Truth-Seeking at a Distance: Engaging Diaspora Populations in Transitional Justice Processes

Truth-Seeking at a Distance: Engaging Diaspora Populations in Transitional Justice Processes

Eric Wiebelhaus-Brahm (Florida State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-1918-0.ch005
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Abstract

The Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (LTRC) was established by the Liberian government in 2005 to “promote national peace, security, unity, and reconciliation.” The LTRC thought it essential to allow Liberians who had fled the conflict to participate in the truth and reconciliation process. As a result, it partnered with a US-based non-governmental organization, The Advocates for Human Rights, to conduct the Diaspora Project. This chapter provides an overview of the Diaspora Project, which enabled Liberians on three continents to give statements to the LTRC. Given the wide dispersion of the Liberian diaspora, the author of this chapter demonstrates how information communication technologies were essential in the success of the Diaspora Project.
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The Origins Of The Diaspora Project

The LTRC was established to examine fourteen years of Liberian history, from 1979 to 2003, that were characterized by violence and brutality. Although more proximate causes were important, the origins of the conflict can be traced back to the origins of Liberia itself. Returned slaves and free African Americans founded the country in the early 1800s. This group, known as Americo-Liberians, economically and politically dominated the indigenous populations who were living in the area since Liberia’s founding. Although tensions existed for much of Liberia’s history, they reached their peak in the 1970s as Liberians became increasingly desperate in the face of a deteriorating economy. In 1979, Rice Riots broke out in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital, when rumors spread that President William Tolbert was going to raise the price of rice to feather his own pocket. Events culminated in the 1980 military coup, which resulted in the murder of President Tolbert and brought army master sergeant Samuel Doe to power. Thirteen government ministers were summarily executed shortly afterward.

Doe ruled Liberia for the next decade, a period in which government brutality escalated. Doe’s regime was known for murdering, imprisoning, and suppressing opposition (The Advocates for Human Rights, 2009: 9-10). Other groups in Liberia perceived the government’s policies as favoring Doe’s own tribe, the Krahn, and the Mandingo, which created further tensions. Unsurprisingly, an anti-government resistance soon emerged. Thomas Quiwonkpa led a failed coup against Doe in 1985. Four years later, Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) invaded from Côte d’Ivoire. When the conflict began in December 1989, many Liberians initially saw Taylor as a savior. However, Taylor set off a period of civil war that lasted for more than a decade and embroiled the entire West African region.

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