Many of the nearly one
and a half million Liberians who fled their country during years of civil war
reside in the United States. This past week, the Liberia Truth and
Reconciliation Commission (TRC) completed public hearings for Liberians living
in the United States as part of the process to heal the nation. The TRC was set
up to look into the root causes of Liberia’s conflicts from 1979 to 2003,
promote national unity and reconciliation, and make it possible to hold
perpetrators accountable for human rights violations.
Jerome Verdier is
chairman of the TRC. From Minneapolis, Minnesota, he told VOA the hearings provided valuable information.
was a worthy engagement because it satisfied our purpose to inquire into
conflict issues, who, why, when, where, and we were satisfied that there were
adequate witnesses who shed light on their experiences on major events during
the conflict, and then why the conflict came about in the first place. I think
people make recommendations. So we are very pleased with the work of our
partners and the Liberian community,” he said.
testifying at the Minnesota hearings was former US Assistant Secretary of State
for African Affairs from 1989 to 1993 Herman J. Cohen. He told the commission
that the United States made arrangements for then President Samuel Doe to be
evacuated from Liberia.
Cohen said the deal to evacuate Doe and his family was disrupted when rebel
leader Prince Johnson of the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia
took control of Bushrod Island where Doe was to have been evacuated.
also told the TRC that when the United States was about to send an aircraft to
carry out the evacuation, word came from Washington to stop all engagements to
end the Liberian conflict.
Chairman Verdier said Ambassador Cohen’s testimony shed more light on the role
the United States played or should have played during the Liberian conflict.
Cohen and others who testified added some value to our work. We have been
interested in what role the US played or what role the US could have played in
avoiding the escalation of the conflict. And it was very useful that Ambassador
Cohen came and shed light most of the outstanding issues,” he said.
testifying among many was one James Y. Hunder who said he served as a former
senior officer in the Special Security Service of Liberia. Hunder testified how
then head of state Samuel Doe ordered the killing of his former vice head of
state Thomas Weh-Syen.
said such information would form part of a national narrative that the TRC
would put together at the end of its investigation.
are doing a comprehensive review from 1979 to 2003. Liberians are interested in
knowing factually, truthfully what happened. How come there was a rice riot
that led to the destruction of property and lives? What were the mistakes made?
What went wrong when hopes of Liberians were dashed immediately after the 1980
coup? How come the military initially planned to turn power over to civilian
rule, and how come Doe changed his mind and decided to run? How did that contribute
to the long-running conflict we had from 1990 to 2003? So there are many
questions, and we are hoping that at the end of day we will provide answers to
those,” Verdier said.
TRC recently launched an investigation to look into allegations whether a
member of the TRC, Massa Washington, bribed a witnessed to implicate Liberian’s
singing sensation Sundaygar Dearboy for committing atrocities during the war.
told VOA that that he was a member of Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front
of Liberia (NPFL) rebel movement.
Verdier said a special magistrate investigated the matter and found witnesses
David Sayweah and Brown Taylue in contempt of the TRC and for committing
perjury during the investigation. The two are now in jail for their offenses.
called on Liberians to continue to support the work of the TRC.
I will say is that the work of the commission is proceeding unhindered and that
Liberians should for once rally together and support a credible national
process. I know our society has been polarized from a prolonged period of
conflict and people have their own allegiances and biases. But how be it, this
is the time in building our new society. We have to be honest with each other;
we have to show respect for national institutions and national leaders, we have
to respect and follow the rule of law, we have to be critical in our thinking,
and just don’t jump to conclusions based upon what people just say,” Verdier
Liberians have been asking when the TRC would call some of the key leaders of
the civil war like Alhaji Kromah, Sekou Conneh, Prince Johnson, and George
said the TRC is only an inquiry commission and would call people when they have
been implicated by others in testimonies.
lived in Liberia from 1979 to 2003 because I think and believe or because I saw
that atrocities were committed by the NPFL or the LPC, it doesn’t provide the
basis for me to invite George Boley to Commission or Mr. Charles Taylor to the
Commission and say I was here in Liberia from 1979 to 2003, and I saw NPFL
operating in Buchanan or I saw LPC operating in Sinoe County so come and
account to me. This is a healing and reconciliation process. We have to
establish firmed, moral basis for compelling people to come before the
commission,” Verdier said.