– Ex-commissioners say…

MONROVIA – Several ex-commissioners of Liberia’s erstwhile Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) have accused members of the Liberian Senate of undermining the credibility of the TRC’s final report.

In a document dated 4 August, in the possession of Women Voices newspaper, which the ex-commissioners say is the defunct TRC’s response to the Senate’s recent proposals on the final report of the Commission, the TRC former commissioners recalled that for the past three weeks, the Liberian Senate engaged in “Public Hearings” on the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Liberia, noting that the hearings were conducted following President George Weah’s submission of a letter requesting the Senate’s advice on how to proceed with implementation of recommendations contained in the Final Report of the TRC.

On 12 September 2019, it can be recalled, President Weah wrote a communication addressed to the Senate, seeking advice and guidance on all legislative and other necessary measures on how to proceed with the implementation of the TRC report, including the establishment of a War and Economic Crimes Court.

The letter specifically referred at the time to the outcome of the conference on “National Consensus on the Revival and Growth of the Liberian Economy,” which recommended the full implementation of recommendations of the TRC report.

The conference also noted in its recommendations that accounting for past violations of human rights was essential to achieving sustainable peace and inclusive development.

The Senate, following the submission of the letter by President Weah, deferred the matter to its leadership committee that deliberated on it and made recommendations which have since been hotly contested by civil society and others.

The Senate’s hearings and subsequent recommendations have also claimed the attention of ex-commissioners of the erstwhile TRC, and they have asserted that having fully reviewed the recommendations of the Senate, they consider it a duty and compelling responsibility to respond to the issues and points raised by the senators.

As a first step, the TRC ex-commissioners asserted that they wish to state that the Senate did not provide an opportunity for all TRC Commissioners present in the country to participate in its proceedings.

They noted that the Senate also published a list of participants of its hearings including TRC’s former Commissioner Massa Washington, but added that ex-Commissioner Washington has since confirmed that she was not given an official invitation to such hearings.

“We are further appalled by the misinformation bandied in the public by senators who claimed amongst others that only four Commissioners signed the TRC Final Report,” the ex-commissioners added.  

The former commissioners emphasized that in their opinion, the Senate’s action to have allegedly fed the public with misinformation regarding inviting ex-commissioners of the TRC to its hearings, as well as the actual amount of the commissioners that signed the final report of the TRC, was an attempt to undermine the credibility of the TRC Report, which they say according to the UN High Commission on Human Rights (UNHCHR) now forms the internationally accepted framework of accountability for gross violation of Human Rights and the commission of war and economic crimes in Liberia.

Contrary to assertions attributed to members of the Senate that only four Commissioners signed the TRC Final Report, the ex-commissioners intoned that they are appalled by what they described as the misinformation and half-truths publicly bandied by some senators that the TRC was plagued by internal divisions so deep to the point where only four Commissioners signed the report, and that two Commissioners did not sign the Final Report.

The TRC former commissioners maintained that contrary to such misinformation and half-truths, six Commissioners out of the total of eight Commissioners, signed the TRC Final Report while two Commissioners did not.

According to the former commissioners, those who signed the TRC Final Report include Commissioners Jerome Verdier (chairman), Dede Dolopei (vice chairman), Gerald Coleman, Massa Washington, Oumu Sylla and John H. T. Stewart, adding that the two Commissioners who did not sign the Final Report were: Pearl Brown Bull and Sheik Kafumba Konneh (now deceased).

Initially, nine TRC commissioners were in 2005 appointed by the then chairman of the National Transitional Government, the late Gyude Bryant, following an extensive process of public vetting, and the commissioners were officially inducted into office by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in 2006, according to the former commissioners, as contained in their Wednesday’s document signed by John H. T Stewart, former chairman of the erstwhile TRC’s Report Writing Committee.

“One of the nine (9) Commissioners, Methodist Bishop Arthur Kulah, early on resigned to take up an assignment as interim Bishop of a diocese in Nigeria,” the former commissioners said further, adding that Bishop Kulah was never replaced and the TRC remained as an eight-man body up to the end of the completion and submission of its final report.

“Fellow Liberians, those Senators who purvey such deliberate misinformation and half-truths fail to acknowledge, perhaps out of ignorance, that decisions made by TRC Commissioners were done by consensus,” the TRC ex-commissioners stressed, indicating that in cases where a consensus could not be derived, Commissioners made decisions by vote with the majority decision being upheld as its official decision, as mandated by the TRC Act.

They likened the TRC’s decision making process to the country’s Supreme Court’s – whose final decisions are made by consensus and where a consensus is not derived, a vote is taken, and the majority vote stands as the decision of the Court.

