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Sierra Leone: Truth and Reconciliation Report
Oct 31, 2004 (041031)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
The Sierra Leone and Reconciliation Commission issued its final
report last week at the United Nations, culminating over two years
of hearings of testimony from witnesses including large numbers of
children who had been victimized by the 11 years of conflict
between 1991 and 2002. The launch gave special prominence to a
"child-friendly" edition of the report, the result of a process in
which children themselves participated not only in providing
testimony but also in the writing and editing process.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains excerpts from UN press releases
on the report launch, and brief excerpts from the "child-friendly"
edition, the full text of which is available on the UNICEF website.
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Sierra Leone Truth And Reconciliation Commission Calls for
UN News Service (New York)
October 28, 2004
After the 11-year civil war in Sierra Leone, the government should
pay reparations to amputees and other wounded victims, those who
were sexually violated, and the widows and children who suffered
deprivation, displacement, or worse between 1991 and 2002, a United
Nations-endorsed report on the war says.
In determining payment, the seven-member Truth and Reconciliation
Commission recommended meeting victims' needs in "health, housing,
pensions, education, skills training and micro-credit, community
reparations and symbolic reparations."
"Providing victims with the assistance they urgently need also
serves to restore their dignity, which, in turn, helps foster
conditions necessary for reconciliation," the panel said.
The report was launched yesterday at a UN Headquarters meeting
chaired jointly by the Presidents of the General Assembly, the
Security Council and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). They
and other speakers pointed out the symbolic meaning of the report
for the UN system, since the world-body is uniquely involved in
peace-building and in tackling the problems of that process.
The world body has operated the UN Mission in Sierra Leone
(UNAMSIL) since October 1999.
Introducing the 1,500-page document and its 3,500-page annex,
Sierra Leone's Deputy Foreign Minister, Mohamed Lamin Kamara,
described it as recording his country's ugly past, while also
shining a light on its more promising future.
The commissioners, four of whom were Sierra Leoneans, were less
sanguine. After reviewing the intensifying of ethnic divisions
under British colonial rule, they say although the
post-independence Sierra Leone's People's Party (SLPP) and the All
People's Congress (APC) later claimed ideological differences, "in
reality the politics of the two parties was all about power and the
benefits it conferred.
"Tragically, these characteristics persist today in Sierra Leone,"
From testimonies about the war in 2002 and 2003, the Commission
concluded that Sierra Leonean children were drugged, especially by
Foday Sankoh's Revolutionary United Front (RUF), compelled to
become perpetrators of crimes ranging from amputating limbs, a
favourite of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), to
forced cannibalism, a ritual imposed by the Kamajor militias.
The victims turned perpetrators lost childhood opportunities for
education and many were rejected by their families because of their
Meanwhile, women and girls "were raped, forced into sexual slavery
and endured other acts of sexual violence, including mutilations,
torture and a host of other cruel and inhumane acts," the report
says. "Refusal often met with death."
The armies accused of violating women and girls were the RUF, AFRC,
the Civil Defence Forces (CDF), the Westside Boys and the Sierra
Leone Army (SLA). The ground forces for all comprised
"impressionable, disgruntled young men eager for an opportunity to
assert themselves, either to ensure that no harm was done to their
people, to fight against perceived injustice, or for personal and
The report said "the international diamond industry was largely
indifferent to the origin of 'conflict diamonds,' even when reports
of atrocities relating to the conflict in Sierra Leone were widely
disseminated in the global media. This indifference promoted the
trade in illicit conflict diamonds and thereby encouraged the
prolongation of the conflict."
The present government has made progress in reducing
diamond-smuggling under the new Kimberley Certification Process
(KCP), but "the KCP has two major weaknesses: there is no global
monitoring of each country member's own certification system and
countries with no diamond resources have been accepted as members."
Meeting to Mark Publication of Report of Sierra Leone Truth and
UN Press Release
ECOSOC/6140 GA/10287 SC/8227
Today's meeting, chaired jointly by the Presidents of the General
Assembly, the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council,
sought to underscore the symbolic meaning of the publication of the
final report for the United Nations as a whole, namely, its unique
involvement in peace-building and in tackling the problems that
emerged in that process.
Seen as a critical element on the road to recovery for Sierra
Leone, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established by
the Sierra Leonean Government in 2000 to create an impartial
historical record of violations and abuses of human rights and
international humanitarian law related to the armed conflict in
Sierra Leone, from the beginning of the conflict in 1991 to the
signing of the Lomé Peace Agreement in July 1999. Public hearings,
which began in April 2003, were aimed at addressing impunity,
breaking the cycle of violence, providing a forum for both parties
and perpetrators of human rights violations to tell their stories
and to get a clear picture of the past so as to facilitate genuine
healing and reconciliation. ...
