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TRC Receives Unprecedented Support on Buduburam as Refugees Turn Out in Dozens to Give Statements
5/17/2007 3:50 PM

Wednesday, 16, May 2007, Buduburam, Ghana:  Dozens of Liberian Refugees residing on the Buduburam Liberian Refugee Camp in the Gomoa District, Central Region of Ghana, queued up at statement taking sites to give their statements to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Statement Taking Team conducting statement taking pilot activities on the camp. The Statement Taking, which commenced in the afternoon of Monday, May 14, 2007, received an unprecedented high approval rating from amongst Liberian refugees on the Buduburam Camp. Refugees on the Camp turned out in the dozens to participate in the process.

The Statement Taking Pilot was being conducted by the TRC Diaspora implementing partner, Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights who brought a four-person statement taking team to Ghana, headed by its Deputy Director, Jennifer Prestholdt. They arrived in Ghana Saturday, May 12. Minnesota Advocates teamed up with a three-person team from TRC Liberia headed by TRC Diaspora Relations Chairperson, Commissioner Massa A. Washington. Together, the party of seven collected more than 160 statements from refugees on the Camp in this pilot phase of the West African Sub-region TRC engagements.

Earlier, the Statement Taking Kick-off Celebration was held on Monday, National Unification Day at the Baptist Refuge Church and brought together scores of Liberian Refugees residing on the Buduburam Liberian Refugee Camp. Representatives of various groups and organizations including, women’s groups, youth, the Buduburam Ministerial Council, the Muslim Council, the Veteran Child Soldiers Association, the Ataiee Intellectual Club, the Buduburam Teacher’s Association, and the Buduburam Traditional Elders Association amongst others, showed up to participate in the program in an expression of support for the TRC.

Liberian Ambassador to Ghana, His Excellency Rudolph von Ballmoos, who served as Keynote Speaker, encouraged the refugees to cooperate with the TRC in the Statement Taking process so as to assist Liberia moving forward.  Ambassador von Ballmoos assured the Refugees that they had nothing to fear by telling their stories and said that the TRC was the best mechanism for providing healing to the nation.

Launching the program on behalf of the TRC, Commissioner for Diaspora Relations, Ms. Massa A. Washington, urged Liberians on the camp to take advantage of the opportunity as provided for by the TRC to have a say in the future of Liberia. Commissioner Washington stated that the Liberian TRC is insistent that Liberians everywhere as much as possible have the chance to participate in the TRC. “The outcome of this process and recommendations in the final report will affect your lives for the rest of time, we on the TRC are encouraging you to be a part of shaping your destiny,” she said.

Also speaking at the Statement Taking Kick-off was Ms. Jennifer Prestholdt, Deputy Director of the Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, which is the TRC implementing partner for the Diaspora project. Ms. Prestholdt gave an overview of the TRC project in the United States and informed the audience that statement taking in Minneapolis, Minnesota is gaining momentum and as a result, it is being expanded to other cities in the U.S. including Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Staten Island etc. Ms. Prestholdt is on Buduburam at the head of a four-person team from Minnesota, which is teaming up with Commissioner Washington and a three-person team from Liberia to collect statements from refugees at the request of the TRC.

The Chairman of the Liberian Refugee Welfare Council, Mr. Varney B. Sambola, appealed to the refugees to embrace the TRC and take the process seriously as this was an opportunity for those residing outside of Liberia to have their voices heard in a national program. He said the approach adopted by the TRC to bring the process to Liberians living abroad was noteworthy and should be supported. The Liberian Refugee Welfare Council is the leadership of the Refugees on the Camp.

Prior to this week’s commencement of statement taking, the TRC in March spent one week on the Buduburam Camp in the First Phase of outreach, sensitization and mobilization of refugees about the TRC process. Two weeks ago, the TRC team headed by Commissioner Washington arrived on Buduburam and embarked upon a massive campaign of Phase II of outreach, preparing the residents of the Camp for statement taking. The outreach campaign by the TRC to extend the process to Liberians living outside of Liberia, is gaining momentum amongst the over 34,000 population of Liberian Refugees on Buduburam.

Initially in March 2007, Commissioner Washington met with Ghanaian and UN authorities including the Chairman of the Ghanaian Refugee Board, the Camp Manager of Buduburam, and the UNHCR for consultation on the TRC’s mission in Ghana.  She also met with community leaders and stakeholders from various organizations. The TRC Team has continued to meet with individual groups, County associations, religious leaders, women’s groups, youth groups, the Traditional Elders, and the veteran Child Soldiers Association (VESAOL) whose members have volunteered to give their statements to the TRC.

In the meanwhile, the TRC will be wrapping up its pilot program on Buduburam this weekend.

Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights is a non-governmental, 501(c)3 organization dedicated to the promotion and protection of internationally recognized human rights. With the help of over 600 volunteers, Minnesota Advocates investigates and exposes human rights violations; represents immigrants and refugees in our community who are victims of human rights abuses, trains and assists groups that protect human rights; and works through education and advocacy in Minnesota to engage the public, policy makers and children about human rights and cultural understanding. Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights holds Special Consultative Status with the United Nations.