Joint Press Conference by the Peace Building Office and the Governance Commission
Mr. Aleem Siddique, UNMIL Spokesperson
I’d like to give a warm welcome to all of our listeners on UNMIL Radio who are joining us for this live press conference being held at UNMIL Headquarters in Monrovia. We’re very pleased to be joined today by the Executive Director of Liberia’s Peace Building Office, Mr Wilfred G. Johnson, and we are also joined by Mr. Aaron Weah of Liberia’s Governance Commission and Ms. Frances Greaves who is a civil society representative.
Our guests will speak on the subject of national healing, peace building and reconciliation and in particular, they will speak on plans for a major awareness-raising event that will be taking place in Bong County in the coming days. Our guests will be happy to take questions from the journalists gathered here in Monrovia and without further ado, could I please introduce our guest speaker Mr Wilfred G. Johnson from Liberia’s Peace Building Office. Welcome.
Mr. Wilfred G. Johnson, Director Liberia Peace Building Office
Thank you very much and a very good morning to all of you. Because of time I will go straight into our discussion. I will focus the discussion today on three key points. One is just to say the importance of national reconciliation and, of course, the context of the National Reconciliation Road Map. The next thing I will be talking about is the implementation plan, just briefly how it is going to be implemented. And of course, or more critically, is the mass media awareness and publicity on the Reconciliation Road Map. What is also critical is to look at the role of institutions that will be implementing the Road Map, the role of civil society, and of course the role of other institutions of government. And so, we are very glad to have Ms. Frances Greaves who is the head of the National Civil Society Council who will speak about the role of civil society. And of course my colleague Aaron Weah will look from other angles of the other government institutions.
I am from the Liberia Peace Building Office that is at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and so I want to bring you special greetings on behalf of Minister Morris Dukuly and all of the deputy ministers at the Ministry, and then I can quickly provide the necessary insights.
Peace building and reconciliation in this country remains very fundamental to the Government of Liberia and of course all Liberians. If we go back to since 2006, a lot has been done in trying to accelerate the reconciliation process, and of course the peace building process. This has evolved through several conflict mapping exercises, identifying root causes of conflict and of course trying to infuse within key policy documents of the government the root causes of conflict in Liberia and also infusing there in those documents priority intervention that will help address these causes over time.
In 2006 with support from UNMIL and an interagency workshop was held that identified at least eight root causes of conflict in Liberia. Over the last few years since then, we have had several policy related documents including the poverty reduction strategy and now the agenda for transformation. We have had of course on the side of the UN, the un common country assessment for 2006, the UN UNDAF for 2007 and 2008, and of course the Liberia priority plan that was submitted to the peace building fund in New York that received funding to address critical peace building gaps in Liberia. All of these have really been a way to foster and enhance peace building and reconciliation. But in 2010 when Liberia was formally engaged with the UN peace building commission, we thought that there was a need be much more coherent and strategic in putting forward a reconciliation strategy for the country, such that will be dealing with all of the fragmentations in the reconciliation process, will be dealing with all of the lack of coordination and synergies within all of the reconciliation process and how various reconciliation programs and activities we all align together. Of course more critically was to see how then the UN can have a consolidated approach under the one UN program for Liberia to help government achieve its reconciliation agenda. Therefore building on the stepping of mutual commitment that was signed by the government of Liberia in 2010 with the UN nation peace building commission and of course the Liberia priority plan . We now have on the reconciliation component the strategic roadmap for national healing peace building and reconciliation. And it is not a mistake to coin (inaudible) document this week . It brings forth three key things , healing . So in the road map we have three categories that spread along twelve thematic areas , and so I’m talking a little bit about the implementation . The roadmap then in terms of healing , we have thematic areas that are coined to address what we call accounting for the past . And here we have issues of memorialization , we have issues of reparations, we have issues considering the Diaspora and reconciliation in Liberia or more critically we have the process of atonement psycho –social recovery which is linked to TRC report that deals with issue of the palaver hut talks . And then we have another thematic area that says managing the present; there are issues around youth , there are issues around women , there are issues around political polarization , had we forced social cohesion , and there are issues around providing people with disabilities ,psycho -social recovery for those persons with disabilities .
