Tienii, Grand Cape Mount County – The Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR) has commenced the Palava Hut Hearings, where victims and perpetrators of the Liberian civil war can tell their stories and interact with each other in several districts and counties across Liberia.
The heaing is part of the “Peacebuilding, Reconciliation, and Social Cohesion Project (PBRSCP), which is supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). It is conducted under the theme, “Never Again”.
The launch was held in Tienii in Tewor District, Grand Cape Mount County. It aims to foster post-war healing, reconciliation, and peaceful coexistence through community-driven Palava huts in the worst war-affected counties of Liberia.
Both the victims and perpetrators took five days in Tienii to conduct hearing and truth-telling.
The hearing is part of th The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recommendations in its final report, released in June 2009.
The report, among other things, points out the massive human rights abuses including rape and sexual-based violence, the use of child soldiers, and the wanton killings of innocent civilians, often through public executions and massacres.
The report argues that to dismantle impunity and set Liberia on the path of healing, a mix of prosecution and national healing through truth-telling, reparation, and memorialization—followed by strong democracy and justice and rule of law institutions—is urgently needed.
Launching the project in Grand Cape Mount County, the Western part of Liberian, the Acting Chairman of the INCHR, Rev. Bartholomew Bioh Colley said the souls of those that were murdered have refused to rest in their graves until their stories are told.
Despite almost two decades after the war, the INCHR Acting Chairman says war victims are traumatized, adding that they have had no present and future.
Rev. Colley said it is tedious, threatening, and traumatizing for both victims and perpetrators to live together in the same area, worship in the same Churches or Mosques, or farm at the same place and their children play together and go to the same school.
“This is psychological captivity from which they must be rescued,” Rev. Colley said.
Speaking further, he stressed that Liberia is at the point of transitional justice. He added that when a nation moves from dictatorship, and autocracy to democracy, the stories of gross human violations are being told by both victims and perpetrators.
According to him, the hurdles and rumbles of Liberia’s history characterized by gross human rights violation, dictatorship, and protracted civil war has divided and traumatized Liberians.
He added that several interventions have been made from the religious community, ECOWAS and United Nations as well as friendly governments to heal and re-unite Liberians.
Despite TRC investigation on human rights violation and and its 207 recommendations addressing several thematic categories, the INCHR Action Boss said the national strategic roadmap assigned the mandate to the INCHR to heal and reconcile the Liberian people through palava hut talks and memorialize through the construction of monuments.
In addition, the roadmap authorizes the INCHR to place and restore dignity to those gruesomely killed and buried in the graves and to do reparation by empowering wars victims and communities.
The INCHR , he added, continues to build memorials, conducted ethnographic studies and palava hut healings in Grand Gedeh and Lofa Counties and plans to continue throughout Liberia. “We wholeheartedly thank our partners especially the UNDP for the support and accompaniment,” he said.
Also speaking, the National Peace Ambassador of Liberia, Rev. William R. Tolbert III says the palava hut hearing is critical for both victims and perpetrators of the Liberia’s civil war.
Rev. Tolbert said: “ Liberians and friends of Liberia and residents within our borders relive horrific experiences even decades following the conflict. We must as a nation and people forgive and heal ourselves and lead in the healing of others in our communities.”
He continued: “We look forward to the collaboration with the INCHR and other national, and local stakeholders to fully implement the TRC recommendations that would make a difference for everyone here in Liberia.”
For his part, Mr. Peter W. Mahn, making remarks on behalf of Representative Dorwohn Twain Gleekia, of District #6, Nimba County and Chairman on the House of Representatives’ Standing Committee on Peace, National Reconciliation and Religion, said the palava hut hearing is a milestone towards achieving lasting peace, national reconciliation and healing in Liberia.
Mahn who is the Chief of Office Staff for Representative Dorwohn Twain Gleekia quoted an adage saying, “if you want peace, work for justice”.
Mahn added that the establishment of the TRC in 2005 was a quest for lasting peace and national reconciliation.
“Our presence here today is based upon the work of the TRC. It is therefore important to take note of the fact that there are mixed feelings in Liberia regarding the TRC recommendations,” he said.
According to him, there are some perpetrators of the Liberian Civil war and their supporters who believe that the implementation of the TRC recommendations will bring about witch-hunt and a renewed conflict; while on the other hand, there are advocates of the TRC who believe that the implementation of the recommendations will lead to lasting peace and national reconciliation.
He added that there are other Liberians who are sitting on the fence and are not sure whether the implementation will be in the interest of the country.
“The implementation of the TRC recommendations may not be a panacea or cure-all for all the problems caused by our fifteen years of civil war, he said.
“However, many Liberians feel that the implementation of the recommendations will go a long way in maintaining peace, National reconciliation, and total healing. Our international partners have always told us that they are willing to help us to achieve what we think is good for us, but they cannot decide for us.”
He pledged the officials and members of the Peace and Reconciliation Committee’s support to the process leading to the national peace and reconciliation.