The establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (the Commission) in Sierra Leone after eleven years of bitter civil conflict was appropriate, necessary and highly significant for the healing of a traumatised nation. The Report is all-inclusive in that it does not only expose perpetrators and identify victims but also serves as a mirror through which all Sierra Leoneans can and are encouraged to examine their own roles in the conflict.
The Commission was a product of the Lomé Peace Agreement between the Government of Sierra Leone and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). The work of the Commission has laid the foundation for reconciliation and healing for all of those affected by the civil war. Victims and perpetrators are beginning to find a common ground on which to stand, live and develop the country together in peace and harmony.
The Report of the Commission (the Report) calls for introspection and a retrospective examination of the political, historical, economical, social and moral activities of both the state and the nation. While particular attention has been paid to the plight of victims, the motives and perspectives of those who committed terrible atrocities were intensively explored.
The Commission endeavoured in its report to address the questions: “Why Sierra Leone?” “What went wrong?” “What needs to change?” “How will we effect the change?” The Report is intended to enable Sierra Leoneans to understand the conflict and to come to grips with the problems which gave rise to it, many of which continue to plague Sierra Leone today. In this way, the Commission hopes the Report will serve as a roadmap towards the building of a new society in which all Sierra Leoneans can walk unafraid with pride and dignity.
The Commission’s findings force us as a nation to confront the past. They reinforce the belief that the past cannot, indeed must not, be forgotten. Forgetting or ignoring the past means we cannot learn its lessons and are at greater risk of repeating it. Through attributing responsibility for the different causes of the conflict, and the many violations of human rights committed throughout it, we create accountability and state unequivocally that we reject impunity. With this knowledge and understanding we vow to build a society that will be able to prevent such causes and violations from recurring.
The Commission’s recommendations touch on every aspect of the life of our nation. They will go a long way towards promoting restorative justice in Sierra Leone. The recommendations do not only deal with the technical and policy measures required to build a peaceful and stable future, they also call for a fundamental change in the attitudes of Sierra Leoneans. With common resolve and commitment on the part of every citizen and the ongoing support of the international community, we can say that the prospects for sustained peace and the development of Sierra Leone are indeed bright.
Our ultimate goal of peace and reconciliation will be reached if all living within its borders sincerely respect the human rights of all, without exception. We must reaffirm our resolve to live in a nation where justice reigns, where nobody is above the law, where unity and tolerance is the order of the day, where genuine democracy thrives, and where love and concern for each other and our country is paramount. True reconciliation requires real consideration for the total well being of all our citizens – including children, youth and women. All citizens must have a genuine stake in society in order for there to be a lasting peace in Sierra Leone.
Reconciliation is strengthened through acknowledgment and forgiveness. Those who have confronted the past will have no problem in acknowledging their roles in the conflict and expressing remorse for such roles. True statesmen and leaders will also act accordingly for they will recognise the powerful healing and unifying force such acts will have on the nation. Those who have confronted the past will be able to forgive others for the wrongs committed against them. Where the act of forgiveness is genuine it does not matter whether the perpetrator declines to express remorse. Learning to forgive those who have wronged us is the first step we can take towards healing our traumatised nation.
These are my hopes for our people in Sierra Leone. As we read the pages of this Report let us do so with an open mind for the voices of thousands of Sierra Leoneans are contained in its volumes. These voices call upon all of us never to permit intolerance and brutality to afflict our Sierra Leone again. We are called upon to live in such a way that we can truly say “never again”. The future prosperity of our children and indeed future generations depend on how we conduct ourselves. We must meet this challenge.
I wish to acknowledge and pay tribute to the many organisations and individuals that made possible the fulfilment of the Commission’s mandate. Firstly, I wish to express my deep appreciation to several donor countries that supplied financial support: the European Commission, the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Norway, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, Canada, Ireland, Sweden, France and Luxembourg. I wish to pay tribute to Mrs. Mary Robinson, the former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, whose vision ensured the realisation of this Commission. Several persons in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights played key roles in establishing and supporting the Commission, including Mr. Jan Cedergren, former Chief of Activities and Programmes Branch, Ms. Tokunbo Ige, African Team Coordinator, and Mr. Martin Ejidike, the Desk Officer for Sierra Leone. The Commission received valuable administrative and logistical support from United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL). In particular, I would like to thank the members of the Human Rights Section and of the Media and Public Education Department of UNAMSIL for their unwavering support for the Commission’s work. I extend my appreciation to the President of Sierra Leone, Dr. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and the Government of Sierra Leone for their committed support to the on-gong and long-term truth and reconciliation process.
Several organisations, both within and outside Sierra Leone, played significant roles in promoting the work of the Commission. Within Sierra Leone such organisations included the Campaign for Good Governance, the National Forum for Human Rights, the print and broadcast media and the Inter Religious Council. The Truth and Reconciliation Working Group served as a useful liaison between the Commission and the NGO community. UNICEF provided support to the Commission and enabled it to publish the Children’s Version of the Report. The Commission wishes to thank Saudamini Siegrist for her dedication in compiling the Children’s Version. UNIFEM supplied advice and resources to assist the Commission to address the role of women in the conflict. WITNESS produced a video version of the Report and the Commission wishes to express its gratitude to Gillian Caldwell, Louis Spitzer and Tijanie Bah. The International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) supplied valuable support and input, and the Commission wishes to thank in particular Marieke Wierda who was always available for advice and counsel. The ICTJ provided consultants to the Commission and also supplied financial support for and the National Vision for Sierra Leone.
Finally I would like to pay tribute to the Commissioners and staff of the TRC. The Commissioners, Hon. Justice Laura Marcus-Jones, Mr. Sylvanus Torto, Professor John Kamara, Ms. Yasmin Louise Sooka, Professor William Schabas and Madam Ajaratou Satang Jow who took time out of their busy schedules to ensure the success of the Commission. In particular I would like to pay tribute to Mr Ozonnia Ojielo, the Head of Information Management Unit, who played an instrumental role in the establishment and management of the Commission, and in the production of this report.
As I commend this Report to my fellow Sierra Leoneans, I solicit the cooperation of the national government and the international community to do everything humanly possible to implement the Commission’s recommendations. The recommendations represent the hopes of our children and youth as well as the yet unspoken hopes of future generations. We have a real opportunity to unlock the potential and talents of all Sierra Leoneans. We must seize this opportunity. Thus, to all peace loving people, I commend to you this Report of the Commission.
Bishop Joseph Humper (CR)