Friday, August 31, 2007

A Hybrid Truth Commission?

In response to criticism of international ad hoc tribunals (too expensive, too distant from the societies they aim to serve) and domestic trials (too biased, insufficient infrastructure) in addressing crimes of mass violence, we've seen the rise of hybrid tribunals that combine elements of international and national structures (think the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, the Special Court for Sierra Leone). Now we may be seeing a new breed of truth commission. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia, created to examine the causes of the conflict in Liberia from 1979 to 2003, is working with Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights to take statements of Liberians living here in the United States for use before the commission. Indeed, some of this statement-taking will be happening right here in Philadelphia, under the direction of Sarah Paoletti, who runs the new Transnational Clinic at Penn Law. This creative approach enables the cash-strapped Liberian TRC to marshall the resources of American NGOs and law school clinics and to reach populations that fled the country, many because they were targeted by the Doe or Taylor regimes. Liberian refugees as far away as Sweden have expressed interest in being involved in the TRC in this way, and the same organizations that take statements here in the U.S. will also travel to Ghana to assist in statement-taking there. While this approach might be culturally appropriate only for a country with such strong historical ties to the United States, it seems a promising way forward for Liberia, and the engagement of the diaspora may provide useful lessons for future truth commissions around the world. (Photo credit to Richard Franco.)

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