The Ill-equipped Work of the TRC

Tee Wonokay / Executive Director Foundation for Human Rights Defense / [email protected]

The Liberian True and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established for the purpose of advancing national unity and reconciliation, promoting peace, justice, and security etc.

But from the very beginning, it was obvious that the works of the TRC would result in nothing much more than a public display that made victims relive their psychological and emotional pains.

Firstly, while the intentions were good, it was unrealistic to begin with, that an under-funded commission with a panel that included political operatives would successfully investigate the human rights violations that occurred in Liberia between January 1979 and October 2003,that is such a broad scope especially considering everything that influenced Liberia’s geopolitical landscape in that era. Plus, many of the victims and perpetrators were already deceased due to the country’s gruesome civil crisis and other reasons, thereby limiting the commission’s ability to accurately document a first person’s account of what actually happened.

Secondly, as it became evidently in the William versus Tah supreme court ruling of January 2011,the Liberian true and reconciliation commission did not have the constitutional mandate to support its recommendations, thus the most critical recommendations of the commission which prohibited certain individuals from running for public office was blocked.

The court ruled that barring the individuals listed in the commission’s report would deny them procedural due process, and that the government would be in violation of the constitution were it to enforce them

Thirdly, because of the circumstances associated with the work of the TRC, less than forty percent of the Liberian people became confident that it achieved any of its initial objectives including healing the nation and restoring unity amongst its peoples.

I believe that the establishment of any such autonomous institution as the TRC should followed the following plan:

-Create a bill that outlines the functions, including scope and mandate of the institution

-pass such bill into law with specific details on the purpose of the committee, or better still, create an issue for the nation to vote on that outlines the scope and mandate of said institution.

Had the Commission been set up in this manner, it would have had the constitutional support to back its conclusions and the high court would not have dealt it the devastating blow that resulted in the government’s inability to enforce its recommendations.

Overall, the need for true and reconciliation commission comes into play due to the long held believe that as long as unresolved historical injustices continue to fester without any punitive measure or reparations for victims and their families, total healing will not occur, but as the works of  various true commissions including those of

Chile, Canada, Ecuador, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, and several other nations have shown, rather than result in a complete healing of a nation, true commissions sometimes tend to open old wounds especially when perpetrators confront victims and challenge their account of what happened.

The idea of a true commission is theoretically a beautiful thing, in a perfect world, it would be a good thing for victims and their perpetrators to sit and discuss the past, pay reparations to the victims, and forge a way into a better future, but the reality is that no amount of reparation payment can bring back the lives lost or take away the emotional pains caused by a civil conflict.

Thus, while true commissions may be necessary in certain instances, I think that their scope should be much more narrower and their conclusions should be achieved for historical significance.

In terms of the stability of Liberia’s healing process, the former special representative of the United Nations Secretary general, Farid Zarif said it best, that it hinges on the nation’s ability to conduct  free, fair and transparent elections, and to educate its population, improve the economy and fight corruption.

I do agree that once Liberia develops an international reputation for fighting corruption and conducting free elections, several investment opportunities will return to the nation, and once people are happy and peaceful in a booming economy that provides equal opportunities for all, the nation will heal naturally, rather than need the enforcement of the TRC’s recommendations for healing, this is just such a slippery slope as it opens too many old wounds and brings back traumatic memories.

Tee Wonokay / Executive Director Foundation for Human Rights Defense / [email protected]