Over the weekend, Saturday, June 13, marked the conclusion of the six-day meeting of the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission proceedings held both live at Sundlin Music Hall on the Hamline University campus in St. Paul or via the live web-cast at www.trcofliberia.org. A full days of proceedings was planned most of those days with witnesses testimony and other events throughout.
For me, the power of the hearings was best captured by one of the witnesses: “I’ve always wondered why God spared me when so many others died; now I think it was so that I could come here today to tell their story.” said Jon Austin of J Austin Associates who was one of the hundreds of people who came to witness about the stories of what really happened in Liberia during those dark days.
Through out the week long event , more than 30 witnesses came forward to tell their stories and those of others who cannot. “This has been a powerful and important experience for the witnesses and the Commission, for the audience members and for Liberians everywhere,” said Counselor Jerome J. Verdier, Sr, chairman of the Liberian TRC. “Every story is different, every perspective and memory helps fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle. Without the bravery of our witnesses, crucial facts and experiences would have been lost. They are to be commended for their willingness to step forward and to be an example for others.”
Among those testifying was former Liberian Vice President Bishop Bennie D. Warner, who was serving in office at the start of the civil war, and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Herman (“Hank”) Cohen. Cohen, who has retired from government service, told the Commission that the U.S. could have stopped the conflict and erred in not intervening.
“Charles Taylor told me that he would surrender if the U.S. sent in Marines,” Cohen testified to the Commission.
All eight members of the Liberian TRC traveled to Minnesota to attend the hearings. The hearings will resume in Liberia at the end of the month and continue through the summer.
Minnesota Congresswoman Betty McCollum attended a session of the hearing as did representatives from Senators Norm Coleman and Amy Klobuchar. The event at Hamline University marked the first time any nation has ever conducted such hearings in the United States.
The TRC is charged by the Liberian government with determining the facts of the human rights violations that occurred during the country’s civil war. The testimony of witnesses before the Commission provides a voice for the voiceless and adds to the world’s understanding of what happened during a conflict that stretched from 1979 to 2003.