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Statement by Cllr. Jerome J. Verdier, Sr., Chairman of the TRC, on the start of the public hearings JANUARY 8, 2008
Madam President, Members of the Cabinet, Members of the National Legislature, Members of the Judiciary, Partners and Representatives of the International Community, Fellow Compatriots, Foreign Residents, Ladies and Gentlemen:
We as a nation and a people, and with support from the rest of the world, took a giant step towards the path of national recovery following over two decades of conflict by confronting a difficult past characterized by some of the worst macabre bloodletting, violence and institutional breakdown. This momentous step was in determination to chart a peaceful and prosperous future not only for ourselves but also for generations to come.
When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established about twenty-four months ago and mandated to undertake this difficult but significant enterprise, many gave it little chance - and understandably, too, in view of the numerous challenges that bedeviled it - to come this far. Similarly, many others, from the lowly to the great, have placed their faith in the TRC process as a tenable option in exorcising the ghost of the past, healing our wounds, restoring victims, ensuring justice and reconciling and rebuilding relationships. To both the cynics and those who believe in this national endeavor, we promise a process that will strive to provide succor to everyone, from the unknown villager in Butuo, Karnplay, Maher, Sinje, or Glarro to the lonely refugee in a camp in Buduburam or Danane, who seek answers to why we chose an inexorable descent into a putrid culture of violence, impunity and destruction. The answers to these questions and how to avoid a recurrence of this tortuous past may well be embedded in the truth-seeking process that includes the public hearings we officially open today.
We are happy that with the support of Liberians and foreign partners, we have been able to navigate through difficult challenges, weathered the storm, and are on-course with our commitment to execute the task entrusted to us by the people of Liberia.
In 1931, the young Mahatma Gandhi wrote “nothing is or exists in reality except truth.” Seventy-six years to the day, we cannot but share in his Satyagraha (truth force) concept that encapsulates the power and efficacy of truth.
Nearly two decades ago, we had descended into anarchy, and have been groping in the dark since then to restore our common patrimony. Today, we have been given the opportunity to come to terms with this bitter past by seeking the truth.
These public hearings, to be conducted throughout Liberia and the diaspora are meant to provide the ultimate forum for victims, witnesses and perpetrators to recount their experiences in the full glare of the public eye. In a society haunted over the years by denial and national amnesia, these hearings will provide the nation an opportunity to acknowledge past sufferings and abuses, as well as the role of institutions, systems and groups in the culture of violence, impunity and abuse. Through these hearings, we hope all Liberians can share in the TRC process and support the effort to reconcile the people and ensure justice.
Development goals will be difficult to achieve and will come to naught, if we continue to allow our national wounds to fester without healing and dwell on falsehoods by denying our past. As we go through these proceedings throughout the country, we ask the public to follow them closely, show compassion, and demonstrate tolerance, patience, understanding and support.
We have observed that five years after war and three years into building a pluralistic culture, our differences still persist and may have increased overtime, which is why the TRC process is key to national renaissance. It is therefore imperative, in the interest of the truth, which will eventually lead to peace, that we give the process our unbridled support.
This conflict was our own undoing and we are all victims. But there are those who suffered the brunt and are living with deep physical and psychological scars for the last twenty years. Their stories must be heard and sufferings acknowledged. Beyond their stories, must come respite and closure. It is our national obligation to restore their dignity and to do it with compassion.
Experience in the field, whether in the slumps of PHP, Clara Town, Red Light, Zinnah Hill, Slipway, West Point, Rock crusher, Watanga or many other dungeons, hideouts and neighborhood ghettos throughout Liberia, underlines one troubling constant—that the youth, those who are expected to take the mantle after us, are in crisis and may not be prepared to do so because they are living daily in ruins and are susceptible to vices – the very seed bed of conflict- that may plunge this nation back into pillage and destruction.
It is our individual and collective responsibility to break the seemingly perennial command structure by providing relief to destitute footmen who took command from those who put them in harm’s way. Many of these footmen and women are roaming the streets and have lost hope, without any prospect for future development and enhancement. Many of them have also told their stories, which must be heard by all Liberians.
Finally, we thank all those who have supported the process leading to today, especially the thousands of Liberians (victims, witnesses and perpetrators) here and in the diaspora, as well as foreign residents who have given their testimonies. We also thank political and war actors who have cooperated with the process thus far and pledged their support until the end.
Now Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my honor to declare these hearings officially open.
Thank you and may God save our state,
Jerome J. Verdier, Sr.