October 04, 2007

Faegre & Benson Pro Bono Project Paves the Way for Liberian Justice

The London and Minneapolis offices of international law firm Faegre & Benson LLP are leading a unique international pro bono project in which trained volunteers from the firm will work with the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights (MAHR), a long-standing pro bono partner of the firm, to document the human rights abuses that occurred in the Liberian civil conflict of 1979-2003 and make recommendations for reforms to prevent future human rights abuses.

The launch of the Liberian TRC Diaspora Project in the United Kingdom will take place in London on Oct. 6 and will be attended by representatives from the Liberian Embassy, leaders in the Liberian community from across the United Kingdom, and other members of the Liberian Diaspora community. Liberia's ambassador to the United Kingdom, His Excellency Wesley M. Johnson, will provide a written statement of support to the group. Scott James from the London office of Faegre & Benson will address the group about the Diaspora Project.

As the first step on the road to healing from the nation's troubled past, Liberians living in the United Kingdom will now have the opportunity to tell their stories of human rights abuses to volunteers from Faegre & Benson LLP and Mayer Brown International LLP who are working with the Liberian TRC Diaspora Project. These volunteers have been trained in working with survivors of torture and war trauma, as well as in Liberian history and culture.

No other truth and reconciliation commission in any of the approximately 40 other countries that have used this process has ever attempted to take statements from those who have fled from the country in which they were the victims of significant human rights abuses. One of the TRC's main functions is to help Liberia address the root causes of the conflict that so greatly harmed the country, in order to prevent such a conflict from reoccurring. This project is being closely watched by the international human rights community as a possible model for the work of future commissions dealing with transitional justice issues.

Jerome Verdier, chairman of the Liberian TRC, said:

"We are so pleased to have the support of Faegre & Benson in this effort to involve Liberians around the globe in the TRC process. The UK project is an integral part of the Liberian TRC overall effort and we believe that the input of Liberians in the UK is critical to our success."

Scott James from Faegre & Benson said:

"Faegre & Benson has a long and rich tradition of public service to the community, and that tradition continues today in all of the firm's offices. In 2004 the London office was awarded the Solicitors Pro Bono Group Annual Pro Bono Award and in June this year Faegre & Benson was honored by Appleseed, a U.S. national network of independent public interest law centers, for its role as lead pro bono counsel to the Hurricane Katrina Response Project in 2006.
This latest project is extremely significant in recognising the atrocities that occurred in Liberia and ensuring that this never occurs again."

Jennifer Prestholdt, deputy director at MAHR, said:

"It is fantastic that Faegre & Benson has embraced this project and undertaken the hosting of training sessions as well as providing volunteer statement takers and substantial administrative support. We look forward to working with the firm with the view to successfully completing this highly important historical record."

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