And then of course in terms of managing the present, we have three thematic areas that look at a transformative education system for the country. We look at how we then address issue of identity and citizenship, who is a Liberian, all of those questions can be answered. This national history project that was launched by the Governance Commission few months ago is part of this and of course the whole thing about constitution and legal reform become the third one marked under planning for the future. And hence I have given you just in a snapshot what the roadmap covers. How will it be implemented? Of course you may recall the Government of Liberia in its last budget provided some US$5 million that was intended for national reconciliation. Of course unfortunately, we did not have the document ready with the appropriate programs in programmatic languages for implementation and so it was difficult to just go to the government multiyear expenditure framework to access any funding from the US$5 million for reconciliation because we were still developing. And due to government’s budget shortfall unfortunately that US$5 million got lost. However, the government is adding and bringing forth some funding for reconciliation in its current budget. That’s on the side of the government.
Also critically in terms of implementation regarding funding for the different projects and activities, the United Nations, or through the Peacebuilding Fund, is really supporting that initiative. And so we have just concluded what we call “The Liberian Priority Plan Two”. And what it does is that it lists a number of key thematic areas which will be funded by the United Nations in support of the reconciliation roadmap.
The role of the UN institutions, including all of the institutions, but maybe to single out UNICEF, who is also providing direct support through the Peacebuilding Office for some of the interventions. And when I talk about the mass media publicity, UNICEF is providing the funding for that. And I want to note that this is very critical. But UNICEF is also providing some funding for the National Youth Service Program that is part of the reconciliation program.
The United Nations Mission in Liberia got the technical expertise that provide all of the technical support working with us in conceptualizing and finally articulating in programmatic language the implementation of the roadmap. So UNMIL Civil Affairs for instance, UNMIL Rule of Law Section, the Office of the DSRSG all become very critical to fostering the implementation of the roadmap. UNDP plays a key role, and of course UN-Women, UN-Habitat that all recipient agencies and working with particular government institutions on implementing specific projects. For instance, the project on Land Alternative Dispute Resolution Mechanism, this project is being co-managed by UN-Habitat and Land Commission. And so that’s how some of the arrangements are. Or UN-Women will be managing funding but working with the Ministry Gender and Development to implement women’s program, whereas UNICEF will be working with the Ministry of Youth and Sports on youth programs just to give you some insights in terms of how the roll out to the implementation is, very critical. The role of civil society and other government institutions of course my colleagues will provide some insights from their perspective.
And now the mass media publicity: This is very important to us because reconciliation is national and hence the mainstream which we can engage with all Liberians across the country, not only to understand the context of reconciliation, not only to understand the context of peacebuilding and how we move ahead with implementation but to galvanize the needed political consensus, national consensus with all actors across the country and also galvanize their own support for the implementation is critical. I can assure you that between now and December every Liberian household will be singing some reconciliation song. Reconciliation will be on the lips of all Liberians and so we are employing all kinds of means for this mass awareness. Shortly you will start receiving on a weekly basis text messages on all your phones saying something about reconciliation from the GSM companies. We will use different mediums through the country, and I want to appreciate and thank UNMIL Public Information Section and of course for this sort of opportunity that’s beginning a process with mass media awareness on the reconciliation roadmap because it is critical. For instance, we need to erase misunderstanding or confusion and of course that will lead to unnecessary apprehensions in terms of the implementation of the roadmap. Few weeks ago, to be specific on June 20, when we kick started the implementation roadmap by Ambassador George Weah, the Liberia Peace Ambassador and the President, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a lot of Liberians may have assumed that, that was the reconciliation for Liberia. The subsequent sports festival that was held and the march through the streets of Monrovia, a lot of Liberians thought that was the reconciliation process. That was the just a kick start of an 18 years process of reconciling Liberians. This roadmap is linked to the Liberian vision that goes for 18 years. And so the length and breadth of the country will engage and I happy with the support of UNICEF, we will be holding a four-day mass public awareness on roadmap in Gbarnga, where we will be bringing six counties together. There will be 126 participants, cut across local government, women’s group, civil society, persons with disabilities, the traditional national council, local chiefs and elders and of course six representatives from the six local radio stations from the six counties that will be invited. And that is just phase one for the mass media awareness that will be done regularly with a mass communication strategy that will go on not only informing about the roadmap and its implementation but what is being been achieved.
