Liberia: TRC furore overshadows peace building proposals
|Publisher||Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)|
|Publication Date||9 July 2009|
|Cite as||Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Liberia: TRC furore overshadows peace building proposals, 9 July 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4a5aff9fc.html [accessed 20 May 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
MONROVIA, 9 July 2009 (IRIN) - As an angry debate rages over the 200-plus people recommended for prosecution by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), an independent body set up under the 2003 peace agreement, civil society groups warn its many other recommendations risk being overlooked.
The final TRC report also recommended President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf be barred from public office for 30 years once her presidential term runs out in 2011 because she failed to express remorse for her support for Charles Taylor ?now on trial for war crimes? in the late 1980s.
Several TRC commissioners have received death threats following the report's release, one commissioner confirmed to IRIN.
"The biggest tragedy is the attention this [fracas] is giving to the perpetrators of war crimes, but the benefit of the TRC is to give victims a voice and to give society a chance to respond to their needs," said Lizzie Goodfriend, programme associate at International Center for Transitional Justice (the ICTJ), a non-profit with an office in the capital, Monrovia, which helps countries pursue accountability for past mass atrocities.
"Our biggest concern is that the entire report be subject to the scrutiny the prosecutions' controversy is getting."
TRC spokesperson James Keargoi told IRIN: "Anyone who reads the whole report will see a very comprehensive list of recommendations that are essential to building peace ? a review of government structures, a conflict-resolution forum in towns and villages, and reparations to victims of crime. The focus on all of these has been lost."
The government must set up a human rights commission immediately, he added, to start implementing all of the report's recommendations ? not just prosecutions.
Deputy Information Minister Gabriel Williams told IRIN the government welcomes the TRC report and will do everything it can to bring forward its peace building proposals.
At a 6 July press conference, seven former warlords, most of them signatories to the 2003 Liberia Comprehensive Peace Agreement, declared the TRC's report was "anti-peace", claiming it sought to undermine democratic government and stability in Liberia.
Former warlord Sando Johnson, cousin to Charles Taylor and accused by the TRC of serving as a recruiting officer for Taylor's forces, told reporters the report was biased: "We will not let this go down?it is the TRC that has invited confusion and if the government does not get involved, I can promise you one thing: this Sando Johnson and all other persons will not succumb."
Several of the former warlords said they had not had an opportunity to come face-to-face with their victims to apologize and move towards reconciliation.
But the TRC's Keargoi said though former warlords may not have had one-on-one opportunities: "The TRC had public hearings at which every leader of a warring faction was asked about their role in the conflict. They also had media outlets and other forums in which to take responsibility for their actions. It is incorrect that they did not get a chance to apologize."
Showing remorse and accepting responsibility for war crimes allowed some prominent rebel fighters to evade a recommendation for prosecution by the TRC, he added.
Deputy Minister Williams told IRIN the government is trying to institute the rule of law. "Liberians know the consequences of lawlessness. We want to make it clear this will not be tolerated in Liberia."
Threats made by the former commander of rebel group Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia, and now Nimba County senator, Prince Johnson, that he would destabilize the country if his name was mentioned in the report led to a meeting between him and US ambassador Linda Thomas Greenfield at which he clarified he did not intend to promote instability.
Following strong language from former warlords, civil society groups, human rights activists and religious leaders have called on Liberians to stop instilling fear and to avoid making threats that counter the 2003 peace agreement.
This is a good sign, said the non-profit ICTJ's Goodfriend. "The most significant thing that this indicates is that Liberians are secure enough in their current peace to take public stances against people who might want to detract from the peace agenda."
Liberians have no appetite for further instability, said TRC's Keargoi. "There is always a backlash after a truth and reconciliation report," he told IRIN. "But Liberians are resolved to move forward with their lives ? they won't let anyone take this country back to the path of war."