said.

Stewart reiterated that there are some people in the Sirleaf government who are trying to discredit the work of the TRC.

“I’m not saying that it is the Liberian government as a government. But there are individuals within the government. You see, one must not lose sight of the fact that we have still lingering with us the cult of the presidency, and there are people who are trying to make themselves appear favorable in the eyes of the government or the president, that they are doing a good job in protecting the image of the government. The line they are pushing is that because the Sundaygar Dearboy had made songs which praise the president, therefore embarrassing Sundaygar Dearboy is tantamount to embarrassing the president, particularly so when Sundaygar Dearboy works at the Executive Mansion. I don’t know whether he is still there because I understand that he has been withdrawn. I’m not sure,” he said.

Stewart said the commission is not out to embarrass anybody, but that it was committed to bring to justice all those who played a leading role in the Liberian civil war from 1979 to 2003 irrespective of the status.

He said Dearboy, who has admitted being a part of Charles Taylor’s rebel movement must face the consequences of his past actions.

“He was a commander in the National Patriotic Front. He has not denied that. There are scores of villagers who have affirmed, who have appeared from his own village before the TRC affirming yes indeed Sundaygar Dearboy did commit atrocities. So all of this is designed to bring the TRC into disrepute to stop its work because they know that on the TRC there are people who are committed to seeing to it that the mandate of the TRC is fulfilled, that the TRC is looking at not only crimes against humanity but we are also looking at economic crimes,” he said.

Stewart said Dearboy showered David Sayweh, the one had previously testified against Dearboy with money and gifts to recant his story. But commissioner Stewart said Sayweh could be charged with perjury.

“He took an oath and he is saying in his letter that he is lying and alleging that Commissioner Massa Washington gave him money to induce that (his previous) statement which is a preposterous statement, a lie. The commission does have powers of contempt, and as I told you this young man, David Sayweh, testified to the commission under oath. Now that he has written a letter saying that he has lied, he’s subject to a charge of perjury, and the commission would not hesitate employ all means at its disposal, including charging with perjury,” Stewart said.

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