The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Liberia is a Parliament-enacted organization that provides an environment for constructive interchange between victims and perpetrators of human violations and armed conflicts in Liberia to recommend mechanisms for healing.
Problems and Purpose
“To think about race is not to think about race as biology, but to think about race as the meanings prescribed to presumed differences and to think about processes and historical processes that create notions of race and notions of difference.” In some cases, colonial experience has been traced as the foundation for racial violence and injustice in Africa. During the colonial period, the exploitation and suppression of Indigenous peoples (in most cases, people of color) have continued to manifest in post-colonial settings. According to Bukola Adebayo, a senior producer for CNN Digital Bureau in Nigeria, “the end of colonialism did not mean the end of a racialized system of oppression.”
Armed conflict in a series of civil wars in various African countries has also had lasting effects on the people and the Government. This includes Liberia, having had two civil wars in which individuals were tortured, killed, or forcibly conscripted into various warring factions. Though men suffered more human violations, more than 70% of all sexual offenses were reported by women in Liberia. Most Liberians are either victims, related to victims, or have heard the gruesome tales of the "dark era." Records of human rights violations and armed conflict hampered development in local and international political, economic, and social terrains.
The desire to identify the root causes of violent acts and prevent their re-occurrence has contributed to various countries' establishment of TRCs. According to Priscilla Hayner, a truth commission “is a temporary body officially sanctioned by the state to investigate a pattern of past abuses that took place over a period of time based on engagement with the affected population with the aim of producing a final report.” A final report and the implementation of its recommendations is reflective of the political will of the Government and its people as a driving force of a TRC.
Background History and Context
Liberia is one of at least fifty-eight countries with a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The formation of the TRC of Liberia is rooted in the political atmosphere and human rights violations prevalent in the last two centuries (more specifically from 1822 to 2006) of Liberian history. These human rights violations are described by the TRC Act as “violations of international human rights standards, including, but not limited to acts of torture, killing, abduction and severe ill-treatment of any person; violations of international humanitarian law, including, but not limited to crimes against humanity and war crimes.” Despite its status as Africa's longest-standing republic, the political systems in Liberia have demonstrated different cases of autocratic, militaristic, oligarchic, and authoritarian governments. The series of civil wars, including the Liberians United For Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and Movement For Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) insurrections from 1989 to 1996 and 1999 to 2003 recorded the loss of lives, social injustices, and displacement among millions of Liberians. Witnesses reported massacres, rape, torture, summary executions, collective punishments, violence to life, health, and mental well-being, as well as threats to personal dignity.
In addition, there has been sexual and gender-based violence against women, including forced marriages, rape, recruitment, sexual slavery, and other dehumanizing forms of violations. Children were not excluded, as child soldiers “consisted of approximately 10–20% of members of armed groups and were central to the logistics and combat efforts of armed groups.” The activities and exploitation of Indigenous Liberians by Americo-Liberians since 1822 is also a rooted experience that warranted healing and reconciliation. Racial policies of the American Colonization Society (ACS) excluded Black settlers' active involvement and participation. Also, the autocratic rule featured inhuman treatment of Indigenous Liberians and the forceful overtaking of land and properties. This continued in the post-ACS era with the disenfranchisement of native Liberians.
The Liberian TRC was established to ensure national peace, security, unity, and reconciliation. Though it was established in June 2005, the Liberian TRC's activities were delayed until June 2006 due to administrative and operational challenges.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The activities of the TRC are guided by TRC commissioners, International Technical Advisory Committee (ITAC) advisors, and a Special Magistrate. The Commission included nine Commissioners, with no fewer than four women, appointed by the transitional Head of State, Gyude Bryant. A selection panel of seven individuals of integrity, including three from civil society, two from political parties, one from the UN, and one from ECOWAS, was to be convened to vet nominees for the Commission appointed by Bryant and selected by the Head of State, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. On October 19, 2006, the Commissioners were announced. Chaired by Jerome Verdier Sr (Cllr), a Liberian human rights activist and environmental lawyer, the other commissioners included Mrs. Dede A. Dolopei (Vice-Chair), Sheikh Kafumba Konneh, Rev. Amb. Gerald Coleman, Pearl Brown Bull, Retired Bishop Rev. Arthur F. Kulah, Ms. Massa A. Washington, Mrs. Oumu K. Sylla, and Mr. John H.T. Stewart.
The TRC was supported by the ITAC, led by Dr. Jeremy I. Levitt. The ITAC's three technical members were equipped to provide legal and technical advice to TRC Commissioners. The activities of the Special Magistrates entailed confirmation with the provision of the constitution and laws of Liberia. The administrative functions of the TRC are attended to by the Senior Staff: the director of inquiry; the media Director, the director of programs; and the director of administration (replaced with a Finance Manager). These Senior Staff were overseen by the secretary of the TRC, who reported to the Commission. Over 300 staff members were trained as statement-takers, investigators, data coders, psycho-social support persons, and county coordinators across the fifteen counties. In each of the fifteen counties in Liberia, the TRC had a County Coordinator, field officer or general mobilizer, and other auxiliary staff, including statement-takers.