I also want to say quickly that when we think in terms of the implementation of the roadmap we think about how do we set in place baseline surveys or perception surveys in reconciliation that we can set up what we may refer to in the future as Liberia National Reconciliation Barometer Project. This is critical and we will be learning from the experiences of South Africa, Kenya and Rwanda that have been setting up and working on the national reconciliation barometer. The issue is: how we have baselines in terms of citizens’ perception of governance index? What does it mean in terms of reconciliation for Liberians, and how are Liberians feeling now about the process and two years down the line how can we measure progress?
So as we beginning the implementation, we will shortly launch the National Reconciliation Barometer Project that will do baseline surveys across the country that looks at different various aspects of citizens’ perception on this. We have already started doing this when it comes to justice and security to get citizens’ perception, access to justice and of course security sector reform but how the delivery of those justice and security services or citizens can see how it relates to them and how they benefit from such services. So this will be done in terms of the reconciliation process. I wanted to note that the implementation will be critical, very, very critical. And certainly I want to end by saying that we are very optimistic because we count on the resilience of the Liberian people. The need for reconciliation is all across this country, this is a good chance for us. And I count on you members of the press; I count on all of our colleagues for the support. It’s going to a tedious task but with our commitment we are sure we are fighting a battle that we are going to win. Liberians will be reconciled because we have got no options but to reconcile our country and move Liberia forward. I want to end on this note so that we don’t run out of time and give Frances to say something on the role of civil society and of course my colleague Aaron who also will talk from the perspective of the Governance Commission.
Ms. Frances Greaves, Civil Society Representative
Thank you very much Wilfred, and like Wilfred earlier mentioned, the civil society which is held by the civil society council has been involved in the entire reconciliation roadmap from the very beginning. We had about seven members of civil society, who serve as technicians throughout the crafting of the roadmap, and again the road map is presently divided into; it was initially twelve now it has been reduced to ten thematic areas and each thematic area has roles that civil society will be playing. As you are aware the civil society is divided into various thematic groups. Each different group will be able to fall into the thematic areas that cover the particular area of assignment in terms of the reconciliation. You have focus civil society organizations who focus strictly of reconciliation, peace building negotiation and others. We also have civil society organizations that focus on health and education. So where do those civil society organizations cross the cut the reconciliation process these thematic would be consulted? But let me also hasten to add that we will also be looking at civil society as people who have made gains in the area of focus. Because you see the aspect of reconciliation in Liberia is very crucial to all of us. You don’t want to encourage someone who hasn’t made an impact in the community that they work in , not that you want to isolate them , but to be able to have the kind of impact into our community where the society will be more cohesive. It needs people who already understand those concepts and be able to connect it to the five principles that work on these areas. So civil society council for that matter will be working with all these different groups to ensure that those that have been selected will be properly scrutinized and ensure that the can perform the task that has been assigned to them. Let me also inform you that the council will be serving throughout the process also as some monitoring body to ensure that whatever the peace building office or government institution or even the UN commit themselves, we will ensure that those processes are monitored, so that our people will feel the impact, and there will be a reduction in violence in our country. By the same time there will be tolerance. We will learn to coexist as different groups in Liberia. The mass publicity on next week for the four days is essential , because it also will give you more information about what the reconciliation roadmap is all about and how the reconciliation roadmap impacts each community . So we depend on the community radio stations as well as the press union as a whole , to help disseminate this process properly so that at the end of the day so that we have more answers that questions instead of more questions than answers . Thank you .
