Three down two to go…
By Hawa Wesseh
Early in 2006, just after being inaugurated as Africa and Liberia’s first female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf move swiftly and settled on a very unfamiliar name to head the much heralded Truth and Reconciliation Commission, his name was Jerome Verdier. It wasn’t that Verdier wasn’t known within the country, but he had not that international name, stature and recognition—but the work he did for the Liberian people and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as head, in essence, would soon catapult him on the world stage and bring him respect and honor. Today, Johnson Sirleaf must look back with regrets, because had she known the reputation and character of Cllr. Jerome Verdier, she most definitely would not have selected him as the TRC chairman, let alone to serve on the commission—their truths are just too opposite.
As soon he was appointed he went to work immediately. The commission under him went around the country for three years, hearing testimonies of tens of thousands of people hurt by the country’s two and half decade old un-civil war. The Liberian Truth and Reconciliation would complete its reports in time and made recommendations, pertinently, holding those responsible for the Liberian carnage by the tails, amongst others, banning the Liberian President herself, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf from participating in politics for thirty years. Against all odds and advises not to hold Johnson Sirleaf particularly responsible, the commission headed by Verdier refused—this was with a show of fortitude and courage, it indicted the Liberian president! Verdier would soon be driven out of the country as threats began pouring in. He had several cues: Sirleaf own aide Keith Jubah who headed the public procurement was gunned-down in the streets as he tried to fight corruption, today no one has been held responsible for his death, under Sirleaf, and her ten year rule, the culture of impunity and graft has been entrenched. Verdier knew better than stay in the country; he fled.
Jerome Verdier is the past Director of Liberia Democracy Watch, and, in which capacity he worked assiduously to promote transparency, accountability, and good governance in his native Liberia, during the period. Cllr. Verdier practiced law and rendered pro bono legal services also to Liberians of all stripes: civil society groups, activists, and journalists. Fearless in his pursuit for rights, he led successful lawsuits against the government to redeem justice. Jerome Verdier work as human rights lawyer and activist for a prolonged period and as an environmental lawyer in Liberia, before becoming head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The experience prepared him to face the powers that be, and his record today speaks for itself. In a society where almost everyone conforms Verdier and his commission would say no! “The opposite for courage is not cowardice, it is conformity. Even a dead fish can go with the flow,” said Jim Hightower an American syndicated columnist, and progressive political activist. For Jerome Verdier, conforming to the status quo, would be robbing the Liberian people who had suffered too much and had placed much hope in their works, the TRC chair and his commissioners refused to betray their conscience, and the report has been much cause for debate in and out of the country, even today. Traveling and having much support from international organizations also prepared him to assume his duties, and he executed with faith and blind justice!
Jerome Verdier traveled to the United States, while Liberia’s transitional government under Gyude Bryant was in place setting the pace for the 2005 general elections which would ultimately see Sirleaf elected to the Executive Mansion, as a guest of the E-LAW U.S., the Spirit Mountain Community Fund, the University of Oregon School of Law Public Interest-Public Service Program, and also the Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics. And there at the Oregon University Law school, with Liberia and transitional justice on his on his mind, he delivered the paper “Fighting for Human Rights and the Environment: Liberia After Charles Taylor,” on April 14, 2005. Either his speech on April 14 in Oregon was a coincidence, but it’s an important Historic date on the Liberian calendar.
“We want to see a new generation of leaders, ” Verdier said in Oregon in 2005, “who have compassion for [the] people and will respect the rule of law.” And he has been true to this core, since, showing a leader who has compassion and convictions. He have partnered also with Green Advocates, an international environmental group, working for Liberian interests to put in place strong environmental laws that would provide the citizens with a real opportunity to participate in decisions about the environment, and help communities implement and enforce these laws. Verdier efforts has not gone unnoticed and his efforts deserve plaudits for looking out for his people in an era of me me me, history should be kind!
Making sure that the rule of law is upheld and Taylor brought to justice for his heinous crimes, sadly not for Liberia, but Sierra Leone, James Verdier worked pro bono to helped indict the war criminal, currently incarcerated in England. His commitment to the welfare of the Liberian people has always been paramount and this character has been impeccable. Observers say as Liberia looks to buried it past and move away from leaders who are so easily consumed by power, as they quickly forsake the national interest for personal aggrandizement, Jerome Verdier are those kinds that Liberia needs, as is indicative in the TRC report which he released with his fellow commissioners.