Collaboration with relevant international organizations such as the African Union (AU), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), United Nations (UN), and the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) ensured compliance with international legal procedures and standards. Civic organizations in Liberia such as women's groups, youth groups, the disabled community, political parties, the religious community, traditional organizations, and the media contributed by providing over one thousand community mobilizations. These include the Liberian National Girls Guides Association, Boy Scouts of Liberia, Artists Association of Liberia, Liberian Crusaders for Peace, Roller Skaters Association of Liberia, Women on the Move Association, and the Traditional Women Association of Liberia.
Funding was generated through donations, with the Liberian Government as the highest contributor. Other donations were in the form of volunteer time and support such as Pro Bono.
Contributions in the fiscal year 2007 totaled nearly $4 million (including a $500,000 USD witness fund) and $6 million by the end of 2008. The funding partners include the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA), the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), United Nations Peace Building Fund (UNPBF), the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA), and the European Commission. However, inadequate funding was one of the challenges of Liberian TRC. Technical partners include the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), Advocates for Human Rights, the Women Campaign International (WCI), Georgia Institute of Technology, Glencree Center for Reconciliation, the Hoffeherm Foundation, and the Carter Center.
The criteria for involvement in the TRC (members, affiliates, employees, and agents of the TRC) ensured that one did not have a “track record of human rights violation, or any other type of misconduct, whether within Liberia or not that might have impugned the integrity of the Commission.”
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Three groups were involved in the Liberian TRC: victims, perpetrators, and the Government. In some cases, the Government is considered to be a perpetrator. The perpetrators were then classified into four categories: individual perpetrators, group perpetrators, corporate perpetrators, and government perpetrators.
The Liberian TRC conducted interviews and collected testimonies from the above groups. To optimize communication, testifiers were permitted to communicate in the language most convenient to them.
Methods and Tools Used
The TRC used Beneficial Technology (Benetech) for extensive data collection and analysis of testimonies and interviews conducted locally in the selected countries in the Diaspora. The TRC implemented tools that ensured the achievement of its objectives: “investigating, identifying the antecedents and determining responsibility for egregious domestic crimes, gross human rights violations, and serious humanitarian law violations” following Article IV Section 4 of the Act to Establish the Truth and Reconcialiation Commission (TRC Act) of 12 May 2005. The tools adopted include training programs, awareness workshops, focus group discussions, civil society engagements, sensitization, questionnaire disbursement, civil society discussions, meetings with officials of Government, international development partners, international non-governmental organizations, consultants, and experts, public awareness campaigns, testimonies, documented submissions, public hearings, and research. The testimonies were received from victims, perpetrators, witnesses, and institutions.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Following fourteen years of civil war and armed violence, Article XIII of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) enacted the Truth and Reconciliation Act on June 10, 2005. The TRC began officially operating on February 22, 2006, with a temporal mandate covering the two civil wars in Liberia (January 1979 to October 2003). This was classified into four eras: the first era (1979-1984) entailed the rice riot of 1979, the military coup of 1980 and subsequent execution of thirteen government officials, and the 1984 raid on the University of Liberia Campus. The second era (1984-1989) included the Thomas Quiwonkpa invasion, the Nimba raid, the murder of TV Anchor Charles Gbeyon, the arrest and detention of several journalists, and political opposition. The third era (1989-1997) focused on the rebellion launched by the NPFL of former President Charles Taylor, the intervention of the West African Sub region through ECOMOG, the role of the Armed Forces of Liberia as a combatant group, the emergence of numerous warring factions, the origin of peace conferences, the link to the war in Sierra Leone and the elections of Charles Taylor as President of Liberia. The fourth era (1997–2003) covered the human rights and international humanitarian laws violations by the Taylor government and the international community's response to these violations by imposing sanctions, the emergence of two new warring factions (LURD and MODEL), the exile of Taylor to Nigeria, and the formation of the Accra Comprehensive Peace Accord. 102 mercenaries from Sierra Leone, Guinea, Gambia, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, and South Africa were reportedly engaged in the Liberian Civil War from 1989 to 2003, as well as a list of twenty-three perpetrators who the TRC determined were responsible for various forms of human rights violations but died before the conclusion of the TRC.
The road to a democratic system in Liberia was tasking, culminating in the signing of a ceasefire agreement on June 18, 2003, in Accra, Ghana, and the subsequent establishment of Liberia's TRC. The TRC identified the root causes of Liberia's complicated history of violence and instability, including a weak Government, unfavorable political structure, poverty, the oppression of Indigenous Liberians, a weak judiciary, discrimination against women, and a breakdown of cultural values. These root causes were the foundation of Americo-Liberians' administrative structure.
