Liberty Party Reconciliation Paper Section II
Liberty Party Is Committed to the Reconciliation of Liberians
At the end of the civil war, Liberians had at least three options for addressing the country’s reconciliation needs. The Country could have adopted the Amnesty Approach, the Judicial Approach, or the Truth Commission Approach.
The Amnesty Approach The Amnesty Approach simply grants forgiveness to perpetrators of atrocities and abuses and calls on the victims to forgive their abusers and forget. In Liberian parlance it is said to, “Let bygones be bygones.” In certain instances, amnesty is a necessary price to pay in order to achieve a stable, peaceful, and equitable system of government (Verwoerd, 2007). Many international law scholars consider amnesty law the connection between peace and justice through which outgoing governments (warring factions in the case of Liberia) granted themselves, or negotiated the granting of, amnesty. Amnesty advocates have argued that, at certain period in history, the approach of amnesty was the only framework for easily reaching a democratic transition after a repressive regime, and thus may have represented the best available option to victims as well as perpetrators (Greenawalt, 2000). Champions for amnesty argue that prosecution and punishment will just prolong the pain and create a never ending circle of violence and conflict. They say a better solution is recognition of the past, and forgiveness for the perpetrators of violence.
The Judicial Approach – Justice, Fairness, and Prosecution The Judicial Prosecution Approach is the opposing view to the Amnesty Approach. Perpetrators of crimes and abuses are brought before the court of law and prosecuted as a way of meting out justice. Those who support this approach to reconciliation argue that peace without justice is a false peace whose frailty will become apparent sooner or later. They argue that justice is a valuable tool to be used in the transformation of a society in violent conflict (Theissen, 2004). Others argued that “…the resentment among victims who watched perpetrators escape justice may result, and foster, a notion of lawlessness, thus endangering the unconsolidated democracy” (Campbell, 2000, pp. 3). But Tony Freemantle of the Huston Chronicle (1996) noted, “…the judicial prosecution approach to reconciliation has the potential to destabilize new democracies. Societies that can successfully prosecute the likes of warlords who are viewed as evil by their victims but heros by their followers are ones where the rule of law is entrenched. In fledgling democracies, the transition has not been made from a system of justice that is heavily influenced by parochial interests” (pp. 5).
The United Nations Human Rights Commission (2001) emphasizes that the importance of prosecuting crimes after a violent civil war, and the effect prosecution has on peacemaking and reconciliation, cannot be discussed without making reference to other approaches aimed at reconciliation. In the last century, the international community has gone from accepting Amnesty laws as the standard way of securing peace, to considering that punishment before national or international courts as a preferred approach for achieving justice and reconciliation (George Washington University Press, 2001).The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) The Truth Commissions are a process of transitional justice which lies somewhere between the Amnesty and Judicial approaches. Crocker defines transitional justice as a process by which a society slowly recovers and moves forward after widespread human rights violations (Crocker, 200). Of Truth Commissions, Lerche (2000) says they represent “…an imperfect but politically viable alternative way for a people to raise and examine at least some of the shortcomings in the human rights practice of their legal systems and security forces” (pp.11). Those who advocate for the Truth Commission approach to reconciliation argue that “the pursuit of truth and justice must be tempered with recognition of the political reality of a given society” (Campbell, 2000, pp. 4). Crocker argues that “The challenge for a new democracy is to respond appropriately to past evils without undermining the new democracy or jeopardizing prospects for future development” (pg. 100).
After considering the pros and cons of the available options and taking into account the country’s peculiar circumstances, the parties to the Liberian conflict decided to adopt the Truth Commission Approach. National reconciliation was covered in Article XIII of the Accra Peace Accord under which the Liberian conflict was ended. Article XIII states, inter alia:
A Truth and Reconciliation Commission shall be established to provide a forum that will address issues of impunity, as well as an opportunity for both the victims and perpetrators of human rights violations to share their experiences, in order to get a clear picture of the past to facilitate genuine healing and reconciliation. In the spirit of national reconciliation, the Commission shall deal with the root causes of the crises in Liberia, including human rights violations. This Commission shall, among other things, recommend measures to be taken for the rehabilitation of victims of human rights violations.
On May 12, 2005, the National Legislative Assembly of the Interim Transitional Government enacted the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Act in fulfillment of the provision of the Ghana Peace Accord. The overall objective of the Commission as contained in Article IV, Section 4 was to:
“…to promote national peace, security, unity and reconciliation by: a. Investigating gross human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law as well as abuses that occurred, including massacres, sexual violations, murder, extrajudicial killings and economic crimes, such as the exploitation of natural or public resources to perpetuate armed conflicts, during the period January 1979 to October 14, 2003; determining whether these were isolated incidents or part of a systematic pattern; establishing the antecedents, circumstances factors and context of such violations and abuses; and determining those responsible for the commission of the violations and abuses and their motives as well as their impact on victims. Notwithstanding the period specified herein, the Commission may, on an application by any person or group of persons, pursue the objectives set out in this Article IV (Mandate of the Commission) in respect of any other period preceding 1979.
b. Providing a forum that will address issues of impunity, as well as an opportunity for both victims and perpetrators of human rights violations to share their experiences in order to create a clear picture of the past so as to facilitate genuine healing and reconciliation;
c. Investigating the antecedents of the crises which gave rise to and impacted the violent conflict in Liberia;
d. Conducting a critical review of Liberia historical past in order to address falsehoods and misconceptions about the nation past socioeconomic and political development.
e. Adopting specific mechanisms and procedures to address the experiences of women, children and vulnerable groups, paying particular attention to gender-based violations, as well as to the issue of child soldiers, providing opportunities for them to relate their experiences. Addressing concerns and recommending measures to be taken for the rehabilitation of victims of such violations in the spirit of national reconciliation and healing.
f. Compiling a report that includes a comprehensive account of the activities of the Commission and its findings. Unfortunately, after expending enormous resources in manhours and funds over a period of three years, the Commission’s report and recommendations have now been consigned to the shelf and the TRC’s work ended unceremoniously.
