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Is A Truth Commission Or Special Court In Liberia's Future? - 2003-08-21

With the naming of a transition government, the deployment of peacekeeping troops and the distribution of humanitarian aid, is it time to consider a truth & reconciliation commission or special court for Liberia?

William Schabas is an expert on international tribunals and a current member of Sierra Leone’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. From Sierra Leone’s airport, Professor Schabas spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about prospects for setting up such institutions in Liberia.

He says there are many accountability issues that must be addressed. He says, “Certainly here in the region but anywhere in the world that’s been through a period like Liberia has has a lot of people who committed terrible atrocities and crimes, who are walking around free and aren’t being held accountable.” He says it’s an important part of “building a new society.”

However, Professor Schabas says, “The question that has to be asked, and we’re still asking it in Sierra Leone where both of these mechanisms (truth commission and special court) are at work, is whether they’re accompanied by a more general transformation of society, like we saw in South Africa? And that’s a big question. There’s peace in Liberia, but is it going to lead to a more just society.”

Regarding former Liberian president Charles Taylor, he says both a truth commission and a special court could operate even though Mr. Taylor’s been granted asylum in Nigeria. Mr. Schabas says, after all, the Nuremburg trials were held without Hitler and the special court in Sierra Leone continues its work despite the death of Foday Sankoh, the former rebel leader indicted by the court.

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