As Liberia marks nearly 20 years of peace and prepares for elections next year, the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD) has convened a roundtable of senior Liberian officials, UN representatives and diplomats to add fresh momentum to the transitional justice and reconciliation process that is vital to the rebuilding of Africa’s oldest republic.
At the two-day meeting in Geneva, the 17 participants recommended that 2023 should become a “year of memorial” to the end of Liberia’s civil war, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission archives should be made public and channels of communication between the executive and legislature should be improved to strengthen government commitment to reconciliation.
The delegates said a National Reconciliation Conference should take place in 2023 – before the elections in October – and they agreed to start an annual assessment to better communicate progress to the Liberian people.
International partners at the roundtable at HD’s headquarters also underscored their continued support for reconciliation in Liberia in the context of existing national frameworks.
“These elections – five years after the peacekeepers left and 20 years since the peace agreement was signed – come at a critical juncture for Liberia as many of the factors that triggered 14 years of civil war remain largely unresolved,” said Babatunde Afolabi, HD’s Director for Anglophone Africa.
“The average age in Liberia is 19, so most people don’t remember the war. But they live with the causes and effects every day. That’s why reviving the reconciliation process is so important to reducing tensions around the elections and helping Liberia to move beyond devastation and division into a brighter and more inclusive future.”
From roots of conflict planted when freed slaves settled in Liberia two centuries ago, the country erupted into two civil wars between 1989 and 2003. At least 250,000 people were killed and many more displaced.
With few Liberians benefitting from the country’s vast natural resources, social and economic disparities fuel the lingering tensions over unresolved issues.
The Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2003 tasked the Truth and Reconciliation Commission with a mission of “promoting national peace, security, unity and reconciliation” but two of the commissioners did not endorse its final report.
Disagreements around prosecution and vetting have impeded implementation of more than 200 recommendations, resulting in minimal progress in addressing the root causes of the conflict.
During the roundtable in late November, the delegates also discussed insights from the Monrovia Civil Society Conference held a week earlier when HD – together with national and international partners – convened a wide range of civil society voices in Liberia to deliberate on priorities for various constituencies, including marginalised women and youth.
Despite the setbacks over the years, the delegates said, initiatives such as the Monrovia conference and the Geneva meeting have helped Liberia’s government, civil society groups and international partners to make significant steps and to underscore their commitment to reconciliation and sustainable peace.
The roundtable was convened in the context of the Peace Dividends partnership project with the United Nations Development Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization that is funded by the UN’s Peacebuilding Fund.
Guided by HD’s lead facilitator H.E. Babatunde Ajisomo, a former special representative of the Chairman of the ECOWAS Commission in Liberia, the participants included:
- Hon. Varney Sirleaf (Liberia’s Minister of Internal Affairs)
- Hon. Nyenti Tuan (Liberia’s Deputy Minister of Codification at the Ministry of Justice)
- Cllr. Archie Bernard (Legal Advisor to Liberia’s President)
- H.E. Paul Tate (Liberia’s Permanent Representative to the UN)
- H.E. Anne-Karin Eneström (Sweden’s Permanent Representative to the UN)
- H.E. Urban Sjöström (Sweden’s Ambassador to Liberia)
- H.E. Niels Scott (UN Resident Coordinator in Liberia)
- H.E. Stephen Rodriques (UNDP Resident Representative for Liberia)
- H.E. Maarit Kohonen Sheriff (Chief of Africa Branch at the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights)
- H.E. Yacoub El-Hillo (Regional Director for Africa at the UN Development Coordination Office)
- Jelena Zelenovic (Program Manager for the UN Peace Building Fund)
- Patrick Elliot (Human Rights Officer for the US Mission to the UN)
- HD team: Dr. Babatunde Afolabi, Dr. Pierre Hazan, Emmanuel Bawoh and Mathieu Franke