Friday, October 29, 2010

DIGGING FOR TRUTH: U.S. Symposium to Address Liberia’s TRC Process

Source: Frontpage Africa
Jerome J. Verdier Sr
TRUTH SYMPOSIUM: Jerome Verdier, head of the TRC will deliver the keynote address on Day one of the symposium which will be moderated by Michael Keating, Mr. Michael Keating (Moderator), a Lecturer in the Graduate Program in International Affairs at the New School and the Associate Director of the Center for Democracy and Development at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

New York -

Atwo-day A symposium on the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Process: Reform, Redress, and Recovery Presented by the African Refuge, Inc. in collaboration with the International Trauma Studies Program, The New School University and The Institute for the Study of Human Rights, Columbia University kicks off today, October 29-30, 2010 at the Wollman Hall, New School University located on 65 West 11th Street, New York City.

The symposium will bring together leading scholars, practitioners, and other experts who will engage in discussion sessions grouped into three tracks focused on the themes of reform, redress and recovery. This forum will focus on issues related to the Truth and Reconciliation Process not the upcoming elections in Liberia. It is meant as a reflection point on where the TRC Process might lead in the future, what challenges lie ahead and how individuals and organizations can contribute as the process moves forward.

Jerome Verdier, head of the TRC will deliver the keynote address on Day one of the symposium which will be moderated by Michael Keating, Mr. Michael Keating (Moderator), a Lecturer in the Graduate Program in International Affairs at the New School and the Associate Director of the Center for Democracy and Development at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Speakers will also include Anthony Kessely, head of the Union of Liberians in the United States, Joe Teh, Sam Slewion, Patrick Seyon, Alaric Tokpa, Abraham Massaley and Tania Bernath; Massa Washington, Jeffrey Harmon, John Stewart, John Brownell, Mainlehwon Ebenezer Vohnm, David Backer.

The panelists will address among other things: 1. The current state of the human rights agenda in Liberia; 2. The current status of the TRC recommendations and the government of Liberia’s response; 3. The role that Liberian civil society can play in setting the future human rights agenda.

4. The role that the international community can play in assisting the GOL and Liberian civil society.

5. An overall assessment of the TRC process thus far. Panelists will also discuss 1. The likelihood of war-crime tribunals in Liberia; 2. The social effects of not having tribunals.; 3. If reparations then who and when?; 4. The role of the international community in seeking both justice and reparations; 5. An overall assessment of the TRC process thus far.


Jerome J. Verdier Sr. is a leading human rights activist and environmental lawyer in Liberia. In 2006, Verdier was unanimously endorsed by all parties to the Liberian conflict to serve as chairperson of the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) Commission. Councilor Verdier is a multiple graduate of the University of Liberia. He received his Bachelor's of Business Administration in 1988 as well as a Bachelor's of Law degree in the same year from the school's Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law. Verdier is a practicing attorney in Liberia and has successfully filed suit against the government on multiple occasions.

Dr. Jeannie Annan, is the Director of Research and Evaluation at the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and is a Visiting Scientist in the Department of Global Health and Population of the Harvard School of Public Health. She holds a PhD in Counseling Psychology from Indiana University at Bloomington. Dr. Annan's research examines the impacts of war and violence on mental health and well-being, with a particular focus on identifying the individual, social, and environmental factors that moderate and protect individuals from the worst effects of violence. She is also engaged in the assessment and evaluation of post-conflict youth programs, including the psychological effects of programs for economic recovery and reintegration and the development of programs that address both psychosocial and livelihood needs. Since 1999, Dr. Annan has worked in the conflict affected areas of northern Uganda, Southern Sudan, Kosovo and Liberia on psychosocial and education programs and research. As Director of Research and Evaluation at IRC, she oversees the research and evaluation in 24 conflict-affected countries.

Dr. David Backer is currently a Program Officer in the Grant Program at the United States Institute of Peace. Previously, he was an Assistant Professor of Government at the College of William & Mary and also taught at the University of Michigan. His research includes multiple studies and information compilations with transitional justice themes, among them ongoing projects in West Africa (Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone), South Africa and Latin America. He specializes in the assessment of the responses of victims of past human rights violations to post-conflict measures, using original quantitative and qualitative data. Other work focuses on topics like ethnic conflict, civil society, elections, refugees and closed political regimes.

Tania Bernath has been working in the international human rights and humanitarian field for over fifteen years with a wide range of organizations including the UN, NGOs and donors in many countries including Liberia. Tania's international career started in Liberia in 1994 when she worked with a local human rights organization investigating human rights abuses. Since then she has stayed involved with Liberia and still today it remains a special place for her. Most recently Tania was the Liberia researcher for Amnesty International and worked with Liberian human rights defenders on a wide array of human rights issues including international justice, female child soldiers, women's rights, and reparations.