Sierra Leone's Deputy Foreign Minister recalled that, on 23 March
1991, the first shot of the scrimmage fired in a small village
would develop into full-scale armed conflict and usher in 11 years
of war. For a country that had prided itself on peace and security,
that had been a total nightmare. As for the Commission's report,
there was only one choice -- to learn from the nature and
consequences of the conflict, address its causes, and create an
environment conducive to restoring dignity and pride. It was one
thing to produce a landmark report, and another to implement its
recommendations. The will to implement existed; additional
resources would ensure that the fruit of those efforts were not
Calling the release of the report an important event for the people
of Sierra Leone and the world, Assembly President Jean Ping (Gabon)
said it was an example for Africa and for the entire international
community in the aftermath of a decade-long bloody war and massive
human rights violations. The Peace Agreement signed at Lomé in July
1999 had put an end to one of the cruellest wars in Africa and had
opened the way to dialogue and tolerance through the establishment
of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Its recommendations had
reflected the will and determination of Sierra Leone to rebuild
unity and eradicate impunity. ...
Also speaking today were the Executive Director of the United
Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Carol Bellamy; Aminu Bashir Wali
(Nigeria), on behalf of the African Union; and the Permanent
Representative of Ghana to the United Nations and Chairman of the
Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Nana
Carole Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF, said numerous truth
commissions had been convened in various countries over the last
several decades. While many had addressed the experiences of
children, never before had a report focused on children as victims
and also profiled their role as actors in the reconciliation
process. The child-friendly truth and reconciliation report for
Sierra Leone was the first of its kind. During the 10-year war in
Sierra Leone, some 10,000 children had been targeted for abduction
and forced recruitment. They had been taken from their homes,
drugged, threatened with death and forced to kill. Thousands more
had been abducted for sexual slavery. Thousands had been massacred,
raped and mutilated.
The report recorded the heartbreaking stories told by children to
the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, including children's
recommendations to prevent a recurrence of war. Children had been
eager to play a role and give shape to a report that would bring
about positive action for and by children. Children had been
involved in the Commission's activities from initial preparation
and planning, to research and investigation, to the drafting of the
final report. Special measures had been put in place to provide
confidentially and to conduct interviews in a safe environment.
Initially there had been concern that children's involvement in
reporting the horrors of war might have negative effects. In fact,
however, the children who had participated in the hearings had
expressed a sense of relief and even pride in their contributions.
Nana Effah-Apenteng (Ghana), in his capacity as Chairman of the
Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), said he had
been gratified to note that, after several setbacks, the report had
finally seen the light of day. He commended the Commission's
members who, faced with grave constraints, had produced an
insightful and illuminating report. Based on its findings, the
Commission made a number of recommendations covering political and
other areas, with a view to preventing a recurrence of the
violence, addressing impunity, responding to the victims' needs,
and promoting national healing and reconciliation.
He said that ECOWAS had taken note of the Commission's findings and
would urge their speedy implementation, especially since many of
the causes of the conflict, such as the use of thousands of young
people in the war, had not yet been addressed. Already,
cross-border problems and other regional phenomena had been
identified in West Africa. The recommendations had set out the
essential priorities for effective reconciliation in Sierra Leone
and West Africa and beyond. He urged the continued engagement and
support of the international community for their implementation.
After the ravages of war visited on that sister country, he said he
knew it would not be possible for Sierra Leone to shoulder that
onerous burden alone. The international community, therefore, must
come to its aid and fulfil its obligations in that regard. The
history of the United Nations had been punctuated by "patchy
management"; the international community became actively engaged in
a crisis when it was on the front pages, but then relegated it to
the back, along with the media coverage. In addition, the
international community intervened in Sierra Leone at a very late
stage; it would be sad to all if the international community failed
to take measures to deal with the prevailing conditions in the
country and then witnessed a relapse into conflict.
He added that his feelings were mixed on recent developments. While
he had appreciated the continued support of the development
partners and welcomed the Security Council's decision to extend the
drawdown of the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) to
June 2005, he had been disheartened by the fact that a recent
United Nations inter-agency appeal for funds for Sierra Leone's
recovery and rehabilitation had yielded only 10 per cent of the
funding goal of $60 million.
Truth and Reconciliation Report:
Children's Version produced by UNICEF
Full 62-page report at
The child-friendly version of our Truth and Reconciliation
Commission Report for Sierra Leone is unprecedented. No truth
commission in the past has produced such a report. This report is
ground breaking in other respects, including the participation of
representatives of children's groups in its content, language and
design. The Commission hopes that it will be widely distributed,
both in Sierra Leone and in other countries.
Children first charged the Commission to prepare a child-friendly
report so that the children of Sierra Leone would be able to read
and understand it, and others outside Sierra Leone might better
comprehend what the children of Sierra Leone experienced during the
war. This report is a response to that charge.
The Commission deeply thanks all the children of Sierra Leone who
have participated in our processes, either individually or through
their respective organizations. These stories and experiences are
shared with the wider community in the hope that, through united
action, other children might be spared the horrors of war.
The Commission takes primary responsibility for the contents of the
report. While it is addressed mostly to children, the Commission
wholeheartedly commends it to all Sierra Leoneans and to members of
the world community. ...
