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Peace Education

Leadership Conference Launches National Peace Council

They came in the name of peace, drawing together in common cause, with the confidence that they can bring prosperity and security following the chaos that had wracked the nation of Liberia and the region. Under the umbrella of Universal Peace Federation, they came, putting behind them the horror, to work together to build new partnerships and forge a new nation. The theme of the three-day peace conference in Monrovia from February 9 – 11, 2006 was: “Challenges for Good Governance, Reconciliation and Peace for Liberia: The Role of Peace Councils.” Those in attendance numbered over 200, including the implementing partners:

United Nations Development Program
West Africa Network for Peace-building
Liberia Agency for Community Development, the Better Future Foundation Liberia
CHF International

In his opening message, Mr. J. Momolu Kiandii reminded the conferees of the objectives the founding fathers had when ECOWAS was created 30 years ago. He said the regional body was created to ensure enduring peace and prosperity for the sub-region. The challenge is for Liberians themselves to seize this opportunity to positively transform Liberia into a prosperous nation through determination and commitment through concrete actions to build a vibrant and inclusive society for all Liberians irrespective of ethnic or other affiliations. With those words, he assured those gathered that they had ECOWAS' support in this endeavor.

A delegation from neighboring country Sierra Leone came to give support and advice. Ms. Yasmin Jusu-Sheriff Fofanah, of the Mano River Women Peace Network, said the nearly two decades of conflict in the Mano River sub-region has taught everyone that we are indeed our neighbor’s keepers. Peace would be temporary in Sierra Leone if Liberia or Guinea does not have peace, and vice versa.

Representing the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), Mr. Andrea Tamagnini came as Chief of the Re-integration, Rehabilitation & Recovery Section.

Commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Liberia, the Reverend Dr. Arthur F. Kulah gave his goodwill message by informing the conference of the history and mandate of the TRC, in its quest for genuine peace and stability in the region.

Reverend Ambassador Gerald B. Coleman, of UPF Liberia, presented the speech of the Chairman of the Universal Peace Federation, Rev. Chung Hwan Kwak. The proposed Peace Council, which resembles the structure of the UN General Assembly, is grounded in a spirit of volunteerism and service to humanity. Living for the sake of others is the essential characteristic of true love thus deriving the motto: “True Love Is the Original Ideal and Guiding Principle of the Universal Peace Federation.”

He called for the development of a global ethic whereby all religions should teach inter-religious dialogue and foster good relations with people of all faiths. He urged the United Nations to hasten establishment of an Interreligious Council on equal footing and in cooperative relationship with the Economic and Social Council. This will allow the voice of God, expressed through the teachings of the world’s religions, be heard in addressing the world’s most critical problems.

In the keynote address, the message of the new Liberian president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, was presented by the Foreign Minister. Root causes of the Liberian conflict can be traced to inequality, inequity, corruption and disregard for the values and dignity of the Liberian people. There can be no guarantee for peace if the people do not develop a sense of unity or fail to recognize that they must be their brothers’ keepers.

The first session of the conference addressed Leadership and Good Governance for the Global Family, presented by Mr. Tageldin Hamad. He stressed that the three Mano River Union countries -- Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone -- are fully represented in the conference and that participants should break down the barriers that separate humanity. Dialogue, among other things, is important in promoting universal peace. He noted that religion must play an important role in the healing process, and the media must be an important instrument in working for peace. Freedom cannot last without responsibility.

Wesley Momo Johnson emphasized the need for reconciliation, which is a two-way street: admitting wrongdoing and seeking forgiveness. He urged participants to truly reconcile their differences and encouraged Liberian journalists to play a pivotal role in the substance of peace.

Mr. Hamad then outlined the following as the core objectives of the Peace Councils:

Promotion of a culture of peace through service, sports, arts, and media
Interreligious cooperation
Partnerships among governments, religions and civil Society
The United Nations and its Economic and Social Council
An Interreligious Council at the United Nations
Good governance
Human and economic development including humanitarian relief
Conflict prevention and resolution
Strong, loving family life and peace education

Dr. Evelyn Kandakai, President of the National Peace Council, responded by anticipating how the Peace Councils can be rooted in Liberia, noting the words of Dr. Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the UN: “…democracy, peace and a decent standard of living should be the birth right of every person. And thus, human rights, security and development taken together make up the idea of larger freedom.”

She proposed that the National and Local Peace Councils function as two consultative consortiums and meet periodically to guide the work of its Secretariat and to deliberate on emerging issues.

