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Lawyer with link to Eugene to lead human rights probe.

Byline: Susan Palmer The Register-Guard

An environmental lawyer with ties to Eugene has been selected to head Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as the tiny, war-torn African nation rebuilds under a recently elected government.

Jerome Verdier is part of the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide, a Eugene-based nonprofit network connecting environmental lawyers throughout the world.

Verdier was one of the founders of Green Advocates in Liberia, a public interest law firm that focuses on environmental and human rights issues. E-LAW connects such firms with others working on similar issues around the globe, sharing case law, strategies and environmental research.

A country about half the size of Oregon on the west coast of Africa, Liberia is emerging from more than two decades of war and civil strife that scarred the nation with mass killings, rape, abductions and the recruitment of children as soldiers. Its infrastructure has crumbled under years of government corruption.

Liberia's President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, elected last fall, has been under pressure to form a war crimes tribunal, but opted instead for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate those responsible for a range of human suffering.

Verdier, who has visited Eugene and has plans to return to study at the University of Oregon, said in an e-mail interview that the commission he heads is charged with documenting the massive wave of rights violations from rape and abductions to mass killings and slavery that have torn his country apart.

"The role of the TRC is basically to lay the foundation for genuine peace and reconciliation in Liberia. It is the breach between Liberia's horrific past and a sustainable future of democracy, unity and durable peace," he wrote.

The commission does not have power to try cases but does have subpoena powers and can recommend prosecution.

The goals: to investigate the causes of the nation's crisis, to dispel myths about the Liberia's past and create a forum for communication between perpetrators and victims, Verdier wrote.

The work is not without risk, he said. Right now the national army and militias have been disbanded. United Nations peace keepers maintain the peace. But the risk is worth it, he said.

"This country may never find its bearings and reconcile its people if the truth about our past is not adequately revealed and understood, and people made to account for their actions," he wrote.

It may seem an unlikely move to put an environmental lawyer at the helm of such a commission. But environmental and human tragedies are intertwined in Liberia, said Bern Johnson, executive director of E-LAW.

"Liberia forests were being plundered to buy arms for civil war," Johnson said. "Jerome and his partner Alfred Brownwell have been environmental and human rights pioneers in Liberia. I'm thrilled we've been able to help them."

A leading Liberian newspaper named Verdier and Brownwell the 2005 Human Rights Advocates of the Year.
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Title Annotation:International; Jerome Verdier is named head of Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Feb 27, 2006
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