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Liberia to follow example of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation success story

By unknown | Oct 08, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Deepti Hajela

Deepti Hajela

NEW YORK - As Liberia tries to rebuild after years of strife and warfare, it is sending representatives of its Truth and Reconciliation Commission abroad to encourage expatriates to recount their stories of the conflict.

Volunteers will be coming to the New York City borough of Staten Island, which has a large Liberian immigrant community, later this month to gather testimony. Some call it a good thing, yet others think the commission is a waste of time and money.

Morris Sesay, whose mother and brother were killed in the conflict, is among the sceptics. He doubts anyone involved in the violence will actually take responsibility.

But those who study truth commissions, which have been established elsewhere after similar strife, believe that if run properly, they can actually get at the truth.

The best known to date was the one established in South Africa after apartheid.

"When done well, they can be quite an important process for a country," said Priscilla Hayner of the International Centre for Transitional Justice.

Richard Bell, a retired professor of philosophy at The College of Wooster, said the South African commission was a good model because its leadership had credibility.

It also had the power to give amnesty to people in exchange for their testimony, he said.

Some experts said the Liberian commission might have similar success.

"In an atmosphere that invites candour . it's easier to be honest because the whole social setting is one of fostering truth," said June O'Connor, professor of religious studies at the University of California at Riverside.

James Gibson, a professor of government at Washington University, said the value of a truth commission is its ability to provide a narrative of history through collective storytelling.

The effort to get testimony from the US is unusual, said Jennifer Prestholdt, executive director of Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights. Her organisation will be recording the stories.

Rufus Arkoi, a community activist, is encouraging his fellow Liberians on Staten Island to testify - particularly because the commission will have the power to make recommendations that the Liberian government must consider.

"That gave a little hope to the people that they would not just be speaking for the sake of speaking," he said. - Sapa-AP


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