Women Confab Renews Call For TRC Report -Highlights Abuses Against Women In Liberian Crises

Participants at the beginning of a two day conference on women’s participation in peace processes and agreements with funding from the Women Peace  Humanitarian Fund have renewed the call for the implementation of the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission(TRC) to ensure that perpetrators of the heinous crimes exhibited during the 14 years of civil war in Liberia face justice and closure is brought for victims of the atrocities and highlighted the abuses meted against women during the period.

The event which was organized by the Women NGO Secretariat of Liberia(WONGOSOL) in collaboration with Liberia Future(LIFT) under the theme “ Enhancing Women’s Meaningful Participation in National Advocacy for Accountability for War Crimes: Addressing Barriers to Women’s Participation in the Implementation and Monitoring of the TRC recommendation in Liberia”, took place yesterday , Monday, March 7, 2022 at the Secretariat of the Lutheran Church of Liberia, 13th street, Sinkor and brought together key stakeholders and members of the civil society organizations (CSOs) and featured several panelists who discussed the call for justice for victims of the war and brainstormed on the way forward to realize the full implementation of the TRC report.

Giving the historical context of women’s involvement in the advocacy for rights of women and ensuring justice in the wake of the delay to implement the TRC, Mrs. Frances D. Reeves, Executive Director of the Voice of the Voiceless said out of the initial disunity that existed among the women folks of Liberia to have a coordinated effort in speaking for the cause of women in the country, they were able to rise above the challenges and are forging ahead to pursue the common objectives of women.

“When the war escalated in 1990 and there was need for women to come together, there was little unity among them which came about due to mistrust, distrust, class and general attitude not to work together and that was a major setback. But things picked up gradually, women started to organize themselves and that was purely for relief purposes. When the series of peace conferences were held beginning with Banjul conference which brought some women to government, things begin to fall in place for women participation in the peace process.

“The women were in Accra, Ghana during the peace talks and they besieged the conference center and forced the war lords to sign the peace agreement to end the war and that is how everything came into play” She said

She said despite some frustration with the report of the TRC, with strong advocacy and relentless efforts, women were documented in the report as victims, witnesses and advocates but also lamented the setback that came from the women folks themselves when they got divided in the wake of the indictment of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a situation they took as an indictment against women and the other group that wanted the advocacy to continue for justice to be served no matter the gender involved.

She expressed the hope that with the renewed vigor in the struggle, justice for Liberians especially women who went through the turmoil of the war by way of rape, maltreatment, abuses and deaths will come their way one day.

In his own presentation, Mr. Kutaka Devine Togbah, Director, Human Rights Protection Division, Ministry of Justice discussed about the series of steps taken by government to avail justice to victims as well as ensuring that peace and harmony reign among the citizens. He said while the government was doing its part, the citizens must do theirs by approaching their respective lawmakers for a legislation that will make the implementation of the TRC possible.

Also speaking from the perspective of alternative ways for ensuring justice, Atty Urias Pour, Executive Director, Independent National Human Rights Commission(INHRC) said his institution over the years has been pursuing the Palaver Hut initiative anchored on national reconciliation and spreading the message of peace and the need to live in harmony. While stating that justice is key moving the country forward, he noted that the Palava Hut Initiative provides a platform for people who were involved in the war as militia men but committed lesser crimes or offences to seek for forgiveness from their victims, some of whom still reside in their communities.

“You will note that the TRC indicted 38 persons as those who committed major crimes and recommended for trial through the proposed war crimes court while a lot of others who took part in the war but were not indicted to face the war crimes court can seek forgiveness by meeting their victims and holding discussion to forge ahead. So, the Palaver Hut Initiative is another form of justice that brings peace and harmony between the victors and the victims”, Atty Pour said.

The fourth panelist, Adama K. Dempster, General Secretary of the Civil Society Human Rights Advocacy Platform of Liberia, who spoke on the involvement of the civil society organizations in the advocacy for justice to be served as well as where the status of the advocacy has reached thus far, said that with the changing time and circumstances surrounding the struggle, there was a need to adopt new strategies and approaches to make the drive possible, stressing that what was key in the drive was the need to bring credible to the advocacy. He said when a group flags up a concern in favor of the implementation of the TRC, it becomes a project of the people and not for anyone to personalize it because by doing so the whole idea gets discredited.

He said those who are involved in the advocacy should strive for the need to track all the major activities in advocacy because a lot of things have happened overtime. He said it was important to know that most of those who committed serious crimes and were listed for trials through the proposed war crimes court have died, naming Alhadji GV Kromah former leader of the Liberians United for Reconstruction and Democracy(LURD) and Melvin Sogbani, a staunch member of the Charles Taylor led National Patriotic Party of Liberia(NPFL) while some victims who had cases to convict those indicted have also passed on.

He equally lamented the setbacks the implementation of the TRC have experienced , starting from 2009 when the report was published.

“So when it was issued in 2009, it arrived on a dead bed. The TRC indicted former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for the 30 year ban. So, the sitting President who should have led the process was indicted and this needed the political will to make it work. A lot of other government officials including those in the legislature ganged up against it.

During the questions and answers period, a lot of issues were raised on the floor especially the delays to implement the report. Participants who sought to know whether the constitution is a hindrance to the TRC were told that it was a clever tactic by the government to buy time and no one should give it credence.

Several women who spoke did so with anger considering the number of atrocities committed by the armed bandits, some of whom are in government or in other areas of life enjoying the loots while victims are dying without being accorded justice. They vowed to continue being in the vanguard until their cause gets to its final destination.

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