The Role of Statement Taking in the TRC Process

As part of it’s broader mandate to “promote national peace, security, unity and reconciliation”, the establishing act tasks the TRC with investigating gross human rights violations and violations of humanitarian law, as well as determining whether or not these violations form part of a systematic pattern or policy of abuse and ensuring accountability for past violations. Establishing the magnitude, pattern and levels of responsibility for “what happened” during a period of mass human rights violations is one of the major challenges faced by truth commissions.

Like many truth commissions in other countries, the TRC in Liberia is collecting testimony about past human rights abuse throughout the country in the form of narrative statements. Testimony presented to the TRC in statements will serve as a primary source of information for the commission's investigation into past violence. Each statement presented to the TRC can shed valuable light into the nature of violations and experience of particular statement-givers. Providing the opportunity for victims and perpetrators of past human rights violations to have their voices heard and to present testimony also forms an important part of the TRC social process.

Statistical analysis of thousands of individual accounts can help the TRC identify patterns and trends of violations experienced or perpetrated by the statement-givers collectively. Together, the aggregate group of statements will magnify the voices of victims and provide a body of empirical data that will help the TRC engage critical questions of policy and accountability.
To date, the TRC has collected approximately 16,800 statements from throughout the fifteen counties of Liberia. The TRC has also collected statements from Liberians living in the United States and Ghana in collaboration with the Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights. Please click here to find out how to give a statement to the TRC.

The TRC has partnered with Benetech for assistance in establishing an information management system to process and prepare statements for eventual quantitative analysis. Benetech is US-based non-profit organization that provides technical and methodological assistance to human rights partners around the world. For fifteen years, members of the Benetech Human Rights Program (HRP)  have worked with seven truth commissions to incorporate information technology and scientific methods to support their truth-seeking mandates. Please see www.hrdag.org/projects for more information on how statistical analysis of human rights violations has been used to inform the work of other truth commissions.

Coding is the first critical step in the system. Coding is the process by which the violations, victims and perpetrators are identified in statements and transcribed onto coding forms. This process allows an aggregate quantitative analysis of the nature and patterns of human rights violations reported to the TRC. As of February 2008, the coding team at the TRC has coded over 6,000 statements.

Information coded from statements is then entered into the Analyzer database, specifically designed by Benetech to organize human rights data for statistical purposes. Different projects need to analyze different variables according to the specific human rights context in which they work. Benetech has therefore customized Analyzer based on the coding scheme implemented at the TRC. The Analyzer database was installed at the TRC in October 2007. As of February 2008, the Database Unit has entered approximately 2,000 statements into the database.
In preparation for the final analysis, Benetech will work with TRC coding and database staff on data cleaning and normalization. Benetech will then provide statistical expertise to complete a detailed analysis profiling overall patterns and trends of victims and violations reported to the TRC.