Accessibility links

Liberian Commission Recommends Prosecution of Those Involved in Past Civil Conflict


The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia has released its final report on the civil conflict in Liberia that ended in 2003. The report recommends that the government prosecute those responsible for the gross violations of human rights during the country's violent conflicts that began in 1979 and sporadically continued for the next 24 years.

For Kristen Cibelli the process was an emotional one. As she listened the to the victims from Liberia's civil conflict tell their stories, she says the testimony was almost too awful to bear.

"The stories that we are hearing from people are the worst things that you can ever imagine. It's the stuff of nightmare," she said.

At the end of this month, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia, also known as the TRC of Liberia, will formally end its investigation into the violence, coups and war that plagued the country during various periods from 1979 to 2003.

The commission has taken thousands of statements from both perpetrators and victims. Considered part of the healing process, as well as a way to identify thematic issues from the conflict, the testimonies are meant to expose what happened and who is responsible.

Cibelli, who represented the US-based non-profit, Benetech, says in order to fully understand and gather data on the history, she is forced to separate the people from the stories.

"What I've experienced sometimes is the permission to treat the information as data, simply so that it is possible to get the work done," she continued. "Because if one focuses too much on the actual nature of the stories, if you think too much about the people who really suffered those violations, it is impossible."

The horrific nature of these crimes is why the perpetrators should be prosecuted, says Sam Nimely a delegate representing the Transitional Justice System at the National Conference. He sees prosecution as a way forward in the healing process of the country.

"Those who kill people in this country should be prosecuted, including those who financed this war," said Nimely. "They played a major part, because they contributed money, and the money was used to purchase arms, and those arms killed thousands of Liberians."

Unlike the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa that was set up after the abolition of apartheid, the TRC of Liberia is permitted to recommend prosecution of those involved. A majority of the delegates want the government to seek punishment for those responsible for serious crimes. Nimely says this includes some people who are currently serving in Liberia's government.

"I believe that those even in government, even the president herself, is involved," said Nimely. "She should be brought to justice."

Liberia's current President, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf testified earlier this year in front of the TRC. She denied supported any of the warring factions during the conflict.

The Chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Liberia, Counselor Jerome Verdier, said recommendations from the delegates will seriously be taken into consideration and forwarded to the government for immediate implementation. Verdier said the time has come for the voices of the people of Liberia to be heard.

"Yes, it is true that we will give very serious consideration to the recommendations that will be coming out of this conference, out of the county consultations that we had regionally," said Verdier.

But not all voices are calling for the same action. Delegate Zawolo Zuahgalay disagrees with the bulk of the delegates. He says prosecution is not the way forward. He wants the government to put more emphasis on development, rather than punishing troublemakers.

"The people who were even fighting. The foot soldiers, who are likely to be the likely numbers that you would punish, it is a condition they were forced in to participate in the war," he said.

Zuahgalay worries that if the perpetrators are prosecuted, there is the possibility for another conflict in Liberia.

"You improve the condition of the country. You build the country in a way that everybody will be satisfied. What happens if you do not improve the situation of the country, and you go and punish people? You will still have clashes," he said. "So the focus must be on Liberians committing themselves to the solution of improving the situation of this country,"

In its final report, the TRC of Liberia recommended amnesty for children, as well as those whose crimes were not gross violations.

Delegate Jamesetta Kolubah, agreed with her colleagues who are calling for prosecution, but she also stressed the need for development programs.

"We said that government should give reparations to those victims, and to satisfy them by giving them micro loans, and creating scholarships for the children and the widows. They should provide business for them so that they will be able to sustain themselves," she said.

In its final report, the TRC has recommended the next step be the founding of a criminal court to deal with prosecutions.


XS
SM
MD
LG