Hence, a pivotal moment in his career was the release of the much awaited Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, aforementioned, after several years of hard work: long hours of traveling around the country, testimonies and hearings. The reaction was certainly unbelievable! In a country where the rule of law and accountability is not accustomed to being brought to bear and the fore as far, as holding warlords and the so-called Liberian big shot, Verdier and his commissioners went against the winds to much displeasure. With the report being released and its implementation still pending, Verdier was asked to resign his position as chairman. ‘Not resigning’ he told the British Broadcasting Corporation [BBC]. and then according to reports the threats began pouring in from individuals indicted and booked in the TRC report.
“Commission spokesman James Kpargor had called a radio talk-show to complain about the death threats. Our correspondent says ex-warlords, former fighters and officials who were recommended for prosecution have been hitting back at the truth commission on the radio since the report was released. Mrs Johnson-Sirleaf has admitted that she had backed former warlord Charles Taylor’s rebellion 20 years ago, but a government spokesman said she would not resign. “She is not going to resign. The president and the rest of us are reading the report. What I can tell you, is that President Sirleaf has tried to reconcile the country for the last two years,” said Laurence Bropleh, her former information minister who himself would be held liable by Sirleaf for impropriety.
Observers and Sirleaf critics believed she missed a great opportunity to reconcile the country by not abiding by the TRC report and recommendations which banned her for 30 years from participating in politics, this she did, they contend to forward her own ambition completely disregarding her own commission she set up to reconcile Liberians—it was all about power and nothing else. The report was released by the end of Sirleaf’s first term. she had already promised to run for just one term. She was 74, already an elder states woman after a long political and private sector resume—in all truths Ellen Johnson Sirleaf didn’t need a second term of office, she’s old and today as is evident she can not run the country—the things that are happening under her nose—UNBELIEVABLE! The presidency has gotten too big for Sirleaf, and she lives in this self denial, somehow thinking she is a transformational leader, shes’s not; she’s a cause for much hurt… !
By abiding by the TRC Report, what a symbolic act of respect and humility that would have done for Liberia and Liberians thirsty to see justice done, and age old wounds healed. It would have been a tremendous applause to her courage and dignity, in sending forth the right message that all those indicted would abide also, and would have to answer to their role in the conflict [which had seen about 300thousand Liberians perished], including warlords like Prince Johnson, Alahaji Kromah, George Boley etc, but by refusing to step down and to forcefully implement the TRC report, she has embolden these warlords and murderers, going as far as appointing them to higher positions in government.
In discussing Sirleaf’s legacy, reconciliation becomes a major pillar, her critics have said, that she has not given this important aspect of Liberian life after decades of conflict the much needed support. But her fans have said she has worked diligently for peace, holding together a fragile war-torn country. Commissioners of the TRC were forced into hiding, in Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s Liberia.
Members of Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission continue to get “death threats since recommending President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf be barred from office. The BBC’s Jonathan Paye-Layleh says some of them have gone into hiding and turned off their mobile telephones. In a report, the commission recommended a 30-year ban for senior politicians for their role in the civil war.”Thanks for your report; but death awaits you,” a text to commission chairman Jerome Verdier said.”Your report has damaged our future.” said the BBC.
Jerome Verdier is in a mood of new breed of emerging Liberian Leaders that have faced threats and have stood firm to their core believes. He refused, according to reports, an Associate Justice position on the Liberian Supreme Court from President Sirleaf, to water down the report. Verdier is a man of principles! If he ever decided he wanted to run for public office, Liberians could expect to see a man in action who wants to see justice done and their interest protected. Post reconstruction Liberia needs certaily above all, the rule of law stringently lacking, for peace and development to take hold.
Liberia’s former Truth and Reconciliation Chairman, Cllr. Jerome Verdier is a graduate of the University of Liberia, with a Bachelor of Business Administration granted in 1988, a Bachelor of Laws degree in the same year from the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law. Verdier was also granted Bachelor of Science in Management from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2009. As a leading rights and environmental lawyer at green advocate he would work hard to see environmental regulations strengthened and upheld. The former TRC chair also serve as Board Chairperson of the Foundation For International Dignity (FIND); Research & Program Officer of the Catholic Justice & Peace Commission (JPC). Senior Staff Attorney for the Association of Environmental Lawyers, the Green Advocates, amongst many other accomplishments and services.
And why not? Not sure if Jerome Verdier is going to run for the presidency or public office of his native Liberia anytime soon, the stakes are high too many enemies still running around, powerful and free, but it is individuals like him that Liberia needs in its greatest hour as the post-Sirleaf administration now seen as a period of waste and abuse comes to an end. Jerome Verdier is described as assertive, bold— a leadership style that has vision—with him at the helm, the rule of law will be tested and upheld, so that Liberians can live in their homeland happily
Pic Jerome Verdier, former TRC boss