Samuel Kofi Woods describes his life as a human rights defender in Liberia - a nation that experienced a decades-long civil war that killed more than 200,000. As a youth leader, Woods watched his country descend into an abyss of rape, plunder, and wanton destruction. He witnessed executions, the banning of political advocacy, and an entire court system become politically subservient. Woods himself was eventually imprisoned for his activism. After being released, Woods enrolled in law school because he believed rule of law could be an important vehicle for social change. He used his skills to lead a Liberian human rights movement which provided justice, truth, and accountability during the civil war.


Samuel Kofi Woods is a Liberian journalist, academic, activist, and politician. His lifelong commitment to human rights began with student activism that led to his first arrest in 1981. In 1986, as a member of the National Student Union, he was forced into hiding and later banned from employment and travel. Upon the outbreak of civil war in 1989 he fled to Ghana, but returned to Liberia in 1991 to found his country’s most prominent human rights organization, the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission. He also established a radio program that focused on publicizing arrests and extrajudicial executions and educating citizens about their rights. In 1994 he founded the Forefront Organization to document the human rights abuses of the Second Liberian Civil War. In 1998 he was declared an anti-government activist and was threatened with sedition for exposing forced child labor in the country. Although many of his colleagues were murdered and his family was under threat from government authorities, Kofi Woods persisted in his work for justice. He now heads the Liberian Ministry of Labor.

Today, Woods believes that Liberia is on an irreversible path to progress - he himself is part of this arc, having gone from imprisonment and exile to now serving as Minister in Liberia's democratically elected government. As Liberia rebuilds from the ashes of conflict, Woods argues that the rule of law remains critical to the advancement of peace and justice in his country. In the end, he says, those who lead with compassion and conviction will succeed, and those who choose to be dictators will fail. He calls on all governments and government officials to be champions for the advancement of human rights and accountability. He urges the international community to affirm that peace must be built and founded on justice and respect for the rule of law.