U.S. Symposium Calls for Implementation of Liberia’s ‘Truth’ Recommendations


– FPA STAFF REPORT

Source: FrontPage Africa

TRC Commissioner Massa Washington

SYMPOSIUM PLAY: TRC Commissioner Massa Washington, was one of three former members of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission who participated in a two-day symposium on drawing attention and interest in the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

New York –

More than one hundred and fifty Participants from Liberia, Europe and the United States of America attending a two-day Symposium on the Future of Liberia relative to the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), are calling for the full implementation of all recommendations of the TRC to foster genuine peace and reconciliation in Liberia.

TRC Commissioner John Stewart
address symposium in New York.

TRC Commissioner John Stewart address symposium in New York.

The Symposium held from the 29-30, October 2010, in New York, was organized by the African Refuge Inc, the International Trauma Studies Institute, The New Scholl University, The Institute for the Study of Human Rights, and Columbia University all of New York together with other Liberian and international civic organizations to address stalemate in the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Liberia. According to the organizers the event was intended to revive the interest of stakeholders including elected officials of the current government and the international Community in the implementation of the recommendations of the TRC. The discussions centered around three major issues of: Reform, Redress and Recovery.

Although officials of the current Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf government and the international community had enthusiastically endorsed and financed the establishment of the TRC, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and some perpetrators of gross human rights violations in her government are now adverse to the implementation of the recommendations contained in the report. Since the publication of the TRC’s Final Report in December 2009, officials of the present government who played key political, financial and military roles in financing the war continue to argue against the implementation of the recommendations, particularly those related to accountability.

Pivotal steps, Dr. Seyon says

 Dr. Patrick LN Seyon

Dr. Patrick LN Seyon

It is the overwhelming views of speakers including three of the TRC commissioners, representatives of nongovernmental organizations, statisticians, human rights advocates, academicians, and hosts of other Liberian activists including the President of the Association of Liberians residing in Europe that the TRC recommendations should be implemented as a step forward in the battle against the culture of impunity. A noted Liberian academic in attendance at the symposium, Dr. Patrick Seyon, former President of the University of Liberia, who served as a panelist on the Reform Panel declared his acceptance for the implementation of the TRC recommendations as a pivotal step toward laying the foundation for genuine peace, stability and economic prosperity. Dr. Seyon is however calling for a national conference that he says should discuss the recommendations and come out with appropriate framework for their implementation.

Serving as Keynote Speaker at the event, the Chairman of the TRC, Counselor Jerome Verdier said he and his colleagues have a moral obligation to promote the implementation of the TRC recommendations, even though they would prefer for other Liberians to act as advocates. In encouraging the Liberian public to suppress their fear and support the TRC recommendations, he reminded the audience about the fear factor, this time in 1997 that encouraged Liberians to give the Liberian presidency to the warlord with the biggest gun, Charles Taylor in the name of peace and reconciliation. Following that let bygones be bygones trade off, Liberians gave the country to Taylor and experienced another brutal civil war few years later. Charles Taylor in exchange for peace. Counselor Verdier informed the audience that President Sirleaf government has created an environment that is hostile to the members of the TRC. For instance, the government has not paid them for the past eighteen months. Beyond their personal salaries, the government has not provided funds for the payments of services provided to the TRC by merchants. This hostile environment has encouraged warlords and former combatants to try and intimidate members of the TRC and their families.

Abraham Massalley

Abraham Massalley

Mr. Abraham Massaley, a Liberian community and opinion leader residing in Philadelphia, informed the audience that President Sirleaf, seeking to fortify her defiance against the TRC recommendations, and acting contrary to the promotion of accountability, is now appointing notorious former warlords in the government as allies. Therefore, it is only the full implementation of the TRC recommendations that Liberia will promote a wholesome and functioning society in Liberia.

Decrying Ex-Warlords in government

Speaker Massaley reference was made concerning President Sirleaf recent appointment of John T. Richardson as Presidential chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Housing Authority. Richardson, notoriously known by Liberians as ”General Octopus” due to his leadership role played in the orchestration of the infamous “Operation Octopus” of the NPFL of Charles Taylor that rained rockets on Monrovia and its environs causing countless of death and sufferings including the brutal slaying of five innocent American Catholic Nuns at the Convent in Gardnesville where they had been caring for poor Liberians. Reference was also made to the appointment of major warlord of the notorious ULIMO-K faction, Mr. Alahji G. V. Kromah whom President Sirleaf appointed this year as Chair of the Board of Directors of the Liberian Broadcasting System (the State own Radio Station). President Johnson-Sirleaf also Appointed to the Board of Directors of the Liberian Broadcasting System, Madame Weade Kobbah Wureh, former Executive, founding member, Secretary General and spokes person for the rebel Liberian Peace Council (LPC) of Dr. George Boley. The LPC rebel fighters are noted for roasting human beings alive. The recent appointment of notorious NPFL General Roland Duo as Special Project Coordinator of the National Security Agency (NSA) By President Sirleaf was also down cried. The name Roland Duo, is associated with several acts of gross human rights and humanitarian law violations including several massacres one of the most prominent being the Mahare Bridge massacre in Bomi County where young children and babies were thrown into the Mahare river after their family members were killed by men acting under the orders of Gen. Roland Duo.

TRC Chair Jerome Verdier
addresses symposium.

TRC Chair Jerome Verdier addresses symposium.