Additionally, the ex-commissioners averred that they are aware of what they called the machinations and schemes, being planned and hatched by vested interests including perpetrators and their minions to deny justice to victims of the conflict and the Liberian people in general.

Regarding the Senate’s recent recommendation to President Weah, for the establishment of a Transitional Justice Commission in place of the TRC recommended war and economics crimes’ tribunal, the ex-commissioners accused members of the Senate of intended duplicity, indicating that such proposal from members of the senate “begs the questions of duplicity, necessity and intent.” – “This is because the TRC as a transitional justice mechanism had full legal existence and submitted a Comprehensive Final Report of its work as mandated by the TRC Act.”

“The Senate speaks as if the TRC was/is not a transitional justice body. For the sake of information and education, Truth Commissions are also part of transitional justice processes,” the TRC former commissioners clarified.

They also slammed the senators over the constitutionality and Illegality of their action regarding the TRC process and its Final Report, stating that there is also a troubling specter in the general scheme of things bordering on the governance of the Liberian state.

They intimated that Liberia’s Constitution is unequivocal in striking a clear balance amongst the three (3) co-equal branches of government, the Legislature, the Executive, and the Judiciary, noting that to now suggest that the implementation of an Act of the Legislature passed in 2005, should be based on advice from the very Legislature, which should be providing oversight, is a complete violation of the Constitution of the Republic and the Law establishing the TRC.

“We, therefore, view the decision of the Legislature and the process unraveling during the last few weeks as grossly contrived, to say the least,” said the former commissioners, who are calling on the Legislature must take cognizance of its responsibility under the Act creating the TRC:

 “Article 10, sections 43 and 48 of the Act establishing the TRC gave the Legislature oversight to ensure government’s unambiguous response to the outcome of the TRC process, including implementation of its recommendations,” the ex-commissioners said.

The stated that in section 43 of the TRC Act, the Commission was specifically mandated to submit its final report containing recommendations “at the end of its tenure to the Legislature, adding that this provision is not and should not be interpreted to mean that the Legislature can do whatever it wants with the Report because a copy was presented to it.

“The TRC ACT did NOT ask the Legislature to “ADVICE” the Head of State/President on the implementation of the TRC’s recommendations,” they added, indicating that the TRC ACT also did not instruct the Legislature to hold hearings on the TRC process, and attempt to interpret the recommendations especially recommendations it does not like such as the recommendation for the establishment of a war crimes court.

“The TRC ACT clearly did not instruct the Legislature to scrutinize the TRC Report nor propose a counter Commission to “Investigate the TRC Report,” the ex-commissioners emphasized, indicating that in Section 48 of the TRC ACT, the Legislature’s responsibility is further clarified – “The Head of State shall report to the National Legislature within three months of receipt of the report of the TRC, and on a quarterly basis thereafter, as to the implementation of the Commission’s recommendations. All recommendations SHALL be implemented.

Where the implementation of any recommendation has not been complied with, the Legislature shall require the Head of State to show cause for such noncompliance.”

The ex-commissioners are of the belief that why the TRC Recommendations have not been fully and timely implemented is because there has been no political will on the part of the country’s leadership from the beginning to implement the recommendations contained in the report.

“Fellow Liberians, ten (10) years have elapsed since the TRC published and presented its Final Report to the Nation and nineteen (19) years since the guns of war went silent,” the former commissioners noted, pointing out that a new generation has since emerged with no memories of conflict and war. What we now see happening is a concerted attempt driven by those vested interests referred to earlier to create new but false historical narratives of the 14-year civil war.”

They claim that such narratives are intended to cover up the role played by those with vested interests as organizers, financiers and leaders of bands of armed gangs that raped, looted, murdered, tortured, terrorized, forcibly displaced local populations and pillaged the resources of Liberia with wanton and reckless disregard for anyone except their leaders.

The ex-commissioners added: “While leaders of the various armed gangs/factions have since ascended to positions of power and influence and ungainly acquired considerable wealth, their victims have been left to their own devices to suffer in agony and deprivation, their hopes for justice quashed.”

“Finally, fellow Liberians, as former Commissioners of the TRC, we are and do feel heartened by the growing tide of popular support for implementation of TRC recommendations.

We feel assured that given the increasingly growing calls for accountability, our President George Weah will eventually come to realize that he is being misled by individuals with a hidden agenda to protect war and economic criminals.”

The TRC former commissioners then lauded all Liberians, especially those who continue to voice out their support for the establishment of a War and Economic Crimes Court for Liberia.

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