Liberia 2009 – Coding Testimony to Determine Accountability for War Crimes

In July 2009, HRDAG concluded a three-year project with the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to help clarify Liberia’s violent history and hold perpetrators accountable. A military coup in 1979 sparked 24 years of civil war in Liberia where warring factions subjected civilians to severe human rights abuses. The TRC sought to determine whether these violations represented a systematic pattern or policy. This chapter describes how HRDAG developed a statistical analysis of the more than 17,000 victim and witness statements collected by the TRC and applied Ball’s “Who Did What To Whom?” methodology. HRDAG scientist Kristen Cibelli worked with TRC staff in Liberia to develop a coding process by which countable units, such as violation types, victims and perpetrators, were identified in statements and transcribed to coding forms. This process converted qualitative testimony into data that supported quantitative analysis to detect patterns of violence. HRDAG analysis found that former Liberian president Charles Taylor – who was tried in The Hague for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone’s civil war -also led the Liberian rebel group responsible for the largest number of violations in Liberia. In 2012, Taylor was found guilty and sentenced to 50 years in prison for crimes in Sierra Leone.