A university based in Chicago, Illinois, is helping to bring justice to those who suffered during Liberia’s long civil war. Northwestern University’s Center for Human Rights Law is working with the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission to collect testimony from Liberians living in the US who witness human rights abuses, or suffered from them.
The Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up in 2003 as part of the peace deal that ended the decades old civil war. It was officially launched last year and given the mandate to look into the root causes of the violence that devastated this West African nation.
As part of its effort, the commission has enlisted the help of Northwestern University. Its law school recently held a forum with Liberians living in the Chicago area. The participants were approached about making official statements and were offered information on how to participate in the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Sandra Babcock, clinical associate professor and director of the Center for International Human Rights, chaired the forum. Also participating was Jennifer Prestholdt of the group Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights; and James Qualah, a. member of the Liberian diaspora living in Minnesota
Babcock says that Liberians all over the United States will be given an opportunity to participate in the TRC-mandated process.
“The nine (TRC) commissioners will advise us on the time frame…. their mandate ends in two years and what we do here will largely depend on their schedule,” she said.
Babcock says that at the end of the process, there will be a report issued the commission that reflects the views of the Liberian community in the United States.
“What we are finding is that many Liberians…. are eager for criminal prosecutions against those that are most culpable of committing atrocities during the civil war,” she said. Babcock added, “It is too early to say what the recommendations [will be in the report], because that will depend on what individual Liberians want, and we are here to serve that community”
Babcock stressed that the process of taking statements is controlled and governed by Liberians even though her organization is collecting the affidavits. Recently representatives from the Center for International Human Rights and Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights explained the statement-taking process to hundreds of Liberians in the area.
The Liberian TRC has collected over 2,000 statements since it began collecting testimony last October. It began public hearings in Liberia began January. 30.
The Center for International Human Rights is part of the Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern University School of Law, focusing on research and clinical experience for students interested in human rights law.