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 sameul kofi woods picsameul kofi woods interview
Samuel Kofi Woods founded the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Church, the foremost human rights organization in Liberia.

Q How would you describe what’s going on today?
KSW The 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.

Q A 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?
KSW I’ve always said to people that I don’t want to be seen as an hero in what I do. I also don’t 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, it’s more of calling—a 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 survive—these 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 don’t have any means, who didn’t 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, Liberia—which has had a special relationship with the United States anyway—people 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 person’s 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.

Q You’ve been involved in this struggle for a good deal of your life. Do you feel the beginning of this new century represesnts a turning point?
KSW The 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 it’s 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 defenders—for 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 there’s more collective action— especially in the post-Cold War area, where the United Nations is getting involved in situations—in 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 it’s 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.

Q This 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?
KSW This 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 that’s 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 of us.


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