....The reality is no concrete reparation mechanism has been put in place by the government, thus survivors of war-related sexualized violence continue to live with the trauma of war.
Yah Vallah Parwon, Country Director, medica Liberia
The Liberian-based women's rights organization, medica Liberia presented a paper titled ‘Critical reflection on the effectiveness of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Recommendations for Reparation in Favor of Victims of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Liberia at the 2nd Congress of the International Mukwege Chair that took place in Bukavu, the Democratic Republic of Congo from November 1-3 2022.
The end of the Liberian civil war shut the barrels of the guns but the survivors of war-related sexualized violence have suffered institutional neglect from the state.
Esther Davis Yango, Executive Director of the Women NGO Secretariat of Liberia made a statement in Monrovia at her organization's event aimed at advocacy and monitoring of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recommendation in November of this year, stating “Even with the silence of guns, women and girls still live in fear of violation.
We will not rest until the government of Liberia ensures that the full and timely implementation of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission become a national priority owned and led by all Liberians”.
Madam Yango’s reflection very much summarizes the current status of the TRC’s recommendations regarding reparations for survivors of war-related sexualized violence. Since the cessation of the Liberian civil war and the signing of the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2003, not much has been done by the government to ensure reparations for survivors. According to the International Center for Transitional Justice, 'Most victims see reparations as the most direct and meaningful way to obtain justice.
Yet, reparations are rarely prioritized and are often the least-funded measure of transitional justice. This is also the case in Liberia.
The TRC made recommendations for the adoption of mechanisms and procedures to specifically deal with the experiences of women, children, and vulnerable groups including survivors of war-related sexualized violence.
Some recommendations include A reparation program of approx. US $500m (Priority to victims of sexual violence for reparations); Independent National Human Rights Commission to establish and resource a Reparation Trust Fund; Direct victim support is implemented by 30 July 2014, including memorials, victim support, and the process of prosecution, etc.
The TRC further provides that survivors of sexualized violence receive reparations in the forms of psychosocial/mental health, medical, legal, and socio-economic support based on their needs.
Some progress has been made, although very minimum. The Government’s position is that individual reparations are expensive and not feasible. The government instead recommends that consideration should be given to community-type reparation which will address the socio-economic needs of the communities.
In 2010, the Government reached an agreement with the leadership of the True Whig Party of Liberia and the EJ Roye building was turned over to the Government for use to fund the reparations trust fund. The Reconciliation Roadmap (2012-2030), has captured key reparation actions specifically through the lens of community-based reparations mechanism.
However, the reality is no concrete reparation mechanism has been put in place by the government, thus survivors of war-related sexualized violence continue to live with the trauma of war. The psychosocial/mental health, medical, legal, and socio-economic needs of survivors are not being met through national efforts.
The government programs are responding to present-day violence that women and girls face, however, there is a lack of clear linkages between ongoing actions and survivors of wartime violence. While violence takes place across a continuum, in the case of Liberia, before, during, and after the conflict, the intervention and response to the violence must take into consideration the context in which the violence takes place in order to achieve transformative change.
Below are summaries of the reflections on the effectiveness of the TRC’s Recommendations on reparation for survivors of war-related sexualized violence presented by medical Liberia at the 2nd Congress of the International Mukwege Chair:
- The TRC recommendations for reparations for survivors of SGBV are not fully implemented through national mechanisms, however civil society organizations, specifically women-led organizations have contributed immensely to filling the gaps specifically by providing psychosocial, mental health, medical, and socio-economic support to survivors of violence.
- The link between sexual violence to gender-based violations is missing, hence there is limited or no evidence that male survivors of war-related sexualized violence have been considered in post-conflict SGBV programs.
- Advocacy efforts are more focused on accountability of war crimes generally, and less on SGBV crimes and reparations; these do not have to be mutually exclusive because 'What are Reparations without the option for justice?’
- The government programs focus on responding to present-day violence that women and girls face, however, there is a lack of clear linkages between ongoing actions and the TRC recommendations for survivors of war-related sexualized violence.
- Sources for reparations do not clearly define who a victim is
- Several policies and legal frameworks to protect women and girls were developed but full implementation and investment to ensure realization and fulfillment are low.
As the Founder and Executive Board Member of the international NGO medica mondiale Dr Monika Hauser iterated during an expert panel discussion at the congress in DRC, reparation mechanism for survivors must have five key elements for transformative impact:
Firstly, it is essential for the recovery of survivors that reparation mechanisms and services need to be comprehensive and long-term;
Secondly, any approach must follow a multi-level approach, which takes into account the social and political environment and include family mediation, raising community awareness, capacity building of institutions, and strengthening social movements that promote women’s rights;
Thirdly, the design and implementation of reparation mechanisms need to follow stress and trauma-sensitive, and human rights-based approaches;
Fourth, any kind of reparation mechanisms needs to start from a socio-political understanding of trauma and the understanding that war-related sexualized violence is not just a single event or a strategic element of war, but a continuum of violence, which is present before, during, and after the war;
Fifth, Reparation mechanisms need to be developed through participatory processes, amplifying the voices of survivors and increasing their agency and participation;
There is an urgent need to operationalize the TRC’s recommendations on reparation for survivors taking into consideration these key elements. May we never forget the survivors of sexualized wartime violence and continue to create spaces to amplify their voices and needs; Reparations for survivors of sexualized violence must be a priority on Liberia’s transitional justice agenda.
Yah Vallah Parwon is the Country Director of medica Liberia, a women's rights organization supporting survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in Liberia and the co-founder of Rising Youth Mentorship Initiative. She is a Gender and Human rights expert with an LLM in Gender, Conflict, and Human Rights from Ulster University, Northern Ireland as a Chevening Scholar and an LLB from the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law, University of Liberia. She can be reached at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org