Photo: Tim A. Hetherington/Panos/Silver
Truth will heal Liberia’s war wounds
Liberia is battling to build a functioning state apparatus. After 20 years of war and outrages, Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission is an important pre-condition for victims and perpetrators to co-exist in peace in future. Thanks to money and support from Sida, the commission has been able to gather witness accounts.
Winifred Kemo, one of those who has given evidence at Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission about the massacre in St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Monrovia, says:
“After they had killed and killed, then some of the soldiers said they were tired killing. So they decided to collect money from the few of us there in order to allow us to leave the compound.”
The commission has been able to gather witness reports thanks to money and support from Sida.
On the night of Sunday 29 July 1990, about 30 soldiers from the Armed Forces of Liberia stormed St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, where 2,000 displaced people had been hiding since rebel forces had occupied the capital. Screams and shots were heard from the church the entire night and when morning came, 600 men, women and children had been killed with firearms and machetes.
The massacre in the church was one of countless attacks on civilians during the wars between 1979 and 2003.
Liberia is battling to build a functioning state apparatus and we believe that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is playing an important role in helping victims and perpetrators to co-exist in peace in future. We have therefore been placing extra focus on improving security for witnesses, and spreading knowledge of the commission’s work through a series of channels, from printing T-shirts to radio and TV broadcasts.
One expressed focus area for the commission is to persuade women such as Winifred Kemo to give evidence, and to talk in particular about gender-motivated assault. In total, more than 18,000 witness cases have been collected and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s hearings have received a lot of attention in the country. As a result of the commission’s work, voices are now being raised in favour of a UN-led war crimes tribunal.
Jerome Verdier, chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, says:
“Forgiving is not ignoring justice. It’s loving others, all of ourselves and freeing our souls. Justice can, should and will be done, even if we forgive the perpetrators.”
Winifred Kemo will never forget that terrifying night in St. Peter’s Lutheran Church. How she was spattered with blood and brain tissue from children next to her who had been massacred by the soldiers. How women were gathered together and raped before they were murdered. These are images that she shares with countless survivors from Liberia’s violent years, and which must be made public knowledge for the country to be able to move on.