Dr. Barlay is the Founder/President of the Leadership Paradig Powerhouse Institute, an organization an international development firm focusing on financial institution and organizational development consulting across multiple sectors of the economy. Dr. Barlay is the author of a UNDP-sponsored proposal for the Government of Liberia - Future Search Liberia Project. The aim is to right-size the bloated Civil Service workforce, correctly, and to retrain the displaced, to secure alternate careers in the private sector or self-employment. He is the author of Grant-Funded Programs, entitled “Liberian Women in Liberia”–Developing young people for a future of success and excellence. He has Doctorate, MBA and Bachelor degrees from US/UK Universities with diplomas from Harvard University in Advanced Management and Public Sector Negotiation.

Louis Bickford, a political scientist, has consulted with human rights activists, opposition movements and governmental and non- governmental organizations on strategies for confronting the legacies of past human rights abuses in numerous countries including Cambodia, Mexico, and Nigeria. He has done policy work on democratic transition for the UN Special Envoy to Myanmar; consulted with the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK); and developed legislation for the Paraguayan truth commission. As the Director of Networks and Capacity-Building, he manages the International Center for Transitional Justice’s global network of NGOs and individuals involved in transitional justice and oversees fellowship programs in Cape Town, South Africa; Santiago,Chile; and Brussels, Belgium, as well as developing training materials and capacity-building programs with a variety of international partners. Mr. Bickford is currently an Adjunct Associate Professor of Public Administration at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at NYU.

Mr. John N. Brownell, is the president of the European Federation of Liberian Associations. He holds an MSc in Condensed Matter Physics from the Nobel Laureate Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics / University of Trieste, Italy.

He served as Instructor of Physics at the University of Liberia.

Dr. Joe Gbaba
Dr. Joe Gbaba is a world renowned Liberian artist/scholar with more than thirty-six years of experience in playwriting, directing, acting, and teaching. He is also an advocate of social justice and child welfare on the continent of Africa and here in the United States of America. He works as an investigative child protection worker with the Department of Human Services in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, since 2003. His many accomplishments include representing the Government of Liberia at the Organization of African Unity Conference of Communication Experts in Abeokota, Nigeria in 1989. In 1992, he promoted peace education, conflict resolution, civic education and public health programs in collaboration with the UN Department of Peacekeeping Mission in Liberia (UNOMIL), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the United Nations Children’s Educational Fund (UNICEF). Since coming to the United States, Mr. Gbaba has received his Master of Science degree in Elementary and Special Education in 2002 and his Doctor of Education degree in Educational Leadership in 2009 from St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He has authored two books and is currently working on two more literary projects.

Mr. Jeffrey Harmon is a political and human rights activist. He serves in the leadership of several student and national political organizations in Liberia. He was the Chairman of the True Whig Party of Liberia. He is the founder and current Executive Director of the Community Integration Project, based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His educational background includes a M.A. Degree in Conflict Resolution from Arcadia University, a degree in International Relations from the IBB Graduate School of International Studies at the University of Liberia, and Bachelor of Arts (BA) Degree in Political Science, University of Liberia.

Mr. Michael Keating (Moderator) is a Lecturer in the Graduate Program in International Affairs at the New School and the Associate Director of the Center for Democracy and Development at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He has been working with the Liberian Media since 2006 and is currently a consultant to Dr. Emmet Dennis, the President of the University of Liberia. Michael will lead a New School International Field Program to Liberia in the Summer of 2011 and will also be involved with a multi-University support program for the independent media in Liberia during the 2011 election campaign. He can be reached at

Mr. Anthony Kesselly is the President of the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA). Mr. Kesselly is a veteran advocate for the peace and welfare of Liberia and Liberians living abroad. He holds a Master of Social Work (MSW) Degree from Temple University’s Graduate School of Social Administration in addition to having served as the Assistant Minster of State for Special Services from 1991 to 1994. As a Diaspora community activist for the past 15 years, Kesselly has participated in many local and national rallies, demonstrations, and assemblies to press for various Liberian causes. Kesselly was at the center of the various ULAA campaigns to get the U.S. Congress to grant reprieve to Liberians on Temporary Protected Status. He was on many ULAA delegations to the U.S.

Congress, the State Department, and state and municipal offices in the Liberian immigration struggle.

