Liberia’s Palava Hut mechanism delivering quick wins in long, winding road to justice

August 11, 2022
A visit to a mass grave

UNDP Liberia Resident Representative and Independent National Human Rights Commission officials visit a mass grave during the palava hut hearing


The National Palava Hut hearings, the recommended restorative justice mechanism for crimes of “lesser gravity” committed during Liberia’s 14-year civil war, kicked off in Sanoyea on Wednesday, 10 August with the Chairman of the Independent Commission on Human Rights, Cllr T Dempster Brown, calling for justice all crimes committed during the war.

“There must be justice for all the heinous crimes committed during the war if Liberia is to sustain the peace and stability we are enjoying now,” said Cllr Dempster Brown promising that “the Commission will not rest until the war crimes court is established”.

Bong County Superintendent Esther Walker said Liberians have the duty to sustain peace, appealing to the youth to embrace forgiveness and reconciliation in resolving their differences in order to build back Liberia better. “The Liberia we want, it is only Liberians who can make it,” she said.           

UNDP’s Resident Representative in Liberia Stephen Rodriques commended the reconciliatory approach of the Palava Hut mechanism but called for the review and implementation of the other important recommendations of the TRC report.

The Palava Hut mechanism has to date resolved 277 war-related cases of human rights violations involving more than 500 people - 275 victims and 244 perpetrators.

This has been accomplished through four hearings, presided over by elders, with technical support from the country’s Independent National Commission on Human Rights. The Palava Hut hearings are a traditional restorative justice and accountability mechanism recommended by Liberia’s erstwhile Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a complementary mechanism to recommendations to establish a war crimes court to render justice for war crimes, including genocide and crimes against humanity committed during the civil war.

"Traditional forms of justice, which focus less on punishment, are often far more efficient in clearing up cases and maintaining social cohesion. From Rwanda, it was estimated that it would have taken well over 100 years to try the cases arising from the genocide, yet the traditional Gacaca courts heard and resolved them cleared in a few years,” said Mr. Rodriques.

The Sanoyea Palava Hut hearings are themed “never again to war.” Delegates visited a mass grave in the county.

In the long winding road to justice, the Palava Hut mechanism has been providing a safe environment for victims to come face to face with their attackers to demand accountability and restitution. It has helped people across Liberia to find closure to the hurt, bitterness and hard feelings between community members. The hearings have addressed matters of assault and torture, forced displacement and forced labor, arson attacks, looting and destruction of property, and desecration of sacred sites.  

The Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR) has to date conducted Palava Hut hearings in four of the country’s 15 counties - Tchien District, Grand Gedeh County (2016); Voinjama District, Lofa County (2017); Tewor District, Grand Cape Mount (2020); and in Central C District, Rivercess County (2021), with support from UNDP. A fifth hearing is taking place in Sanoyea District, Bong County.

“I commend the INCHR for delicately facilitating the hearings, helping victims and their families recover from the trauma of war. It is especially refreshing to see perpetrators of crimes avail themselves for the hearings and thereafter take responsibility for their actions, restituting in ways that are acceptable to the victims and the community. These are high standards by which everyone in a healthy society must ascribe to,” said Stephen Rodriques.

UNDP is funding and supporting the Palava Hut Mechanism as part of its Peace Building, Reconciliation and Social Cohesion Programme.

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