This sad state of affairs was primarily due to the controversies engendered by one recommendation the Commission made. In assigning responsibilities for the civil war, the Commission named President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as one of the sponsors of the war and recommended that she, along with 48 others, be publicly sanctioned and barred from holding public office for a period of 30 years (TRC Final Report, 2009).
This single recommendation sealed the fate of the Commission’s work which covered very critical areas of Liberia’s national life that need to be dealt with in order to address the root causes of the country’s tragedy, promote reconciliation, and promote sustainable peace. The Commission’s recommendations covered, for example: Building of a New Liberian Political Culture, Political Parties and Civil Society Empowerment; Administration of Justice; Combating Corruption and Institutionalizing Good Governance; Decentralization of Political and Economic Power; Rebuilding Public Institutions and Infrastructure; among others (TRC Final Report, 2009).
Liberty Party is convinced that the work of the TRC does not only represent a comprehensive treatment of the nation’s problems, but it is also a valuable contribution towards a national policy-making process that will support the long-term peace, stability and development of the country. Although the TRC Report has been shelved by the Sirleaf Administration, a Liberty Party Government will nonetheless commit to ensuring that the Commission’s work is given the national attention that it deserves. In this regard, a Liberty Party Government will:
- Approach national reconciliation in the spirit of the Accra Peace Accord, and develop a national reconciliation agenda within that framework.
- Expeditiously bring closure to the TRC process by reviewing the recommendations of the
- Commission, with the goal of implementing the non-punitive provisions. Every effort will be made, as part of this process, to build national consensus as the reconciliation process moves forward, being mindful of the particularities of the country’s civil conflict.
- Take advantage of the Palava Hut provision of the Commission’s recommendations as a way
- of building national consensus and advancing national reconciliation; not necessarily dealing with characters of the civil war, but with groups that will facilitate achieving lasting reconciliation and peace in our country.
- Be guided by the party’s deep appreciation of the complexities of the country’s tragedy and the frailty of the nation’s attempt at democracy. As Abu-Namir (2001) argues, justice is a necessary condition for reconciliation, although it is not a sufficient condition. The need to examine the past in order to correct grievances must be balanced with the need to create a viable present that will support a peaceful and prosperous future.
In terms of programs, a Liberty Party Government’s national reconciliation agenda will include the following:
- Memorializing and honoring the country’s war dead through National Remembrance Symbols
- to include such things as a National Day of Remembrance, national monuments, reconciliation feasts, among others. Currently, these war dead cannot be honored during the nation’s Decoration Day since they have no known graves to be visited and decorated.
- The President using the bully pulpit of the presidency to rally the nation to reconcile. The President will solicit the involvement of local leaders and traditional elders in this effort.
- Reviewing the government’s scholarship program with the view of encouraging the interaction of the nation’s young people from the different parts of the country as a means of building trust and dealing with historical prejudices and stereotypes that often cause Liberians to demonize each other. A “Student Service Corps” program will be developed as part of this effort. The program will provide scholarships for students to attend public universities, colleges, and technical/trade schools. The beneficiaries will be required to work in rural Liberia during their annual vacations. Students will be assigned to counties other than their home counties as a way of enhancing the reconciliation and unification process.
- Strengthening the existing national sports program to bring the country’s young people together on regional and national levels as a way of building friendships and trust across tribal and sectarian divides.
Revising school curriculums through the Ministry of Education to reintroduce the teaching of:
- Liberian civics, and democratic principles as a way of instilling civic values and tolerance in the nation’s young people at an early age.
- Teaching Liberian languages in the schools with the goal of adopting a national language—a language that has some connection with Liberia and the Liberian people.
- Seeking to discourage such artificial and unhelpful dichotomies as “Progressives” versus “Reactionaries”, “Congo” versus “Country”, This man” versus “That man”, “They” versus “Us”, among others.
- Fostering religious tolerance, ensuring that all religions are respected and honored in accordance with the dictate of the Constitution of Liberia. All persons, in the practice of their religion, shall be entitled to the protection of the law.
- Enacting laws that will treat as hate crime, a special category of criminal sanction, the burning or other destruction of churches, mosques, kingdom halls, or other places of worship.
The ultimate goal of a Liberty Party Government will be to expedite the reconciliation process in order to achieve a genuinely reconciled, democratic Liberia where everyone, irrespective age, sex, gender, ethnicity, tribe, education, religion, and political beliefs and affiliation, will live in peace and be treated equally. A Liberty Party Government’s reconciliation policy will be undergirded by the following general principles and core values:
- Rule of Law
- Respect for the individual
- Civic engagement and empowerment
- Political tolerance
- Opportunities for all
- Social harmony and stability