Dr. Judith Landau, child, family and community psychiatrist, formerly Professor of Psychiatry and Family Medicine, and Director of the Division of Family Programs at the University of Rochester Medical Center, is currently President of Linking Human Systems, LLC, and LINC Foundation, Inc., in Boulder, Colorado. She serves as Senior Advisor to the International Trauma Studies Program. Over the past thirty years, she has developed and tested methods that identify the natural healing elements of families and communities. She has worked with refugees and trauma survivors in and from many countries, during and after natural and man-made disasters, consulting to governments on refugee resettlement, the development of services, and the integration of displaced/uprooted people within their new communities. Dr. Landau served on the Advisory Committee to the New York State Commissioner of Mental Health on the Mental Health of Refugees, consulted to the Commissioner of Health for New York City on building healthy communities in the wake of September 11th, 2001, and currently serves as a consultant to the Department of Health in Kosovo, and the Lieutenant Governor’s office in Hawaii. Dr. Landau was recently president of the International Family Therapy Association.

Mr. Abraham Massaley is the former President of the National Association of Cape Mountanians in the Americas as well as the Former Chairman of the National Elections Commission of the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas. He is also a former President of the Press Union of Liberia.

Mr. Jacob Massaquoi (Conference Host) is the director of African Refuge, a community based project in Staten Island, NY with the mission to address the needs of African immigrants and refugees through health, social and legal services, and family and youth support programs. Before he was forced out of his native country Liberia, Mr. Massaquoi served as the Country Representative of the International Association for Volunteer Effort (IAVE)-Liberia, and was responsible for the coordination of activities surrounding the United Nation’s International Year of Volunteers (IYV2001) and follow up activities in Liberia (08/00-03/02). Mr. Massaquoi co-founded Free Teens Liberia, Inc. a non-profit volunteer organization with the mission to promote human rights and alleviate the plight of disadvantaged children and orphans, combat the spread of HIV/AIDS, teenage pregnancy as well as the incident of drugs and substance abuse among teenagers, 03/1999-03/02.

Dr. Jack Saul (Moderator) is Assistant Professor of Clinical Population and Family Health at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and director of the International Trauma Studies Program. As a psychologist he has developed a number of psychosocial programs for populations that have endured war, torture and political violence including the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture in 1995 where he was clinical director until 1998. Dr. Saul established Refuge in 1999, a resource center in New York for survivors of political violence and forced migration. Dr. Saul has worked for the past 10 years with the Liberian Diaspora community and is one of the founders of African Refuge, a community drop-in center for African refugees and immigrants in Staten Island. His research focuses on psychosocial recovery in the aftermath of conflict and political violence. Dr. Saul can be reached at .

Dr. Patrick Seyon is the Former President of the University of Liberia. He is a life-long educator both in Liberia and the United States as well as being a leading civic figure in Liberia and the U.S. through his work with the National Elections Commission and the Constitution Commissions. He has been a consultant to the World Bank and the Ford Foundatin and has written extensively on African related issues with a special emphasis on Education. Dr. Seyon currently resides in the Boston area were he teaches at Roxbury Community College.

Commissioner John Stewart, a Liberian journalist, author, human rights advocate, and activist, served on the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Prior to his tenure with the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he worked with the United Nations Population Fund and the United Nations Development Program, and the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission of Liberia. He was educated at the University of Liberia.

Sam Slewion was Media point person of the TRC Diaspora-USA Project. He also presented a paper on the Intervention of the Union of Liberian Associations in Americas (ULAA) in the Liberian Refugee Crisis in Ghana in 2008 at the Thematic Hearing of the TRC held in Minnesota, USA, and organized by the Advocacy for Human Rights based in Minnesota. He was the former Secretary General of the Liberian Press Union and a former prominent journalist in Monrovia. He currently resides in Philadelphia where he is a human rights activist and civic leader.

Joe Teh was a former news Editor/Program Producer for Star Radio in Monrovia and co-chairman of the Mano River Media forum.

Professor Alaric Tokpa is a Liberian politician. In 2005, Tokpa ran for President as part of the ticket of the New Deal Movement. He currently serves as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Liberia.

Mr. Mainlehwon Ebenezer Vonhm is a survivor and refugee of the Liberian Civil War; given his powerful experiences throughout the war, he has spent the past 10 years of his life in the United States studying the effects of peace education upon general peaceful civility and coexistence. Since concluding his studies, Mr. Vonhm has returned to Liberia to implement peace education in his home country by working with the Center for Peace Education, a Liberian non-governmental organization dedicated to building a comprehensive peace building program and teaching mediation.

