Rocky Road to Reparations in Liberia

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Survivors of the Liberian civil war and IHRI officials at the Gbarnga Meeting

Human rights groups enlighten survivors of the Liberian civil war on the TRC recommendations and what it might take to achieve this goal.

Victims and survivors of the Liberian civil war were shocked on September 1, 2020, in Gbarnga, Bong County, when the Independent Human Rights Investigators, with support from the African Transitional Justice Legacy Fund (ATJLF), for the first time disclosed the meaning and impact of reparations to them at a one-day interactive discussion.

Unlike the war crimes court, whose proposed establishment has been overly propagated since the end of the war, information about reparation that calls for resettlement of war victims and survivors of massacres remains outside of public discussion and least noticed.

“Okay, we have been talking about war crimes court, and the government and other people cannot give attention to it.  Why, then, can this aspect of the TRC report that we are just hearing today not be implemented by the government to heal war victims in this country and people continue to live with the pains they got from the war?”  This was the burning question posed by Rev. Lahai Sesay, president of the Bong Christian Association and Senior Pastor of the Bong Bethel Central Church to the organizers of the forum.

Besides the establishment of a war crimes court to prosecute sponsors, warlords, and frontline commanders who bear the greatest responsibilities in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity during the civil war, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) established to investigate the causes of the war and all that happened therein also recommended that victims of war and massacre survivors receive reparations, which would give them some level of healing.

In the TRC recommendations, US$500 million was recommended to be set aside by the national government to facilitate the implementation of reparations for a 30-year period.  Individual reparations were ruled out because it would be “Prohibitively expensive; rather, the TRC recommended that consideration should be given to community type reparations within institutions and public facilitates such as hospitals, schools, churches and mosques, amongst others that were destroyed.

Furthermore, the TRC recommended that Liberian children affected by the war have free access to primary and secondary education, and those with interest in Medicine, Teaching, and Science areas should be supported by the national government to pursue their dreams.  It also recommended the building of memorials at massacre sites across the country, and most of these activities should have begun since 2014.

However, not much has been seen or done by the government since the recommendations were released, and victims and survivors across the country are yet to get clear information about this aspect of the recommendations as the ignorance was clearly demonstrated at the town hall meeting in Gbarnga.

The absence of information about reparations and downplay of justice by the national government for war victims not only keeps them in oblivion but continues to cause them to grieve and live in emotional distress.

“I foresee war in Liberia again if justice is not served.  You can see how the young people are violent and people were sometime ago saying that they will organize a certain tribal group to protect somebody.  As that was said, the youth in Gbarnga here also told us that they wanted to organize themselves to protect some people they cherish dearly. [The mantra] ‘Let bygones be bygones’ should not be the solution to the problem in this country, but justice,” said Sam Baryogar, head of the Motorcycle Union in Gbarnga.

“Some of us are only living by God’s grace and depending on Him to make a living.  My only daughter I had left in the war and I have no man to take care of me.  So what you are saying here today is just coming to my attention, and you people should try hard to make us feel that we are human beings too.  We [who] this thing happened to are not counted to be Liberian people,” said Victoria Akoi.

Wilson M. Kpaso’s father and wife were killed during the war, and he was left with six children.  He is not aware of reparations and cannot imagine getting justice.  He is therefore relying on the human rights advocacy groups to pursue his family’s interest to bring them reparation and or justice.

Arthur Bondo lost his arm in the war.  Unlike neighboring Sierra Leone, where victims were given reparations and involved in the process, Bondo says it is not the case with Liberia but victims and survivors are abandoned.  He said the Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration, and Resettlement (DDRR) program only prioritized fighters while they (victims) are suffering from pains perpetrated against them.

War victim Arthur Bondo expressing grief over poor treatment

Explaining to the victims the nitty-gritty of reparation and its significance, Adama Dempster of the Independent Human Rights Investigators said reparation is a key component of the TRC recommendations and should not be treated with politics.

“We have talked over and over about war crimes court and the government is not giving attention, but why [can it not] implement this other recommendation? We do not have to see it as politics and stop talking; we should talk it because, after the war in any country, these things happen,” said Mr. Dempster.

He further clarified to the victims that the war crimes court being publicized in Liberia is not for just any fighter, but those who bear the greatest responsibilities during the war.  His clarification came amid concerns that the court would compel any fighter to appear there to account for how he or she fought during the war.

Momodu Metzger of IHRI told the participants that they need to join the advocacy to call for justice and reparations because perpetrators are living luxurious lives after committing atrocities, and it is expected that the next generation of perpetrators is planning to repeat what gave modern cars, houses, and other valuable properties to the previous perpetrators.

The African Transitional Justice Legacy Fund, sponsoring the IHRI, has the goal to establish the justice, accountability, and reparations forum at debate places and centers in project communities. The ATJLF aims to also rebuild communities and reactivate survivor agency in the transitional justice process in West Africa.

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