TRC Reflections Ten Years Later (Part 2)


By John H.T. Stewart, Commissioner, Former TRC of Liberia

The response or reaction of the public to Part 1 of this series, “TRC Reflections-10 Years Later”, has been mixed with a few individuals raising questions about my motives for providing such reflections while others have urged me to abort further publications.

For the most part, a lot of encouraging signs have been received not only suggesting but urging that I continue to throw light on the entire report since there is not much public awareness of what it actually contains other than what is currently being widely discussed-that is the establishment of a war and economic crimes court for Liberia.

However, it is important to provide some historical background in order to provide a proper context within which the report and recommendations can be fully understood. Detailed accounts of this history from personal reflection and recall will however be discussed in a later publication.

This caveat, notwithstanding, the public needs to know that all the information generated by the TRC which includes county reports, investigative reports, witness testimonies, in-camera hearings, 22,000 statements, etc are deposited not in the archives of the Republic of Liberia but in the archives of the Georgia Tech University in Atlanta, Georgia.

It may interest the public to know that following submission of its report to the Government of Liberia through the National Legislature in December 2009, several appeals made to the GoL to take official possession of the information generated by the TRC went unheeded.

The lease on the building occupied by the TRC had expired and with the exception of documents, and other relevant printed material, the General Services Agency(GSA) had taken possession of everything else including vehicles, a 50kv power generator, air conditioners, office furniture, computers and related equipment, etc.

But the reality soon dawned on Commissioners that the GoL had no interest in securing the documents and fearing destruction of documents by the elements, arson attacks, burglary or other untoward criminal acts against the TRC officers, Commissioners made the decision to enter into an arrangement with the Georgia Tech University which had partnered with the TRC to safeguard the documents until such time when it could be turned over to the GoL.

That said, just what does the TRC report contain aside from recommendations on Lustration and Criminal Accountability is the lingering question on the minds of the public. And it is this question which I shall be attempting to answer in subsequent publications.

The public firstly needs to know and understand that the mandate given the TRC through the TRC Act required that the TRC provided the opportunity for victims as well as perpetrators of human rights abuse committed during the period of its mandate (January 1979-October 2003) to have their voices heard and to speak directly to the Liberian people through sworn testimony before the Commission.

To enhance this process, the TRC conducted statement taking around the country, taking as many statements as possible from individual statement givers about the violence/atrocities which they either experienced or witnessed during the conflict. Each of those statements provide detailed accounts and deep insight into the nature of the violence/atrocities experienced or witnessed by the particular statement giver.

In order to make meaning of all this information being generated, the TRC engaged the services of Kristen Cibelli, Amelia Hoover and Jule Kruger of the California based Benetech Human Rights Program to provide descriptive and quantitative analytical accounts/statistics from the 17,416 statements submitted to the TRC.

The quantitative analytical account presented to the TRC can, according to the analysts, “identify patterns and trends of violations experienced or perpetrated by the statement givers collectively and together, the aggregate group of statements can magnify the voices of victims and provide a body of empirical data that can help in processes of acknowledgement, accountability, understanding and closure” according to the analysts.

But the TRC however acknowledges that the information or data it generated represents only that given by individuals who gave statements to the TRC and they do not necessarily represent the overall pattern of violence committed during its mandate period, 1979-2003.

It must be noted that the TRC documented tens of thousands of violations. For the record, the TRC documented more violations than any previous truth commission anywhere in the world. These violations, although overlooked by policy makers, represent the experiences of about twenty thousand Liberians which cannot be overlooked or dismissed by a wave of the hand.

Out of 17,416 statements presented to the TRC 17,160 were entered into the TRC database for statistical analysis and interpretation. Thus, the analysis presented by the TRC is reflective of 17,160 out of 17,416 statements entered into the TRC’s database. The 17,160 statements contain information about 86,647 victims and 163,615 total violations. Total violations include 124,225 violations suffered by individual victims, 39,376 suffered by groups, and 14 by institutions.

The information generated by the TRC which is disaggregated by sex shows 46,188 female victims which account for 37.2 percent of total violations reported, while the figure for male victims stands at 76,905 males, accounting for 61.9 percent of total violations and the figure for unknown victims by sex stands at 1132, accounting for 0.9 percent.

Violation Types

Further to the above, and based on the nature of the violence that occurred during the TRC mandate period from 1979-2003 and also based on the TRC’s analytical objectives, it developed a set of definitions based on the types of violations recorded during the conflict and based also on the TRC’s analytical objectives. Accordingly, twenty-three types of violations(crimes) were identified as having been committed during the period of conflict. The type and percent accounting for each violation is also clearly identified in the report.

Amongst these violations, “Force Displacement” stands out as the highest accounting for one-third (1/3) 36, percent of total violations while 28,000 killing violations were recorded, accounting for 17.1 percent of total violations and ranking as the second highest recorded violation. Ranking third in order is “Assault” standing at 13,222 victims and accounting for 8.1 percent.

Standing fourth in ranked order at 8 percent is “Abduction” accounting for 13,045 victims; fifth in ranked order at 4.7 percent is “Looting”, accounting for 7,619 victims followed by “Forced Labor” accounting for 7,560 victims and ranking at 4.6 percent of total violations.

To be continued:


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