Bookmark and Share

The Liberia TRC Diaspora Project was a historic first attempt to systematically engage a diaspora population in all aspects of a post-conflict truth seeking process.  Diaspora Liberians played a role in the process at every stage, from membership on an advisory committee, to assisting with outreach, to giving statements, to testifying at public hearings held in the United States. The Liberia TRC Diaspora Project used hundreds of volunteers to take statements and provide other support for its work. Ultimately, more than 600 individual volunteers were trained as statement takers and many more were involved in outreach and support for the U.S. public hearings. The project documented the stories of hundreds of refugees, asylees, and other diaspora Liberians on three continents. 


The voices of diaspora communities present an important piece of the post-conflict puzzle in Liberia. For example, many individuals fled Liberia before the conflict and were living in the diaspora. These people held key information about the early years of the TRC mandate, such as the Tolbert administration and 1980 coup d’etat, that could help fill information gaps for the TRC. The experiences of Liberian refugees in Ghana highlight the regional implications of post-conflict transitional justice.  Systematic documentation of the experiences of refugees highlighted the breakdowns in the system of international protection for refugees fleeing conflict. In Liberia and elsewhere, refugees must be considered part of the post-conflict transitional justice equation.  Documenting their experiences provides important information about human rights violations that take place during flight and in refuge, and offer direction as to what actions must occur in order to secure a stable future in Liberia and the West African sub-region. 


As this report demonstrates, many diaspora Liberians outside of the sub-region see themselves as transnationals, living in “a house with two rooms.” Liberians in the United States and the U.K. have deep connections to both their country of origin and their country of residence.  They struggle with the legacy of conflict on an individual, family, and community level.  While dealing with the ongoing impact of physical and psychological trauma, they struggle to keep families together and endure the bureaucracy of immigration systems.  Liberian youth, many of whom have grown up outside of Liberia, face a set of unique challenges in trying to define their identity and navigate between cultures. All the while, at the community level, the Liberian civil crisis drags on as community politics, social gatherings, and the internet become new fields to play out old battles. 


Powerful threads run from Liberia, through the refugee settlements in the sub-region, out into the United States and Europe and back again to Liberia. For the most part, statement givers expressed their strong desire to return to Liberia and, at a minimum to assist the nation’s development from afar.  Many described the actions they are taking to do so. The desire to see Liberia thrive again is reflected in diaspora recommendations focusing on development, education, justice, and a new Liberia that provides equal opportunity to all. Equally clear from statements, however, is the view that Liberia cannot rebuild without assistance.


The international community, and the United States in particular, share responsibility for Liberia’s traumatic past and, accordingly, for its future. The mass displacement caused by the international community’s failure to stem the bloodshed in Liberia means that nations across the globe have an even greater stake in Liberia’s peaceful and prosperous development. Liberians are members of communities in West Africa, the United States, the United Kingdom, and many other countries around the world. Because of improved communications—particularly the internet—what happens in Liberia affects those in diaspora communities more quickly and widely. What happens to an individual has an effect on the whole community, even when that community is thousands of miles from the shores of Liberia.


Apart from being a historic effort to fully engage a diaspora in a truth commission, the Liberia TRC Diaspora Project has been a powerful opportunity for Liberians in Liberia, West Africa, the United States, and the United Kingdom. to strengthen and build new networks that will support diaspora communities and Liberia as a whole. It has also been an important opportunity for non-Liberian volunteers to develop ties to their Liberian neighbors. As the TRC process comes to a close, the work to weave these many threaded connections into a more peaceful future is just beginning.