In Support of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission

By Jonathan J. Williams

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

November 6, 2003

Anybody knows Ma Ennie from Sugar Farm, in Lower Buchana, Grand Bassa County? Okay, so you don’t know her. Anyway, for the record, her official name was Edith Travers Campbell. In the early ‘70s, she and some man got into an argument over a house that she had rented from supposedly the wrong person. When the real owner of the house showed up, there was a long argument, which resulted in Ma Ennie receiving a blow to her chin with a hammer from the man from whom she had originally rented the house. The man was arrested, and sent to jail. A court battle ensued afterward, which resulted in the acquittal of the man. A few years later, the man came back and was highly contrite for the lasting memory that he had created. They both went on to live highly successful and happy lives. The years of hate built for this man disappeared in a short span of time due the contriteness of the man. Not only did she survive the blow from the man; she also accepted a tearful act of contrition from the man.

In life, as kids, when were growing up, our parents always told us about the three most powerful words or should I say phrases that were embedded in them. Sorry, excuse me, and thank you.

We will not have everybody who committed a crime or some grievous acts coming to tell us they are apologizing for the acts that were committed during the coast of the civil war. Hell, one way or the other, we all as Liberians allowed what happened the past 14 years to occur. Should we all be dragged in front of a War Crime Tribunal to be judged? History and God will answer that some day. It may not be in this lifetime. Who knows?

Since Gyude Bryant took over as Chairman of the caretaker government, there have been so many calls for the establishment of a war crimes tribunal. My take on it is that this is not the time for a tribunal. An attempt will be made here to sell you on why we don’t need a tribunal at this time, and why we should as a matter of fact advocate more for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The hope is that this will spark a major debate on this issue. You’ve got next, after my turn.

Gyude Bryant was selected to head the caretaker government base on the assumption that he would bring neutrality, reconciliation, healing, and oneness to the process of moving the country from the miserable year created by our own failings. Remember, Doe once said in the early days of the war that the “devil you know is better than the angel you don’t know”. We all refused to listen to him when he also asked mothers and fathers to bring their cutlasses to fight the angel that was coming. Instead, we marched down Broad Street, screaming over our lungs for monkey to come down. Well, monkey came down, the angel took over, and see what happened since the angel took over. So, you see, in a way we are all responsible for the mess created in the last 14 years.

Now, it is time for us to listen to Gyude and try to understand what he meant when he said “absolutely not” to the calls that he should establish a War Crimes Tribunal. “I think it will do more damage than good. I believe we should by ourselves concentrate on reconciling with each other”. He has on the other hand called for a cooling-of-period, and a time to heal the wounds that were created when we cried for monkey to come down so the angel could take over. The right way to heal the wounds of the past is to start by creating a truth and reconciliation commission.

Truth and Reconciliation – albeit amidst all its controversy can go a long way in healing wounds that were created. It is that which is often times considered to be the supreme reality and always shows the ultimate value and meaning of existence. Through reconciliation people can come to atone for all the crimes they have committed. Atonement acts as a deterrent so that crime is not committed again. Most times, when a person apologizes, it means that person has accepted within himself or herself that he or she has done something wrong, and so reaches point where that urge is there to apologize. It may be difficult for the aggrieved person to accept the apology, but as time goes on trust comes slowly, and people do come terms and live side-by-side.

How many times have you heard of a War Crimes Tribunal being successful? In Rwanda, to this day, the mean people involved in the Rwanda genocide have never been tried. Not only that, most of the people who were arrested were released due to over crowding in prisons, cries from various human right organizations that these people rights were being abused, and miserable prison conditions.

In Sierra Leone, Foday Sankor played crazy until he was on the verge of being taken to Europe. In Europe, he would have lived in a luxurious mental health institution. He died, and took all the secrets of why he did what he did with in to his grave. He was the single most important man alive then that could have given us the story of Charles Taylor.

In the Serbia, Milosevic is still making a circus of the trial in The Hague. One day in he’s defending himself, the next day he is too sick to appear in court, and on good days, he’s accusing prosecutors of abusing his rights as a sitting head of state of Serbia. To this date, no one has heard how and why he destroyed the Yugoslav Federation. Well, he has told some that his intention was to build a greater Serbia. In fact, Croats generals who presided over the total destruction of Bosnia-Hezogovinia have never been brought to The Hague.

The tribunal can also be detrimental to lives of others if they fall in the wrong company. Remember the two rebel leaders from Sierra Leone, who were reportedly murdered on others from Charles Taylor. Those two would have told a lot about Charles. But, the court in Sierra Leone issue a writ for their arrest, and they were kill with all the truth we would have heard. Today, Hinga Norman is not talking.

Truth and Reconciliation can be a unifying factor for all of us Liberian. The last miserable years have seen all Liberians fighting, backbiting and trying to kill one another. I always thought Liberians were one of the most civilized people on the face of the earth. The point here is not to ask people to stand and say I’m sorry for what I did to you. But to be truly contrite and be forthright with their contrition. Hopefully, we can bring some morality back to the Liberian society. For too long now we have been divided.

Folks, don’t leave this article thinking that restorative justice is simple. It is not simple. It is a difficult thing to do, and it may not be popular. Most restorative justice programs have very minimum recidivism rates, but they could be the first few steps in healing the wounds of the past.

Let me end my turn on this issue by telling you that just writing this article has made me to reach a minute, difficult place of hope I never knew was still there. Finding that place has given a new look, and has engendered a new healing and alerted me to supportive community in endeavor to help Liberians heal the wounds that have been created. I feel less alone and more optimistic that the community of Liberians here in the Diaspora and at home will become to reconcile their differences and do what is actually possible to get pass the last 14 years. I am truly sorry for all that I have done to you fellow Liberians, and I ask for you forgiveness.

Ma Ennie, my grand mother, died in 1983.

My turn is up; who got next. Let’s start something bigger than this, folks.