Day 2

The second day of the conference began with prayers from several religious traditions and resumed with the topic: Current Challenges in the Liberian Peace Process. The first group was headed by Senator Blamo Nelson, who identified the six challenges as: corruption, illiteracy, weak institutional capacities, lack of sufficient food, secrecy in government operations, and lack of faith in the balance of power.

The second group centered on the topic: Practical Examples of Conflict Resolution: The Lofa County Experience. Mr. Momo Kamara described the Community Peace Councils (CPC), each consisting of 12 persons representing all the ethnic groups of Lofa County, who are trained in Civic Education, Human Rights and Conflict Resolution. Their primary responsibility is to handle disputes within their district.

The third session was devoted to the topic: Towards Genuine Peace and Reconciliation: Sub-regional Experiences. Professor Kamara, National Policy Advisor to the President of Sierra Leone and former Commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Sierra Leone, observed that Liberia and Sierra Leone have experienced complete cycles of wars, but they are now at different levels of achieving complete recovery. He said that from the Lome Peace Agreement of Sierra Leone went through the process of demobilization, disarmament, reintegration, and the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Special Court.

He emphasized that reconciliation is a major requirement for obtaining durable peace because it is through this mechanism that investigations into the causes of conflict, and crimes perpetrated against individuals, nations, etc by others can be conducted. The TRC in Sierra Leone was successful because it judiciously implemented a genuine mandate which was to study the nation’s past and present history including its cultural, economic, and political life.

Mrs. Elizabeth S. Mulbah, from the Liberia Agency for Community Empowerment (LACE), outlined similarities between conflicts suffered in Sierra Leone and Liberia. On a heart-felt note, she suggested that we should start to define peace at the community level as “being able to send one’s child to school.” Speaking from her experiences in the rural areas, she stressed that "reconciliation means recognizing people’s efforts, and to have genuine peace and reconciliation in the society, we must be able to acknowledge wrongdoings."

The session on Interreligious Perspectives on Peace & Reconciliation featured Sheikh Kafumba F. Konneh, who identified retributive justice and restorative justice as the main methods for dealing with reconciliation. He spoke for free, fair and transparent election at every level as a gateway to a democratic process and noted that the current legislature, with no clear-cut majority, could give rise to fear of political manipulation in matters of controversy. A worthy national goal would be the breaking down conflicting and harmful loyalties and allegiances, with religious leaders leading the implementation of this new agenda.

William R. Tolbert, III, indicated a need to reinforce links between traditional and modern ways to transform society and improve life for all. His suggestions for the proposed peace council in Liberia include:

Mediation, negotiations, and adjudication of community disputes and related social, economic, religious, or legal matters
Reintegration of former combatants, internally displaced persons, and returnees
Identification of mass grave sites and construction of memorials
Promotion of good governance and minimization of corruption
Reduction of cross-border migration and proliferation of weapons

Day 3

The third day of the Peace Conference included sessions on HIV/AIDS prevention and sexual violence in Liberia.

The afternoon brought the conferees into working sessions. Group A discussed Formation of the National Peace Council and Its Agenda, Membership, Operational Guidelines, Framework and Activities, and concluded that the widest spectrum of society must be included to make it truly representative. Group B discussed Formulation of Strategies for Local Peace Councils: County, District, Community and Institution, and concluded that peace councils should be active in education, resettlement, and the settlement of disputes. Group C addressed itself to Formulation of a Position Statement on Current Issues on Peace and Security in Post Conflict, Post-Election Liberia. They called for national security through peaceful co-existence with its neighbors, and strengthening the process of rule of law, poverty reduction. They suggested programs to address issues of HIV/AIDS and to promote religious and cultural tolerance.

The Closing of the Conference

After the banquet, the Monrovia Peace Declaration was read by Rev. Augustine S. Arkoi, the Secretary General of the Universal Peace Foundation / Interreligious International Federation for World Peace – Liberia.

Several distinguished personalities including government officials, academicians, religious and community leaders were then commissioned as Ambassadors for Peace and presented certificates. The designation of Ambassadors for Peace stipulates that they are individuals whose lives exemplify the ideal of living for the sake of others and who dedicate themselves to promoting universal moral values, strong family life, interreligious cooperation, international harmony, renewal of the United Nations, responsible mass media, and the establishment of the global culture of peace. Transcending racial, national and religious barriers, the Ambassadors for Peace contribute to the fulfillment of the hope of all ages, a unified world of peace, wherein the spiritual and material dimensions of all reality are harmonized.

To read reflections on the conference, click here. See also Appeal to Assist with the Truth and Reconciliation Process.

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