Press Releases

TRC's Diaspora Public Hearing Opens

St. Paul, Minnesota, June 11, 2008 (TRC): The TRC's Diaspora Public Hearing opened Tuesday at Hamline's University's Sundin Music Hall, in St. Paul, Minnesota. Emblazoned at the entrance of the hearing reads: "Confronting our difficult past, for a better Future: The Diaspora Experience."

The event included welcome and introductory remarks, and the subsequent appearance of two witnesses: Dr. Augustine Konneh, Professor of History at Morehouse College, in Atlanta, Georgia and Methodist prelate Bishop Bennie D. Warner, former vice president of Liberia.

Dr. Konneh, an expert witness on Liberian history, provided the historical context of the conflict, sharing crucial notes from 1821 to 2003, while Bishop Warner, 73, focused on the events leading to the 1979 Rice Riot, especially the 1980 coup that led to the assassination of President William R. Tolbert, the man who helped propel his meteoric rise from a Methodist preacher to a national political leader.

The formalities began with a support statement from Dan Loritz, Hamline University's Vice-President for University Relations. He expressed Hamline's excitement for hosting such landmark event and assured the gathering of his institution's abiding faith in and commitment to the noble causes associated with the TRC Hearing.

His comments were immediately followed by remarks from Robin Phillips, Advocates for Human Rights' Executive Director. The Advocates' boss paid tribute to the efforts of the TRC and defined the strategic position of her organization in the overall Diaspora undertaking, including the statement taking process that was initiated in Ghana.

She was quick to recognize the outstanding collaboration and partnership that exist between the Advocates and the TRC.

Kerper Dwanyen, President of the Organization of Liberians in Minnesota (OLM), admonished Liberians, especially those residing in the Diaspora, to contribute to the success of the hearing.

Other speakers included Alex Gbayee, Consul General of Liberia based in Chicago, Illinois, Emmanuel S. Wettee, President of ULAA, and Jerome Verdier, Chairman of the TRC.

President Wettee underlined ULAA's belief in the process, saying that the exercise is evidently intended to allow for Liberians to reveal what trigger the Liberian civil war. Healing, he said, can only take place when Liberians own up to their deeds.

Formally declaring the five day event here opened, TRC Chairman Verdier remarked: "There is a perception that Liberians out of the country started the war", adding that during this period Liberians left the country and were reportedly residing in the United States." Given this perception, he said, it was natural that Liberians in the Diaspora would see this process as an initiative worth contributing to. He emphasized that the goal of the TRC is to unravel the root causes of the Liberian conflict".

Chairman Verdier recounted some of the TRC's activities in Liberia, in an effort to underscore the relationships between the various parts of the commission's mandate saying "we have visited 14 Liberian counties so far and wherever we go the people of Liberia are fully understanding the importance of the work of the TRC in the peace building process.

He disclosed that the TRC has initiated a "Conflict Mopping Exercise", designed to identify potential conflicts before they explode into ungovernable situations. He said those efforts are embedded in the overall operations of the TRC.

Tuesday's hearing attracted about 150 people, including non-Liberians and brought together leaders of the Liberian community in Minnesota, ULAA officials, former Liberian government officials, religious leaders, amongst several others.

One and a half million of Liberia's citizens fled the country during the 27-year conflict, many of whom settled in the United States. The hearings here in Minnesota mark the first time in history that any truth commission has ever systematically sought to include its Diaspora citizens into the process of national healing.
Each day of the hearings, the commission will hear testimony from Liberians who fled to the United States, focusing on their experiences during the civil war, in flight, in refugee camps, and as they established new lives here.
The Advocates for Human Rights, based in Minneapolis, is assisting with coordination and implementation of the hearings.
The Advocates for Human Rights was founded in 1983 by a group of Minnesota lawyers who recognized the community's unique spirit of social justice as an opportunity to promote and protect human rights in the United States and around the world. The mission of The Advocates for Human Rights is to implement international human rights standards to promote civil society and
reinforce the rule of law.

The organization has produced more than 50 reports documenting human rights practices in more than 25 countries; educated over 10,000 students and community members on human rights issues; provided legal representation and assistance to over 3,000 disadvantaged individuals and families and works with partners overseas and in the United States to restore and protect human rights. The Advocates for Human Rights holds Special Consultative Status with the United Nations.

The TRC was agreed upon in the August 2003 peace agreement and created by the TRC Act of 2005. The TRC was established to "promote national peace, security, unity and reconciliation," and at the same time make it possible to hold perpetrators accountable for gross human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law that occurred in Liberia between January 1979 and October 2003.

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This had been the official website of the Liberian TRC. The Commission ended operation
in 2010. This website is maintained by the Georgia Institute of Technology.