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About the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission Diaspora Project

The West African nation of Liberia is recovering from years of conflict characterized by egregious violations of human rights, including arbitrary killing, torture, use of child combatants, sexual violence, separation of families, and looting and destruction of property. From 1979 until 2003 the Liberian people survived a bloody coup d’etat, years of military rule, and two civil wars during which terrorizing the civilian population was the most widely used war tactic.  Out of a pre-war population of three million, an estimated 250,000 people were killed, with as many as 1.5 million displaced.  This mass exodus created the Liberian diaspora.

A critical piece of minimizing the chance that Liberia will again fall into chaos was the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission.  The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia (TRC) was agreed upon in the August 2003 Accra Peace Accords and was established by legislative act in 2005. 

At the request of the Liberian Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC), The Advocates for Human Rights coordinated the work of the TRC in the diaspora. Between January 2007 and August 2008, The Advocates documented statements from Liberians across the United States, the United Kingdom, and in the Buduburam Refugee Settlement in Ghana, West Africa. Moreover, the TRC held public hearings in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA in June 2008 to document public testimony from Liberians in the U.S. diaspora. In July 2009, the Advocates presented its final report to the TRC of Liberia. 

First-ever Truth Commission to Engage Diaspora

The Liberia TRC is the first truth commission to make a systematic effort, through the use of volunteers, to systematically engage a diaspora population in all aspects of the truth commission process.  Liberians in the sub-region and those resettled in the United States and U.K. were involved in the truth seeking process from education and outreach, to statement taking, to public hearings.  The Advocates and the TRC established a Diaspora Project Advisory Committee of Liberians from across the U.S. to advise the process.  The Advocates partnered with Liberian communtiy organizations in the U.S., U.K., and in Ghana to get input and advice about making the TRC process as accessible as possible for Liberians in the diaspora. In June 2008, The Advocates worked with the TRC and Hamline University in St. Paul, MN to host the first ever public hearings of a national truth commission in the diaspora. In the end, The Advocates documented TRC statements from more than 1600 Liberians in the diaspora and recorded testimony from more than 20 witnesses at public hearings.

*Read The Advocates' article on engaging diasporas in truth commissions:
The Advocates' Laura Young and Rosalyn Park recently published "Engaging Diasporas in Truth Commissions: Lessons from the Liberia Truth and Reconciliation Commission Diaspora Project" in the International Journal of Transitional Justice. The article explores lessons learned from the Liberia TRC, the first of its kind to include a diaspora population in all aspects of the truth commission process. To read the article, click here.

Volunteers, Pro Bono and Community Partners

The Liberia TRC Diasopra Project was also one of the first truth commissions to systematically engage pro bono volunteers as statement takers, researchers, outreach workers, and witness support persons. More than 600 volunteers contributed their time and energy over the life of the Liberia TRC Diaspora Project. Pro bono partners included law firms, law school clinics, and other community organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who were willing to work on an entirely voluntary basis, receiving no funding from either the TRC or The Advocates. Ultimately, the project included statement taking sites in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, New York, Newark, Providence/Boston, and the United Kingdom.

The TRC also asked The Advocates to assist with statement taking in the West African sub-region, specifically the Buduburam refugee settlement near Accra, Ghana. Drawing on volunteers from all of its pro bono affiliates, The Advocates took more than twenty volunteers on three trips to document the statements of refugees in Ghana. TRC Diaspora Project volunteers worked alongside TRC staff and Liberian refugees who had been trained as statement takers.

Volunteers, especially statement takers, were extensively trained. The full volunteer statement taker training manual and video archives of the volunteer training program are available by clicking here. All volunteers statement takers, and any other volunteer who was dealing with confidential data, signed a volunteer agreement, which is available for download below.
 

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