Published in the journal Dialogue & Alliance, Spring/Summer 2010
Monrovia, Liberia - Only once in the history of a nation should a Truth and Reconciliation Commission be needed. In reviewing the conflict that began in 1979 and continued until 2003, our responsibility as Liberians was to judge our nation’s past so as to chart a better future.
At the close of 2009, a year proclaimed by the United Nations as the International Year of Reconciliation, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia released its final edited report to the Liberian people. History is now expecting our elected leaders to give proper significance to the work and resources that went into this report and, more importantly, give merit, dignity, and relief to the souls of our beloved brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters who were forced into the spiritual world or into difficult life circumstances because of our collective past inability to resolve social and economic injustice through the rule of law.
The official Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia was commissioned by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on February 22, 2006. I served as one of nine Commissioners. From February 2006 until June 30, 2009 we carried out our mandated assignment with great difficulty. These three years opened my eyes to the challenges of human interaction and its impact on peace and development in a nation. The dossier of information presented in our just-released Final Report was compiled with great sacrifice and left indelible memories.
I signed the final Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report with reservations. I have chosen to share insights that heaven allowed me to gleam from our three-year period of public interaction, through a book I hope to release by July 26, 2010, Liberia’s 163rd independence day. These insights have enhanced my understanding and love for Liberia as a nation of destiny for Africa. I hope to also shed light on how this Truth and Reconciliation Commission report can change Liberia’s national destiny.
The conflict that began with the rice riots in April 1979 and ended with the signing of the Accra peace accords in August 2003 was like a train fueled by the diverse motivations, characters, values, dreams and objectives of the Liberian leadership class that guided the activities of this nation. They had the responsibility to protect the nation’s peace, security, and unity. Other players, both local and international, kept the conflict active when it should have subsided. The driving forces on all sides included selfishness, greed, resentment, financial interest, and ignorance.
The Liberian conflict had origins in the preceding 33 years as well as the 100 years from Liberia’s birth in 1847 to 1947 and even the pre-Liberia period. The cultural norms developed by the leaders of those eras motivated recent events.
The military and political track on which the conflict train traveled related to the Middle East crisis and how the larger powers chose sides with African leaders during the Cold War. These larger issues affect smaller counties against their will as the big powers fight for world dominance.
Our Commission wanted to carry out a "national visioning process" to engage everyone in a commitment to a “collective future” of national peace, unity, security, and reconciliation. Regrettably we were not able to properly carry this out due to lack of time and resources, so we improvised through the national conference held in June of 2009.
I am writing to supplement the commission's report with critical insights which in my opinion are needed for rebuilding this nation. Some Commissioners did not sign the report but published written dissensions. This should tell the world how difficult it is for a people to be critical about themselves and move towards a new future.
It is my hope that these clarifications will help people appreciate how the majority of Commissioners viewed our collective responsibility to the Liberian people. Our responsibility was to judge the nation’s past so as to chart a better future, not to deal with personal guilt and apprehensions of the painful past. This transitional justice process should separate a nation from its evil past and ensure that it does not resurface.
The election in 2011 will be Liberia’s first constitutional election since the 1970s. Our collective national decision about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report determines our ability to learn from the past and change our future. Leaders are responsible to represent our national best interest, ensure that the rule of law prevails, and learn from our past in order to change our future. Our President can play a vital role as a national mother during this critical transitional period.
Those who held public office and have been determined by the commission to bear greater responsibility for our national crisis as violators of human right laws or to have been associated ideologically or financially with such violators need to vindicate themselves peacefully through the rule of law as we close the first decade of the new millennium which was dedicated by the United Nations to promote a culture of peace. Some believe that political leadership is a right, but history will bear witness that it is a privilege not a right.
Those who committed lesser crimes, such as political and financial association with arms, violence, economic crimes, and human rights abuses, can be completely pardoned of all political sanctions through mechanisms set up by the Commission. Those who committed greater crimes, whether economic or military, can be pardon by a public recommendation to the Head of State after they have humbled themselves to the judicial process of the rule of law. This is a one-time opportunity or special reconciliatory pardon which requires humble submission to the will of the innocent Liberians and the restorative justice mechanism of the truth and reconciliation process.
I pray the Liberian people will forgive all those who properly follow this process. We have to set a precedent for Africa. This unique approach to reconciling our past was the natural consequence of our mandate to ensure accountability while dealing with impunity without providing amnesty. It was also a consequence of the reckless way in which the civil wars were fought and the caliber of leaders who guided it.
Our research revealed that the essential motive in 1980 for the use of civil violence as compared to the rule of law against the Presidency of the late William R. Tolbert, an ordained minister of God and newly endorsed head of the government, was the social and economic injustice practiced by his predecessors dating back to 1847.
With the final cessation of hostility since 2003 and the events up to the close of 2009, we have learned that violence does not uproot injustice in leadership; it can only lead to change of leadership.
As we prepare for elections in 2011, heaven has given us a golden opportunity as a nation to learn the secret of how to uproot injustice in the hearts and minds of our elected future leaders and thus open way for a golden era of Liberia’s history.
As we close 2009, the UN International Year of Reconciliation, and close this International Decade of a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for Children of the World, let us reflect on the many innocent lives lost in our national search for peace and social justice. May those lives not be lost in vain because of a few unrighteous ones. At the same time, let us strive to love and forgive those unrighteous ones, once they have humbled themselves to the heart and will of the people and of heaven.
May I close with the words and thoughts of Rev. Dr. Sun Myung Moon, a great peacemaker and my True Parent, in his recently published autobiography entitled As a Peace-Loving Global Citizen. I was moved by these words:
“God’s will is to bring about a world in which love is made real, and the family is the place where God’s love overflows.”
Let us all, as members of the human family who have survived this past century of deadly conflicts, give thanks to God as the invisible Parent of humankind and remember that we originally betrayed His love and hope for our nations and allowed Satan to rise in our midst and abuse us. Let us not repeat the tragic mistakes of the past in this new decade but rather remember the Lord’s Prayer:
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
May God bless our nation and guide us as we collectively strive to make this decade the one that will restore our national pride and see the fulfillment of our national destiny in harmony with the will of God. Let goodness and righteousness rule our beloved nation!
Note: A copy of the full report of the Commission is available at http://www.trcofliberia.org.