Liberia's TRC panel begins public hearings

Liberia President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf appealed for honesty on Tuesday as her war-racked West African country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) began its public hearings.

“I call upon all Liberians to respond to the TRC when they are invited. This process is not only for healing and reconciliation, it is also for justice,” Johnson-Sirleaf said at the start of proceedings in an opening ceremony in Monrovia.

The commission, created on similar lines to South Africa’s post-apartheid panel after a 2003 peace pact, began work in 2006 by touring the West African nation to gather evidence of rights violations committed between 1979 and 2003.

Over two years, the aim is to shed light on massacres, summary executions, sexual violence and economic crimes perpetrated during Liberia’s conflicts, with a longer-term goal of national reconciliation.

“I call all Liberians to be honest and truthful during this process. All those who suffered during the crisis will have to share their pains,” Johnson-Sirleaf told a gathering of about 200 people, including TRC members, government ministers and foreign diplomats.

“The TRC is the key to the reconciliation and achievement of genuine peace in Liberia,” stated the commission’s president, Jerome Verdier, who led a tour of six northern and eastern provinces where TRC members were able to go and explain their work.

During the public hearings, which will last until July 31, victims of the Liberian conflicts will come face to face with those they hold responsible.

The panel has been empowered to convene anybody, regardless of their social and political standing, TRC spokesperson Richmond Anderson said.

The announcement of the public process had raised mixed feelings among people questioned by Agence France-Presse on Monday.

“This will only aggravate the situation,” preacher George Kpadeh said.
“It is like you are putting a knife in a sore that is finishing.”

But lawyer Cerinus Cephus disagreed.

“Let justice be rendered to those who suffered the barbaric acts during the war,” he said. “It is the best road towards true reconciliation.”

When Anderson came back from touring the country late in December, he said that: “In every county where we went, people showed us at least one mass grave, resulting from massacres perpetrated during the war.”

Some of the worst atrocities took place in the heyday of warlord Charles Taylor in the 1990s, with his often youthful followers taking drugs and accused of brutality to the point of cannibalism.

Taylor is currently on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity before a special tribunal in The Hague, but that court deals with his alleged role in Sierra Leone, trading weapons for that country’s blood diamonds.—AFP

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