‘Undermining the TRC Report’?

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Cllr. Jerome J. Verdier, former TRC Chair,

— Five former TRC commissioners distance themselves from their former chairman, Cllr. Jerome Verdier’s allegations of Koijee’s connection with civil war 

Following a recent outburst on social media by a lady named Jestina Taylor, who accused Monrovia City Mayor Jefferson T. Koijee of involvement in crimes against humanity during the Liberian civil war, the former chairman of the erstwhile Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), Cllr. Jerome Verdier, emerged to echo the allegations made against Koijee by Ms. Taylor. In a response, Mayor Koijee said the attempt by Cllr. Verdier to have his character tainted as one of the perpetrators of the 14-year bloody civil crisis in the country indicates that he (Verdier) and his likes intend to undermine the TRC report.

Koijee’s response apparently struck a chord with five other former TRC commissioners, who stand in agreement with the mayor that Verdier’s support of Jestina Taylor’s allegations could undermine the credibility of the TRC report. They have therefore emerged to declare their distance from their former chairman’s remarks, which were made outside the scope of the TRC report and in his own capacity at the helm of a separate, unrelated organization.

Cllr. Jerome Verdier was the Chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that investigated the causes of the Liberian civil war and recorded major crimes that were perpetrated by fighters and warlords.

Cllr. Verdier, who now heads a justice advocacy group known as International Justice Group (IJG), late last year unveiled to the public that Jefferson Koijee, 36 years old, participated in the war that ended 17 years ago and committed some of the heinous crimes.

In reaction to the allegation, the four former TRC Commissioners including John H. T. Stewart, Massa Washington, Gerald Coleman, Dede Dolopei, and Cllr. Pearl Brown Bull, say accusation against Koijee that he participated in the war and committed war crimes and crimes against humanity is contrary to records compiled about activities of the devastating war.

According to a release signed by former chairman of the TRC’s Committee on Report Writing, John H. T. Stewart, “The four former TRC commissioners informed the public that at no time during these engagements did the TRC receive a statements, whether written or verbal, from any witness, perpetrator, or person of interest suggesting that Jefferson T. Koijee was a part of any warring faction.”

“Even in our individual capacities, we did not hear or receive any information in this regard,” said the release.

Jefferson T. Koijee is a Liberian and now heads the Monrovia City Corporation (MCC).

Jefferson T. Koijee, Mayor, City of Monrovia

The release further said “Mayor Koijee’s name never filtered through our process, not even remotely. Former TRC commissioners feel it expedient to provide the clarification for the record because of blurred lines in distinguishing between the chairman of the TRC, Cllr. Jerome Verdier, and the Executive Director of the IJG, Cllr. Jerome Verdier.”

The release noted that at no time was Mayor Koijee accused of being connected to perpetration of crimes against groups or individuals or linked to gross human rights violations as well as war crimes or crimes against humanity as stated by Cllr. Verdier.

The former TRC Commissioners in their communication said they were concerned about the matter because the Executive Director of the IJG was their former chairman and anything that he says that is not in consonance with the TRC Report would be detrimental to their character as well.

“Former TRC commissioners would like to inform the public that for the entirety of the work on the commission which spanned five years, the TRC engaged in a massive and extensive consultative outreach process. For example, the TRC collected more than 22,000 statements, conducted dozens of personal interviews and over 500 live public testimonies from witnesses, perpetrators, direct victims, persons of interest and also several dozens of in-camera hearings, none of which connected Koijee to a war crime or crimes against humanity,” said the Commissioners.

Additionally, a national consultative conference, women’s conference, and children conference were held. The TRC also conducted a robust diaspora project, extending its project to Liberians and others living in the West African sub-region and over 10 cities in the United States and Europe, from where no one came out with the name Jefferson T. Koijee.

The release added that “Commissioners would also like to state for the record that during the work of the TRC, Jefferson T. Koijee was one of several youth volunteers who provided his free services in assisting with the sensitization and public outreach component of the TRC engagements.”

Prior to publishing the TRC Final Report in June 2009, an argument ensued among the Commissioners for what some said was not in their favor.  According to an unimpeachable source of the TRC, two of the Commissioners did not sign the final report at the time because their relatives and friends whom they did not expect to be named in the report for crimes were mentioned.

Meanwhile, in Cllr. Verdier’s recent article titled, “The Koijee’s Dossier,” he accused Koijee of being an associate of Chucky Taylor, son of former President Charles G. Taylor.

Verdier also referenced allegation by Jestina Taylor that she saw Mr. Koijee with Chuckie Taylor during the war and killed a baby.

Verdier also accused Koijee of being the architect of series of human rights violations in the Weah-led administration; making a specific reference to the Montserrado County electoral violence in which Koijee was accused of allegedly ordering the flogging of peaceful citizens.

The article was published in several local dailies, including the People’s newspaper — a satirical bulletin in Monrovia.

One of the former TRC commissioners notes that, even if Jefferson T. Koijee was involved in the Liberian civil war, he would have been involved as a child soldier. “The TRC report recommended that all child soldiers be granted amnesty. Therefore, Koijee would have turned 18 or 19 years of age by the time the war ended,” the commissioner said.

“Therefore, if there are any other violations of human rights committed by Koijee after the war or in recent time, that would fall under the purview of the Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR), not the TRC,” the former commissioner added.

Cllr. Jerome Verdier has yet to respond to the statement by his fellow former commissioners. A text message sent him prior to the publication of this story has not been answered.

Mayor Jefferson T. Koijee, upon reading the statement by Cllr. Verdier threatened a lawsuit against the former TRC Chairman and Director of the IJG for linking him to the commission of ‘heinous crimes.’

Koijee: “I worked with Jerome Verdier during my days in advocacy when he served as chairperson of the TRC. He knows me very well. He knows my history. He knows that I was one of those young persons who went to jail because of our advocacy for the establishment of the TRC. We worked with the Commission, which Jerome Verdier chaired, to protect the TRC report despite many attempts by perpetrators of the war to undermine this national instrument. It is therefore sad that I have now become a major target for Cllr. Verdier to the extent that he will accuse me of being a participant of the civil war, which I know nothing about.”

Mayor Koijee said the attempt by Cllr. Verdier to have his character tainted as one of the perpetrators of the 14-year bloody civil crisis in the country indicates that he (Verdier) and his likes intend to undermine the TRC report.

“It pains me that people are bent on undermining the TRC report, because the nation and partners collectively invested huge money in this national instrument. We also put our all in the process to get the report to where it is, and as such, we will not sit idly by and see it get destroyed,” Koijee told journalists recently at a news conference in Monrovia.

Even though his boss, President George Weah has reneged on it, Koijee has since been in the advocacy for full implementation of the TRC Final Report and an establishment of a war crimes court to prosecute people who committed war crimes and crimes against humanity as a way of saving Liberia.

Koijee said that if citizens claim to truly love Liberia as true nationalist and patriot, they will stand above their personal interests and summon a great sense of accountability by welcoming a full implementation of the TRC report, instead of trying to bring the entire report into public disrepute.

Alvin Worzi is a Liberian journalist with over seven years of professional experience. For the past few years, he has been engaged in covering land issues, security, education, gender related issues, politics, and agriculture. Mr. Worzi is currently the Assistant Secretary General of the Executive Mansion Press Corps (conglomeration of reporters assigned at the Executive Mansion). Mr. Worzi is a member of the Press Union of Liberia.

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