In June 2006, the Diaspora Project was launched to extend the TRC agenda to Liberians in selected countries. The Liberian TRC was geared with the responsibility of tackling the issues of human rights violations, highlighting the causes, and proffering recommendations to aid reconciliation and peaceful co-existence among all parties involved. The Standard of Proof was based on the preponderance of the evidence; that is, the accused more likely than not is responsible for committing the violation or crime. The crimes were classified into three categories: Egregious Domestic Crimes, Gross Violations of Human Rights Law, and Serious Humanitarian Law Violations. Some of the Egregious Domestic Crimes include sexual assault, fraud, murder, the misappropriation of public funds, and kidnapping. In most cases, the Gross Violations of Human Rights Law committed by state actors include enslavement, genocide, torture, sexual slavery, unlawful prosecution, and imprisonment. Serious Humanitarian Law Violations include mutilation, hostage-taking, terrorism, illegal executions, child labor, cruel treatment, and torture.
Between October and December 2007, statement-taking was conducted in the fifteen counties and selected countries in the Diaspora: Nigeria, Ghana, and the United States. Bulletins containing information on granting general immunity to all witnesses were publicly disseminated to promote trust and inclusivity. As a result, the TRC Report shows that over 22,000 statements, several dozens of personal interviews, and over 500 live public testimonies of witnesses were collected. Subsequently, it commenced individual and thematic hearings in the counties on January 8, 2008, in Montserrado County. The hearings included seven months of victims' and witnesses' testimonies and four months of actors, thematic and institutional hearings. The mental toll on testifiers meant counseling and psychological aid were made available before, during, and after the hearings. Likewise, protective measures were taken to conceal children's identities, such as the absence of media or video coverage. Recognizing the sensitivity of testimonies by victims and perpetrators, a witness protection program was set up to handle trauma, stigmatization, neglect, shame, ostracization, and threats to life.
This was followed by a validation of testimonies by the Inquiry Unit. The Palava Court Forum, a justice, and accountability mechanism for lesser crimes while higher crimes were tried in appropriate courts. It functions as a traditional orientation to foster national healing and reconciliation at the community and grassroots levels, creating dialogue and peacebuilding.
The TRC's tenure was extended from September 22, 2008, to June 30, 2009, to provide ample time to tie up loose ends. On December 20, 2009, the report was presented to the Honorable National Legislature. The quality of the report can be attributed to the immense number of sources (confidential and non-confidential) it consulted. These include Inquiry Unit interviews, documented submissions, UN Country reports and assessments, reports of local and international human rights organizations, reports of Liberian civil society organizations, US State Department human rights reports, media reports, publications, books, and declassified documents of the U.S. State Department, CIA National Security Archives, public and on-camera hearings, and testimonies. For quantitative information, the TRC relied heavily on data and analysis from Benetech, a U.S.-based corporation contracted to manage the TRC database.
Its recommendations for punishment were based on prosecutions (including persons not recommended for persecution), reconciliation mechanisms, institutional reforms, amnesties, and reparations. All Liberians, irrespective of race, gender, age, or class, are entitled to equal social, economic, political, and cultural rights. To the international community, it recommends the creation of permanent conflict prevention and early warning mechanisms “that will allow aggrieved citizens to place their grievances before an international body when certain benchmarks for peace and democracy are not maintained by their governments. This serves as an alternative to violent actions and protests in pursuit of regime change.” Also, it reserved the right to make additional recommendations.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Green and gold, the TRC colors, signify perpetual peace and prosperity throughout the length and breadth of Liberia. The goal of the Liberian TRC is to promote national peace, unity, security reconciliation, and prevention of future occurrences per the TRC Act of Liberia. This will provide a platform for collaborative efforts toward advancing Liberia's socio-economic, political, legal, and cultural spheres.
The outcomes of the Liberian TRC are contained in a four-part volume report that details the process, findings, and recommendations. The volumes include a Preliminary Report (Vol. 1), a Consolidated Report (Vol. 2), Appendixes (Vol. 3), and County Reports from the fifteen counties (Vol. 4). Due to the TRC's ability to make binding recommendations, the Commission named over 150 individuals to be prosecuted and several dozen to be barred from public office, including Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Approximately three dozen individuals were granted amnesty due to their cooperation with the TRC.
The recommendations proffered include suggestions for a criminal tribunal, domestic criminal prosecutions, public sanctions including lustration and debarment from public office, traditional and informal conflict resolution mechanisms including the Palava Hut program, and recommendations for the investigation and prosecution of economic crimes. The TRC's recommendations do not exist except for public office holders who are recommended for prosecution. It states that serving office holders resign immediately without any benefits while those with intent to occupy public offices be barred for thirty years as a form of public sanction. Democratic renovation should include building a new political culture of tolerance and respect for the human rights of all persons and enfranchisement including opposition in a pluralistic society. A relationship between the Government and its citizens is based on loyalty and support; a new Liberia is described as one free of “partisan use of democratic institutions, political control of the military, the culture of extermination of political opposition.”
