By: T.Q. Harris Jr
The general reaction of Liberians to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Final Report underscores the sensitivity, complexity and difficulty in crafting a workable plan to restore normalcy to our relatively small, yet volatile underdeveloped nation. And despite the fact the literacy rate is well below 20 percent, the vast majority of Liberians already has formulated opinions regarding the voluminous document recently released by the Truth Commission. The opinions are diverse as species in the Sapo National Forest. And passions are running high.
Considering the dreadful statistics, one cannot help but wonder; how many Liberians have actually read the TRC Final Report in its entirety – and of this number - how many fully understand its content? Based on the facts, it is safe to assume that the latter is an extremely small group, not unlike the few who met in Ghana and committed the entire nation to an unrealistic peace agenda. Yet, if level heads do not prevail, the TRC recommendations, particularly those related to prosecution and debarment could reignite violence.
The truth-telling approach to national healing adopted in Ghana and touted as the best way forward has been roundly rejected. Now its leading advocates, including Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, are unhappy because the Truth Commission which they overwhelmingly supported has favored accountability and the eradication of impunity. For this, it is being severely criticized and vilified.
Though the Commission’s conclusions fall short in certain regards, they nevertheless have exposed the diabolical scheme to use reconciliation as a harmless weapon to bludgeon the truth. In its totality, the TRC Final Report confirms the recklessness as well as the unspeakable horrors visited upon defenseless men, women and children, including five innocent nuns. Now disappointment on the part of those who continue to deny these facts is manifesting as anger, resentment and - for some – speechlessness.
The notion that a truth commission is the best mechanism for healing this nation in the aftermath of the extremely brutal war is a fraud perpetrated by people unwilling to accept responsibility for acts so hideous it confounds the human mind. Therefore, those bearing the greatest responsibility for the carnage must be removed from decision-making. Their removal, however, is not necessarily an attempt to exact punishment. Rather, it creates a level of comfort for the victim and reduces anxiety; thereby eliminating fear, which oftentimes is mistakenly characterized as complacency or even stupidity.
The TRC Final Report is by no means perfect, nor a panacea. However, it is a courageous step on the long journey toward national healing, reconciliation and lasting peace. Thanks to the ubiquitous Internet; millions around the world have read the document. Now people are watching to see how Liberians are going to react.
Therefore, we must seize the moment and do what is right. Even in these darkest moments - you must believe - Liberia is being repositioned to lead Africa’s transformation. The challenges we face currently are mere opportunities to rebuild a new nation from the bottom up, embedding in its foundation rule of law and the tenets of democracy. Let us not pull back on account of lies, fear and intimidation. Because the atrocities committed in Liberia can never be forgotten; neither will the content of the TRC Final Report.
As the central and most prominent figures in the recent devastation, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Dr. Amos Sawyer must at this critical stage provide bold leadership in ending the prolonged nightmare. They must set the pace so that others may follow; because their names consistently appear at the top of every list of persons bearing the greatest responsibility for the 15-year carnage. Therefore, it is impossible to hold anyone else accountable without first getting Ellen and Sawyer to accept full responsibility for their actions.
The following are steps President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf must take to ensure the TRC report does not further divide the nation, pitting brother against brother. Also, this should help in gaining the confidence of citizens as well as the international partners. Because, realistically, the current leadership should not be handling these extremely delicate matters.
1. The President must state without delay her unequivocal support for the TRC Final Report. Also, she must in the same breath offer her resignation or state categorically that at the conclusion of her current term she will not seek public office, in keeping with the TRC recommendation;
2. The President must not delay in establishing the Independent National Human Rights Commission (INHRC) so work may begin on the TRC recommendations.
Also, considering that officials within the three branches of government have been indicted in the TRC Final Report, the President going forward must emphasize transparency by appointing a team of observers comprising of 5 – 7 upstanding citizens who will work closely with the Executive and Legislative branches, focusing primarily on long-term contractual agreements involving the State. Civil society organizations among others will be asked to submit names; and the final selection will be made by random drawing;
3. The President must side with the Liberian people in demanding cooperation from the Legislature in advancing the TRC Final Report, so its implementation may begin in a timely manner; and,
4. The INHRC must at the earliest convene a series of national conferences at home and abroad where stakeholders shall determine how best to implement the TRC recommendations, taking into account issues critical to long-term stability. At these meetings, strategies will be formulated to deal effectively with individuals known to have committed war crimes as well as crimes against humanity, but whose names are not included in the TRC Final Report.
In conclusion, Liberia at the moment is held hostage by a few individuals, including Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who have refused to accept responsibility for the senseless violence that devastated the infrastructure, uprooted and forced tens of thousands into exile, and also took the lives of thousands more. Regrettably, the prevailing culture of impunity has made it extremely difficult to take legal action against the culprits, evidenced the threats and outright rejection of the TRC Final Report. As a people, we can no longer continue on this destructive path. With every passing day the cost of reconstruction increases while Liberians fall deeper into poverty. Failing to deal decisively with those who may have violated the social contract and broken the law only threatens the fragile peace we now enjoy.
Therefore, we call on the President to show leadership by accepting the recommendation of the TRC which she vigorously supported and promoted.
Madam Sirleaf, you are uniquely positioned to end the nightmare and restore hope to this broken nation. Saving your people from themselves does not require the might of an iron lady. Rather, success is with the woman who has a humble heart, steady hands and a clear vision. It’s time ‘This Child’ demonstrates her greatness by rallying the nation to a cause greater than any one individual.
Let the sycophants not mislead you as was the case with Presidents Tolbert, Doe and Taylor. And there is no need to defend against the TRC at the Supreme Court or in any other court for that matter. Would you rather be remembered for what you did or did not do in the past, or for how you seized this opportunity to bend the arc of destiny?
The Author: Mr. T. Q. Harris, Jr. is currently the General Chairman of Liberia Contemporees United Patriotic and Strong (Contemp UPS www.contemporees.org) and CEO of the Movement STAND. He is a former vice presidential nominee of the Republic of Liberia. Call (562) 216-3177 / (562) 256-4271 or email him at email@example.com For more about Mr. Harris log in to www.friendsoftq.com