Mr. Aaron Weah, Governance Commission
Well, thank you. My colleagues Wilfred and Frances have painted a very broad picture and I need to say very little. Firstly, I’m Aaron Weah. I work at the Governance Commission. I will speak more as a technical person who was part of assembling the Road Map rather than making an official statement on behalf of the Commission. As you know, the Commission is run by a Chairperson and a team of Commissioners. I work as a Policy Analyst and I cannot make official statements on the Governance Commission, but the purpose why I’m here is because I’m a technician. I’m a part of those who assembled the Road Map.
For the mass publicity I think it comes along with quite a number of opportunities. Wilfred has given you the background, the different actors. Frances has given you the role of civil society in all of this. What platform does the mass publicity provide for all of us? There are a couple of opportunities as I mentioned that come along with this.
One, there are a lot people asking how different is the Road Map from the TRC? Other people are asking is this really going to work. There is a growing apathy among ordinary Liberians whether we’re going to implement this Road Map or not. And then, three, people want to know other things. So the mass publicity and awareness is going to provide an opportunity to address some of these critical questions.
Let’s begin with a few, the difference between the TRC report and the Road Map. As far as we see it, the Road Map is a post-TRC instrument, a post-TRC framework to facilitate reconciliation. The two documents do not contradict each other. Rather, what the Road Map does, the Road Map is more an instrument of restorative justice, if you like, than it is with retributive justice. The TRC report was a function of both. The Road Map, using an opportunity where reconciliation is better, is aligning itself more with restorative justice because we thought that the TRC report, in as much as it may have been a good document, has held back a lot of other important issues in the report only because of issues around retributive justice, which is to punish people in the Liberian conflict.
And then two, when we were validating the Road Map, there were a lot of questions about the commitment. Is this 12 year programme going to be implemented? These were genuine concerns looking at our history of the conflict, looking at different attempts to reconcile and how these attempts failed in every different terms. So this exercise, the mass publicity, is intended, is designed to reenergize, to give people hope. One of the reasons why the President appointed George Weah is George Weah is almost the single most figure in Liberia who is very appealing. He projects a personal magic and I believe George Weah’s affiliation with all of this is to perhaps rally people’s support. The confusion that comes out of the 20th to 22nd programme borders more on an event of reconciliation rather than people seeing that this is just a kick-off to what should be an 18 year long programme.
And then, another opportunity that I see that comes along with this mass publicity and awareness is an opportunity to talk with ordinary Liberians to know how they can contribute to strategy around reconciliation. Deep into Bong County, there are communities that have on their own, with little outside prompting, that have organized creative memorial programmes.
The Road Map is not insensitive, or the technical team is not insensitive to these community-led initiatives. Organizing this mass publicity is in fact an effective way of opening up to how communities can not only buy in to the implementation of all of this, but to see how we can draw on lessons that have already been applied in some of these communities, and how some of these lessons can be replicated across the 15 counties.
So, as far as we see it, the mass publicity is on the one hand going to address some burning issues and questions that are coming up after our several years’ attempt at reconciliation, and also an opportunity to clarify what is written, an opportunity to give people hope that even though this year, August 18, we’ll be celebrating a decade after the Accra comprehensive peace agreement and there has been little done on reconciliation. This technical team is going out to try to reenergize people, to give them hope that we are getting somewhere. The TRC report has come up four years later. There’s been little done. The reconciliation Road Map is there as an instrument to try and supplement if you like this whole process.
So it’s going to be a platform to leverage in different ways. People have questions about reconciliation. People are indifferent about reconciliation. People have issues about reconciliation. It’s going to be a dialogue on the one hand. It’s going to be an opportunity to clarify. It’s also going to be an opportunity to have people contribute to what could be a more overarching strategy about how we reach out to the community. So with those few words let me stop there and perhaps we can take a couple of questions.
Mr. Aleem Siddique, UNMIL Spokesperson
Thank you very much we like to thank panel members for their remarks and If we could have a first questions from our journalists. And if you could please introduce yourself and name the media organization that your are from. Thank you.