Twenty-three types of violations were recorded. The impacts of a series of violence and armed conflict reflected the victimization of women, men, children, the elderly, and other groups. This resulted in a high incidence of displacement, marginalization, destruction of infrastructure, and physical and mental health challenges. The TRC recommended a prosecution mechanism to fight impunity and promote justice and genuine reconciliation on the basis that children and adults who testified showed remorse and retraced their steps. However, the Government has the sole responsibility of determining the requisite prosecutorial standard of proof following Liberian law.
The TRC in fostering democratic renovation affirmed the importance of reconciliation and national healing in ensuring national unity and rebirth of a new nation founded on the principles of universal human rights, the rule of law, and justice for all. To achieve this, the involvement of all Liberians is paramount, beginning with individual forgiveness. Finally, “reconciliation cannot be fully achieved without justice; justice will bring Liberia's dark past to closure by the full implementation of the recommendations of the Commission.”
Analysis and Lessons Learned
The competence of the Commissioners has been questioned based on certain factors. Sheikh Kafumba Konneh was accused of aiding and abetting the perpetrators' agenda of armed conflict in Liberia. First, a legal practitioner was absent to guide the Commissioners on their legal responsibilities and limitations as stipulated in international law despite legally trained individuals in the Commission. Amnesty International, on several occasions, advised the TRC to correct aspects of its recommendations that were considered erroneous. As of 2008, the Liberian TRC recorded more violations than any other TRC, with 86,647 victims and 163,615 violations identified in statements given to the TRC. Therefore, it can be described as largely ineffective as a result of a lack of change since the release of the Liberian TRC Report. Low-level impacts have been recorded due to the limited implementation of recommendations contained in the report by the Liberian Parliament. Beyond this, those recommended for debarment from public offices have continued to drive Liberia's political system. For instance, the presence of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in the highest political office in Liberia despite the recommendation for debarment generated negative press locally and internationally.
The findings and results of the TRC serve as vital sources in ensuring accurate documentation of Liberian history. In its statement released to the press on July 17, 2009, the Liberty Party was more cautious, as it welcomed the report and commended the TRC for its courage and diligence in completing its work and thanked the TRC staff and volunteers for their dedication in carrying out their work. The question on the minds of Liberians is: to what extent has the TRC restored the human dignity of victims and promoted reconciliation? According to the Chairman of the Liberian TRC, Jerome Verdier Sr., “this report is our roadmap to liberation and lasting peace which means that reconciliation in Liberia is never again an elusive goal. It is both a possibility and a reality we must achieve by opening our hearts and accepting the realities and consequences of our national existence and move forward.”
 Lynsey Chutel, "To understand race in Africa today, look to the past, panelists say," May 14, 2021, MIT News, https://news.mit.edu/2021/understand-race-africa-today-look-past-panelists-say-0514
 Clara De Ycaza, “A Search for Truth: A Critical Analysis of the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” Human Rights Review (2013) 14:209, DOI 10.1007/s12142-013-0268-0.
 Ibid., 194.
 Ibid., 193.
 “Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia,” Vol I: Findings and Determinations, 197.
Clara De Ycaza, “A Search for Truth: A Critical Analysis of the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” Human Rights Review (2013) 14:209, DOI 10.1007/s12142-013-0268-0.
 Ibid., 7.
“Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia,” Vol I: Findings and Determinations, 46.
 Ibid., 48.
“Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia,” Vol II: Consolidated Final Reports, 46.
 “Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia,” Vol I: Findings and Determinations, 25.
 Ibid., 56.
 “Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia,” Vol II: Consolidated Final Reports, 7.
 Ibid., 39.
 Ibid., 13.
 Ibid., 266.
 Clara De Ycaza, “A Search for Truth: A Critical Analysis of the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” Human Rights Review (2013) 14:205, DOI 10.1007/s12142-013-0268-0.
 Kwesi Aning and Thomas Jaye, "Liberia: A Briefing Paper on the TRC Report," KAIPTC Occasional Paper No. 33, April 2011, https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B40UDxMwk8FAWjV4aUhMSi1tZjQ/view?resourcekey=0-QYeVyeG7clzWOCtLtrrkSw, 10
 Kwesi Aning and Thomas Jaye, "Liberia: A Briefing Paper on the TRC Report," KAIPTC Occasional Paper No. 33, April 2011, https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B40UDxMwk8FAWjV4aUhMSi1tZjQ/view?resourcekey=0-QYeVyeG7clzWOCtLtrrkSw, 11.
 Ibid., vi.