Rev. Jensen Sayenkolu says; calls for full implementation of the TRC Report
Bishop Rev. Dr. Jensen Seyenkolu of the Lutheran Church in Liberia where the July 29, 1990 massacre of about 600 civilians, including many children seeking refuge in the church compound took place, described it as "the worst atrocity that has ever engulfed Liberia's civilization and image."
The Lutheran prelate, during the 28th Memorial Service of the St. Peter's Lutheran Church massacre recently, requested for the full implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which he believes would ensure a timely support for survivors and restore the dignity of those who were killed during the attack by soldiers loyal to late President Samuel K. Doe.
The July 29, 2018 Memorial Service was organized by the Liberia Council of Churches (LCC), together with the Inter-Religious Council of Liberia and the Alliance for Transitional Justice.
The service, held under the national theme, "Igniting National Consciousness - Restoring Dignity of War Survivors: A Pathway to Lasting Reconciliation," was characterized by speeches from religious leaders, the United States Embassy and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) as well as testimonies of survivors.
Seyenkolu told his audience that, "It was important that we consider growing this partnership beyond this event ... the welfare of survivors is crucial and memorializing our fallen brethren is of national importance."
He meanwhile extended warm appreciation to Mr. Jeremiah S. Swen, Chairperson of the Alliance for Transitional Justice - Liberia, and his team, the main organizers of the service, for the farsightedness that has shifted the observance from St. Peter's initiative to a sober national memorial.
In special remarks, Mr. Swen said it was unbelievable to note that perpetrators, organizers and supporters of such inhumane atrocities have failed to show remorse and dignify those innocent people who died as well as identify with survivors.
Jeremiah S. Swen, National Chairperson, pays tribute on the only Memorial (bearing of Jonathan Taylor, father of jailed Liberian President, Charles Taylor) erected by Madam Joel Howard Taylor, Vice President of Liberia. Note: Two additional mass graves lack memorial, unlike this one.
He emphasized that the systematic wave of killings and an unprecedented two days of merciless murder of innocent civilians at a globally approved refugee center, did not only uproot the fundamental and constitutional rights of harmless citizens, but outrageously violated the sacred nature of religion and all international protocols on human rights and dignity.
"As sad as it is, it was not very strange of the Doe regime. It is also sad to note that post-war administrations have failed to condemn and ensure criminal accountability. This nation lost 600 plus of its precious citizens, and now has a huge population of unattended survivors' community," Swen said, expressing his dissatisfaction.
Even in the face of such indecency and lack of moral values, Swen believes that the physiological and degrading of Liberia's entire citizenry, "especially survivors and national image, the national governance system has failed to vehemently condemn such glaring atrocities, support the call for criminal accountability and restore survivors' dignity and structural reintegration.
He noted that it is shameful, unjustifiable and unpatriotic and most especially undermines the fundamental pillar of democracy and human rights.
"Today we convene under the theme, 'Igniting National Consciousness - Restoring Dignity of War Survivors: A Pathway to Lasting Reconciliation.' It is outright that we ask ourselves, individually, how and when this nation's gap of self-consciousness can become the driver of national reconciliation, justice and accountability," he said.
For his part, Archbishop Isaac S. Winker of the Isaac Winker Christian Fellowship, encouraged Liberians and surviving communities to seek forgiveness and let go their bitterness. He also appealed that restorative justice should be upheld during this period of national healing.
Rev. Dr. Wolo Belleh of the Bethel World Outreach Ministries condemned the action of the soldiers. He maintained that the church is a symbol of love, peace and unity in diversity and this inhumane action surpasses all tradition, religion and morality. "Justice must be birthed," Belleh stressed.
In his intervention, Rev. Dr. Samuel J. Quire, Jr., Resident Bishop of the United Methodist Church, requested that the government ensure that impunity ends and perpetrators brought to book. "The other time Harry Greaves died, and they said, perpetrators will be brought to justice; but we have not seen any one brought to book," Quire reminded the audience.