Q. Varney Kamara – New Democrat
I have two questions. One is, Liberians are confused about your scope of operation and we want to know how well are you collaborating with the George Weah’s commission. The second question is, the road map is calling for restorative and retributive justice. The True and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recommendations speak about both restorative and retributive justice. Many out there have argued that unless people account for their actions during the war the idea of total reconciliation will become an illusion. Where do you stand on this?
Q. Jonah Freeman – SKY FM/TV
I have two questions. The first is for Mr. Johnson and the second for Mr. Weah. You talked about reconciliation but how can it be achieved when the government employing a lot of Liberians from the Diaspora whereas Liberians at home are finding it difficult to get a job in the public sector. A lawmaker once said that reconciliation cannot be achieved in the absence of addressing the needs of the poor ordinary Liberians. How do you address that issue?
And the question to Mr. Weah. Why will people be made to pay money at a reconciliation event? If you can recall when Mr. George Weah launched his reconciliation initiative at the SKD complex, people were seen paying fees to enter the stadium. This was rather strange for money to be paid.
Answer: Mr. Wilfred Johnson, Executive Director, Peace Building Office/Ministry of Internal Affairs
We are aware of this whole thing about poverty and the dimension to which poverty is an issue which is one of the root causes of conflict. We are mindful to look at poverty in two dimensions. Poverty can induce conflict and conflict can reduce poverty. To address this, is to look at what we call retributive justice -that looks more at economic justice. How can you be assured that over the 18 years period Liberian lives can changed in terms of importing technocrats Liberians. I really don’t want to go much into that at the same time I don’t want to baffle the question because I think it is critical. There is a thematic area in the road map that is called “Diaspora and reconciliation”. There is a need for Liberians to foster dialogue because our friends and brothers in the Diaspora are Liberians whether we like it or must learn to foster cohesiveness between those here and Liberians in the Diaspora. During the war, most of us lived on our brothers who sent us remittances for our survivals. There is an issue here but how we balance it for a dialogue, the road map provides a platform to deal with that issue. On the issue on coordination with the Liberia Peace Initiative of Ambassador George Weah, we are not working in separate ways that is why on the 20th of June Ambassador Weah kicked started the reconciliation road map. I am not sure that you have a copy of the road map, but it is going to be made available to the public in mass.
We have five principal institutions that spear head the road map: The Ministry of Internal Affairs, Planning, The Governance Commission, and National Commission on Human Rights, Liberia Peace Initiative of Ambassador George Weah and the civil society. If you go through the road map, it has specific functions, roles and responsibilities of the Liberia Peace Initiative. There is a national peace building steering committee that oversee all of this and Ambassador Weah sits on that National Peace Steering Committee and this is clearly articulated in the road map and how we work together. The issue of restorative justice, I will let Aaron say something about that.
The road map is not against retributive justice. What the road map just emphasizes is restorative justice and of course distributive justice that look at economic justice and social justice. What does it mean to go toward retributive justice? We will not preclude retributive justice for people who thing that is the right course. If I were to choose between prosecuting people, I will go out for distributive justice that looks for economic justice rather than retributive justice.
Answer. Aaron Weah
The road map so far is an opportunity to advance restorative justice. In the TRC report there are 129 recommendations, out of that recommendations, there are three that lands on retributive justice. One is to establish an extraordinary tribunal, two to establish prosecution and three is illustration. So if you remove those three from 129 what you have are recommendations that are community centred that are victim centred and are largely to rebuild the society with reconciliation. So the logic is to move with this over the 18 years. Retributive justice maybe some other time in the future we could look at that, but in terms of priority, let us look at those things that help to transform villages destroyed during the conflict. This is the logic of the roadmap. Ten years after Accra we are just about to implement reconciliation. So we think we need to move on with other critical aspects of the TRC report so this is where we are.
Mr. Aleem Siddique, UNMIL Spokesperson
And with that I like to thank our panel members very much for joining us this morning. If you have been listening on UNMIL Radio, you have been listening to live press conference from UNMIL office in Monrovia and you been listening to the Executive Director of the Liberia Peacebuilding Office, the Civil Society representative Frances Greaves and Aaron Weah from Liberia’s Governance Commission. Thank you to our guest and have a good day. good bye.