Commissioner Massa A. Washington
Commissioner Massa A. Washington, Liberian TRC commissioner, is a journalist with more than 20 years of experience. She holds a B.A. in Mass Communication with an emphasis in print journalism from the University of Liberia and is currently a second-year graduate student with high honors at the Temple University School of Social Administration and Management, Pennsylvania, USA. She also obtained training in 1984 in broadcast journalism from the Voice of America (VOA) and the Liberian Broadcasting System (LBS). Her past positions have included Public Relations Officer of the Liberian National Red Cross Society, Senior Reporter for the Ministry of Information New Liberian Newspaper and News Editor for the Independent Inquirer. Ms. Washington has covered the Liberian crises extensively, reporting often from occupied territories and creating a column in the Inquirer dedicated to Liberian women. She is a women's rights and civil society activist and a member of the Liberian Women Imitative (LWI), which has been at the vanguard of peace advocacy in Liberia. She has also represented the women of Liberia at peace conferences, such as both of the Accra Clarification Conferences and the Abuja Conference. Ms. Washington has also worked with Liberians in the Diaspora, having represented and given sworn testimonies for Liberians seeking legal status in the USA. She served as chairman of the Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas (ALJA), Delaware Valley Chapter, representing the States of Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey, and co-owned and published the Iwina Heritage Newspaper, targeting the African immigrant community in the United States. Ms. Washington's honors include Press Union Reporter of the Year Award, Inquirer Reporter of the Year Award 1994, the Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas Appreciated Award in 2003, Liberian Community Association of Pennsylvania Award in 2003 and, in 2004, Special Recognition for distinguished leadership by the City of Philadelphia Welcoming Center for New Immigrants. Ms. Washington is also one of 16 Liberian peace activists featured in a recent UN book on peace building

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Inside Liberia with Bernard Gbayee Goah

Everyone is a genius

Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. – A Einstein

Drawing the line in Liberia

Crimes sponsored, committed, or masterminded by handful of individuals cannot be blamed upon an entire nationality. In this case, Liberians! The need for post-war justice is a step toward lasting peace, stability and prosperity for Liberia. Liberia needs a war crimes tribunal or some credible legal forum that is capable of dealing with atrocities perpetrated against defenseless men, women and children during the country's brutal war. Without justice, peace shall remain elusive and investment in Liberia will not produce the intended results. - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Men with unhealthy characters should not champion any noble cause

They pretend to advocate the cause of the people when their deeds in the dark mirror nothing else but EVIL!!
When evil and corrupt men try to champion a cause that is so noble … such cause, how noble it may be, becomes meaningless in the eyes of the people - Bernard Gbayee Goah.

If Liberia must move forward ...

If Liberia must move forward in order to claim its place as a civilized nation amongst world community of nations, come 2017 elections, Liberians must critically review the events of the past with honesty and objectivity. They must make a new commitment to seek lasting solutions. The track records of those who are presenting themselves as candidates for the position of "President of the Republic of Liberia" must be well examined. Liberians must be fair to themselves because results from the 2011 elections will determine the future of Liberia’s unborn generations to come - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia's greatest problem!

While it is true that an individual may be held responsible for corruption and mismanagement of funds in government, the lack of proper system to work with may as well impede the process of ethical, managerial, and financial accountability - Bernard Gbayee Goah

What do I think should be done?

The situation in Liberia is Compound Complex and cannot be fixed unless the entire system of government is reinvented.
Liberia needs a workable but uncompromising system that will make the country an asylum free from abuse, and other forms of corruption.
Any attempt to institute the system mentioned above in the absence of rule of law is meaningless, and more detrimental to Liberia as a whole - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia's Natural Resources
Besides land water and few other resources, most of Liberia’s dependable natural resources are not infinite, they are finite and therefore can be depleted.
Liberia’s gold, diamond, and other natural resources will not always be an available source of revenue generation for its people and its government. The need to invent a system in government that focuses on an alternative income generation method cannot be over emphasized at this point - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia needs a proper system
If Liberians refuse to erect a proper system in place that promotes the minimization of corruption and mismanagement of public funds by government institutions, and individuals, there will come a time when the value of the entire country will be seen as a large valueless land suited on the west coast of Africa with some polluted bodies of waters and nothing else. To have no system in place in any country is to have no respect for rule of law. To have no respect for rule of law is to believe in lawlessness. And where there is lawlessness, there is always corruption - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Solving problems in the absence of war talks

As political instability continues to increase in Africa, it has become abundantly clear that military intervention as a primary remedy to peace is not a durable solution. Such intervention only increases insecurity and massive economic hardship. An existing example which could be a valuable lesson for Liberia is Great Britain, and the US war on terror for the purpose of global security. The use of arms whether in peace keeping, occupation, or invasion as a primary means of solving problem has yield only little results. Military intervention by any country as the only solution to problem solving will result into massive military spending, economic hardship, more fear, and animosity as well as increase insecurity. The alternative is learning how to solve problems in the absence of war talks. The objective of such alternative must be to provide real sustainable human security which cannot be achieved through military arm intervention, or aggression. In order to achieve results that will make the peaceful coexistence of all mankind possible, there must be a common ground for the stories of all sides to be heard. I believe there are always three sides to every story: Their side of the story, Our side of the story, and The truthBernard Gbayee Goah


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