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Liberians React to Truth Commission Report

  • Kate Thomas

Last week, Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, or TRC, released a report recommending sanctions against President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf because of her support for warlord Charles Taylor during the 1980s. The move has shocked the West African nation, where the president still enjoys huge popularity.

Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended that President Johnson Sirleaf be barred from holding public office for 30 years because of her wartime support for Charles Taylor. The TRC report has shocked many people in Liberia.

In February, the president testified before the commission about her involvement with Charles Taylor's National Patriotic Front rebel group. She was one of many politicians who supported rebels fighting against President Samuel Doe, but she said she was never a member of the rebel group.

President Johnson Sirleaf's name was included on a list of about 50 people accused of being the "financiers and political leaders of the different warring factions."

Lawrence Bropleh is the official spokesman of the Liberian government. He says the president is digesting the news.

"We do not see this as a slap in the face; we see it as a report that has come out," said Bropleh. "In due time, the merits of this report will be debated by the Liberian people. It is not an Ellen Johnson Sirleaf issue. This is a Republic of Liberia issue."

Acarious Gray, the Assistant Secretary General of the opposition political party, the Congress for Democratic Change, says the recommendation should be upheld.

"I think the international community has to bring pressure to bear on every apparatus of government to ensure that the recommendation from the TRC is upheld," said Gray.

On the streets of Monrovia, Liberians say they are worried by the news. President Johnson Sirleaf is widely credited for restoring order to the recovering West African country.

Businessman Lamin Wority says the inclusion of the president's name in the report is not in Liberia's national interests.

"The only problem I have with the report is the inclusion of the president's name in it. This will cause a serious problem for this country," said Warity. "This is the only woman that has brought hope back to us, that has ensured that we are respected around the world."

Jonathan Saah, a graduate who works in a bank in downtown Monrovia, says he voted for President Johnson Sirleaf knowing about her support for Charles Taylor. He says every Liberian played some part in the war.

"At the time of the NPFL, it was like Charles Taylor inspired confidence because people welcomed it," he said. "People supported the rebels. Everybody was a contributing factor to the Liberian civil war."

The TRC report also names those it says who should not be prosecuted. It recommends 30 people be exempt from prosecution because they spoke truthfully in court and expressed remorse.

Among them is Joshua Milton Blahyi. During the war, he went by the name "General Butt Naked" for charging into battle wearing only boots. He testified before the Commission and expressed remorse for his part in the deaths of up to 20,000 people.

"I was taught by my faith to speak the truth. And when I got to know what I was doing was wrong, I regretted my actions even before the TRC," he said. "I knew what I did was wrong before the TRC. I said it, that I regret it. I don't know if it is the reason because I spoke the truth, [whether] that's why the TRC left out my name. But I also know, besides speaking the truth, I have lived in regret of my past. I have lived with remorse. I do not know what are the other criteria for leaving out my name."

Although President Johnson Sirleaf expressed regret for supporting Charles Taylor in the 1980s, she did not formally apologize to the country.

Milton Blahyi says he thinks his public apology saved him.

"I know that the truth telling is the first path to reconciliation, to healing. Recognition of your sin, announcing and denouncing your wrongdoing leads you to forgiveness. So if these principles, spiritually, have proven that is a channel of reconciliation, I strongly believe - and I have dug out the wounds and dug up the past - it is healthy if the TRC and their experts will advise this nation as to the way forward."

Public support for President Johnson Sirleaf remains strong. The U.S.-based Liberia Human Rights Campaign says some members of the truth commission have been reluctant to appear in public since the report was released.

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