At the end of last week, Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) released a report examining the causes and consequences of Liberia's 14 years of brutal and gruesome civil war. The war may have ended six years ago, but Liberia's 3.4 million people are still reeling from a conflict that displaced a million people, left a quarter of a million dead, more than three fourths of women raped, and everyone traumatized.
The commission's report has made waves in the Western media for its condemnation of internationally popular President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf over her past support for rebel groups. But the charges against another high-ranking government official are far more serious and might have more-lasting consequences.
Prince Y. Johnson is now a Liberian senator. During the war, he headed a notorious rebel group called the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia. The final TRC report names him the No. 1 most notorious individual perpetrator and recommends that he be prosecuted for gross human rights violations and war crimes, specifically mass murder, extortion, destruction of property, forced recruitment, assault, abduction, torture, and rape. Johnson labeled the report a "joke" and vowed to resist with force any attempts to arrest him, raising fears of renewed violence. Last week, just before the report was released, freelance journalist Glenna Gordon went to his home on the outskirts of Monrovia for an exclusive interview. Excerpts:
Johnson discussed the (then forthcoming) TRC report, which he saw as biased and aimed at the wrong targets:
TRC is supposed to be neutral. It's supposed to be an institution that people of Liberia can depend on to help reconcile. But instead, it has disappointed the people of this country. It is supposed to bring together perpetrators and victims to reconcile both sides. But the TRC chose to keep the victims away from the so-called perpetrators. They never brought the two people together, so where is the reconciliation?
Reconciliation is not an overnight thing. It is a gradual process. There are many programs that can bring people together. If two people have a problem, how do you solve it? By keeping them apart? No, by bringing them together. The perpetrator can remember what he did and he may or may not say sorry. That's the first phase to begin reconciliation, and [it] was not done. And if you cannot reconcile yourself you cannot reconcile a nation.
Who supplied the guns to them? Who supplied the finance to buy the weapons? Who provided the training? It's a whole lot of questions that need answers.
The first group of people that bear the greatest responsibility is not the fighting man but the people who supplied and bought the weapons. I don't know who planned and bought all the weapons, but the men didn't just come here shooting guns from the sky.
When justice itself is unjust, there is injustice. So if you want justice, ... you have to go for the big Nigerian men who got the weapons, who supplied so many things. They are still in power.
I spoke at the TRC and said, "Forgive me for my sins, but when two elephants fight, the grass suffers." I was repentant. I've accepted Jesus.
Every country in the world knows the history of Nimba [Johnson's county]. They know what [former President Samuel] Doe did to my people. I had to defend my people.