The Dilemmas of Implementing the TRC Report
Harry Papa Mason
December 31, 2009
First, all major decisions of the TRC should have been based on consensus that is, all commissioners should have agreed on all controversial decision items for recommendation - given the nature, sensitivity, and quality of information and facts obtained from interviewees who were thought to be reasonable sources of information because they were either a part of the Liberian civil war or were closer to individuals and sources who committed “gross human rights violations” against the Liberian people during the 14-year war.
The high-context or relationship-based Liberian culture creates no doubt that the commissioners themselves have some relationships with some of the players who confessed during some of the TRC hearings. In this situation, the perceived inherent biasness of the commissioners should have been mitigated by a consensus decision making, thus eliminating the inherent authority of the TRC chairman to make overarching decisions of the commission, which has created a serious credibility problem for the report.
Therefore, the chorus opposition by two of the commissioners - Sheik Kafumba F. Konneh and Cllr. Pearl Brown Bull - alleged that their critical inputs into the final TRC Report were marginalized by manipulations of the chairman, creates a very cloudy doubt that the final TRC Report will be approved in its originality by the Liberian National Legislature for implementation.
TRC without a prosecutorial power
Second, maybe the chairman of the TRC and his other loyal commissioners want to see that the final TRC Report be legislatively approved in its originality. However, the TRC lacks the authority to prosecute those found to be responsible for gross human rights violations perpetrated against the Liberian people during the war. Even though the Accra mandate of the TRC was to conduct confession hearings to “promote national peace, security, unity and reconciliation” and to make reasonable recommendations so that restorative justice can enhance Liberia’s continued peace-building process currently initiated by the power that be some of whom the TRC Report recommended for prosecution.
For instance, the competing interests in the TRC Report make it probably a difficult challenge for Jerome Verdier the chairman of the TRC to be fully credited for such a report that has been widely criticized for lack of team consensus in agreeing on key recommendations that have skewed the report as biased and favored certain elements in the erstwhile Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU) of Dr. Amos C. Sawyer. Some critics of TRC Report have alleged that TRC chairman Jerome Verdier and his other loyal commissioners cleverly manipulated the unedited TRC Report to give Dr. Amos C. Sawyer’s IGNU a soft landing, despite critics’ allegations that the Sawyer leadership created the unconstitutional Black Berets who fought alongside the constitutional Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) and masterminded the creation of other factional groups (particularly the original ULIMO in Sierra Leone in 1991) against Charles Taylor’s rebel National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL).
No legislative and judicial powers
And third, the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of August 2003 formally ended the 14-year Liberian civil conflict and required that (requested) the erstwhile National Transitional Legislative Assembly (NTLA) of the National Transitional Government of Liberia to formally enact the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Liberia, for the purpose of promoting national peace, security, unity and reconciliation pivoted on restorative justice mechanism.
The current Liberian National Legislature succeeded the NTLA in the 2005 general elections in Liberia and has no inherent powers as defined in the CPA to approve the prosecution of those the TRC found to be responsible for gross human rights violations. Further, the Liberian Judiciary cannot prosecute TRC-recommended wrongdoers because the judiciary has no enacted powers or laws from the Liberian National Legislature to prosecute those report found to be guilty of human rights violations.
However, the Liberian Independent Human Rights Commission (LIHR) perhaps the immediate surrogate successor of the TRC might be charged with the responsibilities of implementing the recommendations that are contained in the final TRC. But one visible dilemma is that this commission is staffed by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who the TRC Report recommended a 30-year exclusion from politics.
Further, the Liberian relationship-based politics dictates that you cannot bite the hand that feeds you. Despite the ethics and professionalism of these LIHR commissioners, the theory of inherent bias that engulfs all persons at some point in time will appeal to the sympathy of President Johnson-Sirleaf (who gave me bread when I was hungry in the context of inherent bias), thus compromising the full implementation of the final TRC Report.
The final TRC Report is not exhaustive of all the major players in the 14-year Liberian civil war. But no doubt the final report forms the basis of promoting national peace, security, unity and reconciliation in Liberia in the context of restorative justice. It was not only the warring factions that meted out atrocities against the Liberian people but also some influential non-combatant Liberians whom the report did not mention because of inadequate resources and cutoff time to make public the final report - masterminded the gruesome killings of their compatriots because of acrimonious differences in the past before the birth of the war in December 1989. Even after the 14 years of useless warfare and self-destruction, the Liberian political culture is still replete with past vices of corruption, rape, sexual exploitation of adolescent girls, bigotry, marginalization, self-interest, dishonesty, and lack of patriotism.
Further, I clearly envisage hurdles in approving fully the final TRC Report by the Liberian National Legislature and implementing said report because some characters in the report found to be recommended for prosecution are key members of the three (3) branches of government - executive, legislative, and judicial who will form a marriage of convenience to either mitigate or avert their prosecution. In this case, restorative justice, rather than retributive justice, is extremely important to realizing the promotion of national peace, security, unity and reconciliation in Liberia as contained in the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of August 2003.
The intricacies of Liberia’s 14-year civil war are bordered on a complex paradigm since 1822 when settler Liberians from the United States of America and indigenous Liberians hardly coexisted for the good of Liberia because the settler Liberians dominated the Liberian political landscape for more than 130 years and created a piecemeal indigenous participation that culminated in the 1980 coup, ending an Americo-Liberian dynasty, followed by continued instability when the Liberian people in December 1989 overwhelmingly embraced Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) to liberate them from the dictatorial regime of the late indigenous President Samuel K. Doe.
In short, a restorative justice program is the best option to promoting national peace, security, unity and reconciliation in Liberia as contained in the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of August 2003. But the employment of retributive justice to prosecute those the final TRC found to be responsible for gross human rights violations will definitely create a marriage of convenience or conflict alliance among members of former warring factions at the detriment of the Liberian peace process. Therefore, implementing the final TRC Report with restorative justice will create a sustainable peace and national reconciliation in Liberia for all.