Sitting as panelist on both the Reform and Recovery panels, another Commissioner of the TRC, Ms. Massa Washington reminded the audience that Liberia risks reverting to violence if President Sirleaf encourages warlords to disregard the call for accountability in the TRC recommendations because she prefers to remain president rather than respecting the rule of law. Commissioner Washington said the President must stop providing cover for perpetrators of heinous crimes against the Liberian people by separating herself from perpetrators and allowing them to have their day in court. She said the law is about evidence and not every one who is indicted is convicted. Let due process take place she said.

Ms. Washington also recited an array of international human rights law which she said Liberia as a signatory and member of is obliged to respect in regards to the TRC recommendations. She said the same international jurisdictions that applied to the setting up of the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals following World War 11, the War crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the War Crimes Court trying perpetrators of the Rwanda Genocide, and the Special Court for Sierra Leone have set precedent that should not exempt the situation of Liberia.

Following the Commissioners statements, which arose the audience to a standing ovation Mr. Massalley, added that the culture of impunity was across the region of West Africa including Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. It was about time that our international partners compel President Sirleaf through necessary measures including diplomacy to respect the rule of law, which would become a signal to perpetrators in the region that criminals will be held accountable, he stated.

Another Liberian activist introducing the issue of economic crimes into the discussion, J. Yanqui Zaza, a Liberian community Leader on Staten Island indicated that there was a link between the interest of profiteers and the lukewarm attitude by our international partners and President Sirleaf to delay the implementation of the TRC recommendations. Zaza said that profiteers, wishing to cash in on the presidency of Sirleaf, do not want a new president who might not be willing to give sweet heart deals in exchange of kickbacks. As evidenced by the Firestone sweet heart deals, profiteers see the presidency of President Sirleaf as an opportunity for owning lucrative mineral resources of Liberia, and will do everything to continue receiving sweet hearts deals.

Dr. Patrick LN Seyon

Dr. Patrick LN Seyon

Youth grappling with issues

On Saturday, October 30, 2010, many statisticians from sections of the United Nations and other U.S. based organizations presented findings of surveys of strategies and provided recommendations on how best Liberia could recover. Jeannie Annan submitted findings, yet to be published about reframing and understanding the past with the present in discussing the youth behaviors during and after the war, said her studies discovered that providing a sphere where youths feel they are in control of their lives and changing behavior through mentorship, were some proposed focus of dealing with youth.

Ms. Annan said youth were grappling with the issues of how to manage former combatants who are unemployed, unskilled, and disappointed because their former warlords and the current government have failed to fulfill pledged promises to them. She said former combatants in her program have expressed through survey hopeless towards life as a result of the prevailing unfavorable country condition to have an organized concerted approach to dealing with issues of every day life confronting them.

The organizers will submit a comprehensive report of the two-day conference to the government of Liberia and the International Community at a later date.

Other discussants at the conference included: Luis Bickford of the ICTJ, Dr. Joseph Gbaba a Liberian scholar in the USA, Mr. John Brownell, President of the Association of Liberians in Europe, David Backer, Program Officer of the Grant Program of the U.S Institute of Peace, Tania, Bernath, Jeffery Harmon, Jack Saul of the International Trauma Studies Institute, Michael Keating, Associate Director of the Center for Democracy and Development of the University of Boston etc.

The symposium was organized by the US base Liberian NGO, African Refuge, New School in New York City, and the International Trauma Studies program at Columbia University.

Call for Ellen Sirleaf’s arrest

Also addressing the symposium, Jacob D. Massaquoi, Director of the African Refuge Executive Director said the symposium is the “beginning of the end” of a civic revolution.

“Taylor, Ellen, they brought arms, for us we are not bringing arms, we are going to use people power, we will challenge them intellectually. For her she is a domestic terrorist, she should be arrested, tried and prosecuted for the crimes she committed against our people” he said.

He stressed that the two -day symposium is critical to the attainment of lasting peace and security in Liberia.

Mr. Massaquoi a native of Butuo in Nimba County, said the Liberian civil war began from his town before spreading to other parts of the country, he revealed that he himself suffered casualties from the war, which left him handicapped for 10 years.

“I was handicapped for ten years from the killing machines that Ellen Johnson and Charles Taylor created. I can’t sit aside and watch terrorist and perpetrators of war crimes to continue to masquerade the international corridor in the name of peace and democracy”

Massaquoi who is in his mid thirties, runs the African Refuge Center on Staten Island, which he says has helped over 10, 000 Liberian refugees resettled on Staten Island, in New York city.

He said “against this backdrop we organized this symposium to put the TRC recommendations at the front and center of international debate in Liberia. We want to ensure that those recommended for prosecution, and lustration be banned from participating in the upcoming elections, especially Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf”

Massaquoi was keen on saying that Liberia is practically turning into a one party state, with the ruling Unity Party having a total representation of forty lawmakers in the National Legislature. He warned that if Liberians sit aside and not take action, the country will again be heading into another rounds of trouble.

“We’re seeing all of the finger prints of trouble, we heading to another round of destruction. There is no way this government can conduct free and fair elections. How can you justify allowing perpetrators of war crimes, perpetrators of domestic terrorism standing in elections?” he asked.

He added “they had an opportunity to ask Liberians for forgiveness, they didn’t do that, they went there arrogantly, and they abuse the opportunity. Now is the time. We can no longer appease perpetrators of war crimes in our country.

“We believe that the right thing that we can do, the right thing that any patriotic Liberian can do, is ensure that come 2011, this government term should have expired. They should create a condition, a national conference, an all Liberian conference to put in place a administration of qualified people, clean people, new breed of qualified people to implement the TRC final report. He ended.

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