"Again I can remember when a young journalist died," Quire said. "They told us, perpetrator will be brought to book, again, no one was brought to book."
Mr. Samuel Watson, acting ambassador at the US Embassy, expressing remorse, appreciated the national cohesion shown to the St. Peter Lutheran Massacre, and promised to inform Ambassador Christine Elder upon her return.
Mrs. Frances Greaves, chairperson, Civil Society Council, warmly applauded the spirit of ecumenism and the Alliance for Transitional Justice - Liberia for jointly organizing this sober national memorial. She said justice was inescapable, especially the full implementation of the TRC Report and its enshrined recommendations.
Mrs. Greaves reminded the churches of their role during Liberia's peace process, stakeholders' dialogue among factions and government and her role during the discussion and constitution of the Accra Peace Accord, leading to the establishment of the TRC.
She reminded the churches that in keeping with such spirit, the strength and influence of the nation's governance system will respect and uphold the implementation of the TRC Report - "a fundamental pillar to achieving lasting peace, stability and development."
During the service, several survivors were heard giving their respective testimonies.
Bobby W. Kingsley
Bobby W. Kingsley, a volunteer registrar of the temporary refuge camp then set-up by the Red Cross of Liberia and the International Committee of the Red Cross that hosted mostly the Kranh and Mano, was among several other survivors that gave their testimonies.
Kingsley said he survived two atrocities of the army. He survived the UN Compound (now Lonestar Cell headquarters) unmerciful killing. They were asked by the government to move up to the St. Joseph Parish compound, but they refused because the compound was too close to the Executive Mansion.
Due to their refusal, Bishop Arthur F. Kulah of the United Methodist Church and Archbishop Michael K. Francis of the Roman Catholic Church and other prelates, escorted the surviving refugees to the St. Peter Lutheran Church's Compound.
A day prior to the massacre, he explained that a young man was asked to prepare dry rice.
"That day, all the food provided by Red Cross was finished, and it became the first time for people to fight over food in the Church," he said, narrating his ordeal.
He said that the young man went to get fresh pepper from the garden in the UM compound; while returning, a military jeep stopped him right in-front of the compound.
The soldiers in the jeep requested to know where he was coming from and to where he was going. In the process of his response, they realized that he had an eating spoon in his pocket. Suddenly, they claimed that he was a rebel. They took off his trousers, cut off his genitals, and left. That was just two days prior to the massacre. The day before the massacre, the AFL soldiers burst into the fence and shouted "that we were all rebels, not displaced people. One of the men ripped a Red Cross flag into half and said angrily, this is not Red Cross but Rebel Cross."
He survived by hiding under the altar basement; when the shooting subsided, he escaped through the church window.
Peterson, another survivor was about 16 years of age when the massacre occurred, gave a vivid revelation. He narrated that the massacre started about 9:45 on Sunday evening, after armed uniformed soldiers entered the church and began indiscriminate killings. He survived because of his father, who sacrificed his body as a shield to protect him from bullets. He lost seven members of his family, including his father. Peterson is the Executive Director of the Liberia Massacre Survivors Association (LIMASA).
In his mournful testimony, he shared his regret at the government's failure to implement the TRC report and its recommendations. He further noted, "We are calling on the international community to allow justice to come to Liberia."
Marcus Quoigboah, another survivor and head of the Lutheran Church Survivors Association, outlined his ordeal.
Marcus lost four members of his family. On July 29, 1990, Marcus, like other youth and older men, were asleep in the church. The men slept on the church's benches while the little boys slept under them. But that night, he and his cousin were fortunate to have slept with their aunt.
He narrated that when the uniformed soldiers first entered the church, they went from classroom to classroom, killing anyone they found. After they realized the absence of the men, they requested and convinced a woman to show their location, promising her freedom and safety for her infant child. She directed the soldiers to the church. After directing the soldiers, he heard her screaming and within a few minutes, there was heavy shooting and loud outcries from the church.
He said he survived because of the intervention of a goodhearted soldier, who instructed him to pretend that he was dead and helped conceal him under the bodies.