I recently sat in on a local update for Liberians living in the diaspora about the work of the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The evening left me wondering whether the work of recovering from 20-plus years of civil unrest could be accomplished in anything less than an equal length of time.
The Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established in 2005 to piece together the details of who did what to whom during two civil wars between 1979 and 2003. Beyond fact-finding, the TRC is meant to facilitate the country’s healing process.
In 2006, the commission expanded its reach, partnering with the Advocates for Human Rights in Minnesota to take statements from Liberians the United States and West Africa. The effort is unique—no other commission has invited its diaspora to record their stories–and uniquely challenging.
In 2003, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported an increasing level of cynicism in U.S. Liberian communities about the work of the TRC. At the meeting I attended in St. Paul, less than a dozen Liberians and a handful of women who worked for the Advocates came to the update meeting. Liberians discussed their reluctance to dredge up painful memories when they’ve built new lives abroad. “They don’t want to relive that trauma for a show,” one man said. They question being asked repeatedly to send money to Liberia when they are denied dual citizenship and the right to vote in Liberian elections. “You’re asking them to help to rebuild the country but you won’t let them participate. We want our voices to be heard, not just our pocketbooks.”