Members of Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the public were left hanging Thursday when President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf failed to appear to testify before the commission.
Some witnesses who have testified before the commission have accused the president of playing a key role in Liberia’s 15-year conflict.
TRC Chairman Jerome Verdier told VOA the commission went out of its way to accommodate the president’s concerns.
“Unfortunately the President did not appear as was expected. The office of the president called and suggested that, for some reasons I don’t feel at liberty to expose because I am not the spokesperson for the president’s office, she won’t be appearing,” he said.
While members of the TRC were seated Thursday awaiting the president’s arrival to testify, she was addressing a news conference at the Executive Mansion.
Verdier said President Sirleaf set conditions for her appearance.
“As it is the commission obliges itself to creating a conducive environment for witnesses who are appearing before it. In the specific case of the president, the president wasn’t comfortable with a public hearing at the Centennial Pavilion (venue of most TRC hearings in Monrovia) where there may be a huge component of the public. The president also wasn’t very comfortable with security arrangements at the venue, and so the president proposed an alternative venue. The TRC got back to the office of the president and informed them that the venue wasn’t adequate, and we think that the Centennial Pavilion or the TRC’s office would be most appropriate,” Verdier said.
Verdier said President Sirleaf’s office agreed to testify at the offices of the TRC. He said the TRC also made additional concessions to the president’s office.
“The President further suggested that instead of the regular 10 o’clock a.m. TRC schedule she would prefer 8:30 a.m. The commission again replied and said we will adjust and revise the time convenient to you. The president went further to suggest that instead of having a simultaneous live telecast of the event, she would prefer that the event be broadcast at a time after her appearance. The commission also accepted and provided that there will be minimal persons from the commission or from the media. We thought that all of these concessions were necessary out of respect and deference to the office of the president,” Verdier said.
The TRC this month published names of those it described as perpetrators of crimes during Liberia’s war as well persons of interest for their role in the conflict.
Some Liberians have been concerned that the president’s failure to come before the commission would encourage those perpetrators and persons of interest to also set conditions for their appearance or nonappearance before the commission.
Verdier said he didn’t think that the president’s no show Thursday to testify before the commission would have any impact on perpetrators appearing before the commission.
‘The appearance of an individual cannot be a precondition for the appearance of another person. And I also believe that no Liberian should set such a condition that the appearance or the non-appearance of the president should be a precondition for their appearance,” Verdier said.