Foundation for Human Rights and Democracy
Interview by Cate Malek
A profile of Aloysius Toe is also available.
Q: Could you tell me about your organization, the Foundation for Human Rights and Democracy and the work you do for them?
A: FOHRD, the Foundation for Human Rights and Democracy, was started in November of 2003 with a vision to work toward a Liberian and global society in which respect for human dignity, rule of law and improved living standards exist everywhere without being negotiated. In light of this vision, I play a leadership role at FOHRD in advocating, defending and protecting the rights of the vulnerable in society. We partner with other NGOs and work to enhance projects already funded by donors.
The mission statement of FOHRD is:
The Foundation for Human Rights and Democracy (FOHRD) is a pro-democracy and human rights organization, which seeks to spread democratic values and principles as well as promote the protection and respect for Social and Economic Rights. As a research, training and advocacy NGO, FOHRD promotes economic and social justice and combats impunity as well as poverty and all its principal dimensions while at the same time striving to build result-driven linkages between human rights and other areas such as HIV/AIDs, peace-building, governance and development issues.
It is the vision of the Foundation for Human Rights and Democracy (FOHRD) to see a society where there are indiscriminate improved living standards, respect for the dignity of the individual person based on internationally accepted human rights standards.
As an impartial, independent and non-partisan organization, FOHRD was organized by a group of human rights and pro-democracy activists (in and outside Liberia) with long years of work in Liberia. History and circumstances in Liberia have shown that nearly every mention of human rights has to do with civil liberties and freedoms. Other rights, such as economic and social rights have not been the focus of much attention. However, the varying degrees of social and economic discrepancies and inequalities which most often lead to the abuse and violation of civil liberties and freedoms lead to the realization that the less talked about rights (social and economic rights) are becoming increasingly unavoidable. An understanding of how social injustice, economic exploitation - corruption and poverty - led to the civil wars (as the Liberian civil war) and the curtailing of civil liberties and freedom; and how the civil war and the curtailing of civil liberties and freedoms have been manipulated to perpetuate poverty, economic exploitation - corruption and poverty in Liberia will give an appreciation of the urgent need to prioritize the struggle in combating the abuses of social and economic rights. This effort requires the intervention of an organization with people who have worked in Liberia and know about Liberia and understand Liberia's problems. It is against this background that the Foundation for Human Rights and Democracy (FOHRD) has volunteered to intervene.
Q: Could you tell me more about the possible truth and reconciliation process in Liberia?
A: Under the Accra Peace Accord which brought into existence the current transitional administration, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, TRC is established. The commission's existence under Liberian laws was passed through a recent act promulgated by the transitional legislature. There will soon be a Selection Panel to screen commissioners. However, local and international NGO's are working with the local people in promoting reconciliation in the rural parts of the country.
Q: What are the biggest obstacles to reconciliation in Liberia?
A: The biggest obstacles to reconciliation in Liberia are two-fold. First, opinion leaders of tribal and other persuasions often discourage their groups from working with others as it enables them to maintain control and authority. Second, some believe that members of certain tribes are not Liberians, contrary to the history of this country.
Q: What are some successes you and your organization have had?
A: FOHRD'S successes are manifested in the level of confidence won from local and international partners and the beneficiaries of its services. In less than two years, the organization has succeeded in establishing offices in five of the political sub-divisions of Liberia. Besides maintaining a staff of over 40, including volunteers, FOHRD'S offices are always visited by people seeking redress to their multiple problems of rights based dimension.
Q: How did you become an activist?
A: I came to the realization of being an activist following years of admiration for a couple of religious and student activists whose work not only inspired me, but equally gave me the inner confidence to stand against repression and for the indiscriminate promotion of peoples' well being.
Q: Who were the people who inspired you?
A: International personalities whose life and writings inspired me:
- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr of the US
- Mohatmma Ghandi of India
- Henry David Thoreau
Student Activist who in Liberia whose work inspired me:
- Prof. Alaric Tokpa
- Atty. Samuel Kofi Woods
- Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe
Religious Leaders who inspired me:
- Arch Bishop Michael Francis
- Bishop Arthur Kulah
- Bishop George D. Brown
Q: Why do you keep doing [your work] despite the difficulty and danger, especially now that you have a wife and children?
A: This is principally because I came into it not for personal gains, but out of conviction that it is a chosen mission by which through my efforts and that of others, tens of thousands of hopeless people regain hope in life.
Q: The problems you're dealing with are extremely complex. Do you ever feel overwhelmed or disillusioned?
A: With a focused mind one is hardly drawn to being disillusioned. It takes purposefulness and a high degree of commitment to keep on track with what one considers a vocation.
Q: What is your advice for others who want to get involved in ending violent conflict, but aren't sure where to begin?
A: That begins with self-confidence and then with a set mind on what one is looking for and from there he can get the initial idea to begin.