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United Methodist bishop named to truth commission

Bishop Arthur Kulah of Liberia addresses colleagues on the United Methodist Council of Bishops. Kulah has been named to his country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. A UMNS photo by Linda Green.

By Linda Green*
May 15, 2007

A retired United Methodist bishop is part of a nine-member commission seeking to uncover the truth about human rights abuses in Liberia, including the 14-year civil war that ended in 2003.

With more than 300 nominations from across the West African nation, former Liberian Bishop Arthur Kulah was named to the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Kulah spoke about his involvement to colleagues April 30 as the United Methodist Council of Bishops met near Myrtle Beach, S.C.

"Our responsibility is to bring peace, unity, reconciliation and security to Liberia," said Kulah, who was inducted into service on the commission in 2006.

The commission is seeking to understand crimes and abuses that occurred between 1979 and 2003. A peace agreement signed in 2003 ushered in Liberia's first period of relative calm in more than 14 years. "We want to find out the cause of war and what made us kill each other," Kulah said.

Authorized in 2005 by Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and the National Transitional Legislative Assembly, the commission seeks to lay the foundation for a new nation.

The group "envisages a new Liberia where survivors, victims and perpetrators will overcome their troubled past and live together as one people," according to its purpose statement.

The work of reconciliation

The 14-year civil war was the result of Charles Taylor’s efforts to overthrow then-President Samuel Doe for power and money. An estimated 20 percent of Taylor’s soldiers consisted of young boys and girls recruited either by force or money. The former government also recruited young children to fight on the front lines.

"We do not want the young people to take up arms again. We want the church to lead in the role in bringing continued peace and reconciliation to Liberia," Kulah said.

"We do not want the young people to take up arms again. We want the church to lead in the role in bringing continued peace and reconciliation to Liberia."
-Bishop Arthur Kulah

Liberia's leaders met in 2003 in neighboring Accra, Ghana, to work out a peace agreement that was signed by the government and two rebel groups. From that conversation, several commissions were proposed to foster peace, unity and reconciliation, leading to the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The commission is charged with the responsibility of establishing an independent and accurate record of rights violations and abuses. It will set the basis for justice and reconciliation aimed at fostering national repentance and striking the delicate balance between accountability and forgiveness in order to move the nation from an era of trauma and despair to one of hope and healing.

Kulah said the commission has the responsibility of investigating the root causes of the Liberian conflict, amplifying historical truths and undermining falsehoods.

The commission, he said, seeks to "provide (a) conducive atmosphere where the victims of the war will be able to tell their stories, what happened to them, who did it, and those who are responsible for what happened to them will be invited to come forward to claim responsibility for want they have done."

Needing assistance

The commission is based in Monrovia and divided into several sections and offices in eight zones. Kulah leads three subcommittees looking at the role of traditional and religious leaders, unity and fundraising. The commission will give its first report in 2008 and then could make subsequent reports over the next nine months.

Money will be raised to pay for the commission’s work, and a fund for reparations will be established to provide prostheses to those whose limbs were cut off or damaged in the war. A fund also will assist in restoring markets, schools and homes, and another fund will be established to mark the graves of those killed. A national mourning period will be announced to enable the nation to mourn the dead. The government will apologize to the families of those killed, and people also will be reburied.

"The United Methodist Church is very powerful and influential in Liberia," Kulah said. "We have a great responsibility (to the commission) because of what the church has done in the past."

During the April 29-May 4 Council of Bishops meeting, Kulah invited colleagues to "help our church and be a part of the programs being established in Liberia … because we do not want the young people to go back into the bush."

Kulah is soliciting the denomination for a two-year commitment from individuals and organizations with expertise in financial management, communications and investigations. The commission seeks donations of computers, video cameras and recorders, public address systems, generators, office furnishings, mosquito nets, flashlights and cots or sleeping bags.

June 3 is designated as TRC Sunday across Liberia. Kulah said all church sermons that day will focus on peace, reconciliation and unity, and offerings will benefit the work of the commission.

For more information about the commission and how United Methodists can provide assistance, e-mail Kulah at aviku2002@yahoo.com.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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