|Samuel Kofi Woods founded the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Church, the foremost human rights organization in Liberia.
would you describe whats going on today?
event itself is, for me, a memorable one for many reasons. One is
that I see it as a documentary testimony of people around the world
who have stories to tell, the story of trials and difficulties that
they face. But more than that, they reflect the difficulties of
men, of societies, and the need us to give a word of human faith.
The next thing is that this book will attempt to provide an avenue
whereby people from nations that might seem very comfortable and
wealthy will be inspired and motivated by the difficulties in other
countries and through that, they will be able to help alleviate
the pain and suffering that many people in our countries are confronted
with on a day-to-day basis.
key issue of this has been: how to reach a comfortable person. What
was it though that moved you in your own life to become an activist?
always said to people that I dont want to be seen as an hero
in what I do. I also dont want to be seen as foolish. I want
to be seen as a normal person. Because for people like me and others
who are engaged in human rights, its more of callinga
calling one cannot easily explain. Because either by divine providence,
or otherwise, God seeks to use us as an instrument to help to transform
human kind. The miracle of survival, the stories of trials, difficulties,
and success, the stories of surviving in prison, of harassment,
the stories of being confronted with death on many occasions, and
how you survivethese you cannot explain in more graphic terms,
as much as you are unable to conceive why it happens. Because of
that, I always see what we are doing as a vocation, as a calling,
and I am more inspired by the ordinary people who I have had opportunity
to represent in courts, who dont have any means, who didnt
have a lawyer. I put my career at their disposal free of charge.
I document the cases of people who are brutalized. I let the world
know, that in our country, Liberiawhich has had a special
relationship with the United States anywaypeople are suffering.
And everyone in their own way, wherever you are, is a hero. Everyone
has their own stories of difficulties. The moment of trials, the
struggle on how to survive. So we are not very special. However,
what has been done here is to an expression of many persons, who
because of their situations, are silent; who, because of their situations,
might not be able to tell the story. We are like a microphone to
which many persons stories are being told. We are not unique,
there are many other persons who have suffered worse than us. There
are many persons who have suffered pain. They may be ordinary people
and their voices have not been heard. But our stories relate to
each other and connect to each other in one spirit of solidarity.
been involved in this struggle for a good deal of your life. Do
you feel the beginning of this new century represesnts a turning
world has come through a number of changes and historic of phases.
We have begun to recognize the importance of human rights. There
have been a number of significant developments around the world.
The proposed International Criminal Court traces violations of human
rights around the world. This is a significant move although it
has not been finalized yet, but its a move in the right direction.
We have seen a number of resolutions on human rights defenders around
the world, and increased solidarity with human rights defenders
has been expressed by people around the world. There are a number
of programs that support the defendersfor example I was invited
to the Netherlands, where I live now, by the Dutch government. I
am very grateful for that, because in solidarity, in a time of difficulties,
they came and expressed their solidarity. The whole issue of tribunals;
now there are issues where the nations of the world have begin to
reckon with the fact that they must act to bring to justice and
ensure that others cannot perpetrate violent crimes against people
around the world. And I think these are significance developments
because we have moved from a powerful few who have concentrated
the power and have criticized others when human rights are ignored.
We are now gradually moving to the front where theres more
collective action especially in the post-Cold War area, where
the United Nations is getting involved in situationsin East
Timor for instance and many other places. And I think these are
significance developments. I am not saying that these developments
have made significant progress, but I think its a step in
the right direction. And as human right defenders we can begin to
count on this movement, to utilize it well. It shows that our leaders,
our governments will begin to respect the rights of the individual
citizens and people to work.
afternoon, I think you are going to meet the President of the United
States, who is coming to honor you. Does that have any significance
to you? And how will you go back to the work that you do everyday
after this; how will you carry this back?
is always a significant question that some of us in our little world,
as human rights activist, lawyers. We come to these events, and
we gain the visibility, then we have to go back to our little world.
And thats the real world. That is where the real action is.
However, I had the opportunity to meet President Clinton on his
visit to Africa. We had some time together along with his wife Hillary.
And we discussed a number of issues. I think that what happens,
as in this case, is that a new level of credibility, visibility,
and international legitimacy is brought to your cause in your own
world. In your own communities, people then see your cause as not
just an egocentric drive. But rather a universal cause which allows
people around the world to recognize it. And by their recognition,
it is not only do you become motivated and inspired, but
many other people. Because then they recognize that the cause is
universal. Around the world, governments and individuals of significance
will be able identify with this cause and therefore, it becomes
a drive. It becomes a new vehicle that propels you and many other
people into action and help them to continue to survive. And I think
that it the most important aspect of these event, the visibility,
the credibility, and international legitimacy that it has lent each
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