Children contributed throughout the process, helping to give shape
to a report that would bring about positive action, for and by
children. Children's participation in the drafting process came
from three children's networks: the CFN, the Voice of Children
Radio and the Children's National Assembly. Over 100 children were
involved in the drafting, of whom 15 worked closely with the
Commission. Discussions of the childfriendly report, led by
children, were also aired on the Voice of Children Radio. During
the first-ever Children's National Assembly, held in Freetown in
December 2003, meetings were convened to discuss the child-friendly
report, which brought children together from all districts around
the country. Excerpts from the discussions on the child-friendly
report that took place at the Children's National Assembly were
broadcast on national television and radio.
Introduction: Remembering the war
There was a very big war in the country of Sierra Leone. It started
in 1991 and lasted for 10 long years. Everyone in the country
suffered, and many people including many children lost their lives.
Many who survived the war lost their loved ones, their homes and
their belongings. Everywhere there was grief, and children were
"Let us sign a peace agreement," the people said, "Together we can
create a better and more peaceful future." All the people of the
country came together and agreed to live in peace. Nobody wanted
another war, especially the children. But how could they make sure
that the war would not return?
"We will create a Truth and Reconciliation Commission," the people
"They will speak to people everywhere, including children, and they
will collect hundreds and thousands of stories about what happened.
The people who suffered, and those who caused suffering, will tell
their stories. The stories will be collected, and together they
will become part of the final report of the Truth and
"Each person's story is part of the truth," she said. "Each story
is like a piece of a very large puzzle. Nobody can tell the truth
alone. At first, when you collect the stories from many different
people, it is only a jumble of separate pieces. But when the pieces
are arranged together and put into place, then the whole picture
can be seen. Do you understand?" she asked. "Yes," the children
"But wait," the children said. "Don't forget about us. We don't
want to be left out. We want to tell our stories too. We want our
stories about the war to become part of the future of our country,"
Chapter One: How did it happen?
We are the children of Sierra Leone. The war was targeted against
us, our families and our communities. It was a brutal conflict,
which we did nothing to cause, but we suffered terribly because of
Every child in this country has a story to tell a heartbreaking
one. Unfortunately only a handful of these stories have been told
and made known to the world. The memories continue to weigh on our
minds and hearts. We, the children of Sierra Leone, witnessed the
worst possible human ruthlessness and terror.
Children of this country were forced to fight for a cause we could
not understand. We were drugged and made to kill and destroy our
brothers and sisters and our mothers and fathers. We were beaten,
amputated and used as sex slaves. This was a wretched display of
inhuman and immoral actions by those who were supposed to be
protecting us. Our hands, which were meant to be used freely for
play and schoolwork, were used instead, by force, to burn, kill and
We do not believe this is the end of our story. Rather, it is the
beginning. We, who survived the war, are determined to go forward.
We will look to a new future and we ourselves will help build the
road to peace.
The story of the war
After independence there was peace in Sierra Leone, but there were
also problems. The people could not agree on what was best for the
country. By the 1970s, a small group of people controlled the
government and made all the decisions. They did not have the best
interests of children at heart. Many important needs such as
schooling, health care, clean water and safe roads were neglected.
Because of these problems the people were poor and unhappy. They
saw injustice all around them. Some of them especially the youth
began to speak together and organise, with the idea that they would
start a revolution and create a fair and just society.
They travelled to other countries to the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya and
later to Liberia where they hoped to find support. Their ideas
became confused, and they turned more and more violent. A group of
fighters emerged. They called themselves the Revolutionary United
Front of Sierra Leone or the 'RUF'. The leader of these rebel
forces was Foday Sankoh. In Liberia, members of the RUF joined
forces with Liberian fighters under the command of Charles Taylor.
In March and April of 1991, they launched an attack on the Kailahun
District and the Pujehun District of Sierra Leone.
What began as a quest for justice became a terrible and brutal
conquest, slaughtering innocent civilians. The rebel forces
targeted children for recruitment and forced them into battle.
The war continued to rage in the east and south of the country.
Diamonds did not cause the war but they helped pay for the guns and
other expenses of war. The fighting forces struggled to control the
diamond mines, and many of them used children to wage their battles
and to search for gems or "blood diamonds" as they were called.
In 1992, spurred by the chaos of the war, the Sierra Leonean army
overthrew the Government and took control as the National
Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC). During the NPRC rule, corruption
and fighting continued. In 1996, elections were scheduled but
without the support of the army or the rebels. People cast their
ballot with a thumbprint and, in order to prevent the people from
voting, a brutal campaign of amputation was waged. Not only hands
but arms and legs were cut off by rebel forces. It was a period of
Villages were unprotected from attack, and so the local communities
formed armed groups, which became known as the Civil Defence Forces
or CDF. During 1996 and 1997 they gained government support.
Peace talks were first held in Abidjan in November 1996 but both
sides violated the ceasefire, and so no progress was made.
In 1997, the government was overthrown a second time by the
military. Those forces formed the Armed Forces Revolutionary
Council (AFRC) but their rule was not accepted by the people and
caused more misery. The AFRC joined with the RUF and found a common
enemy in the CDF forces and a small number of loyal government
forces. Greater brutality was unleashed. Girls were targeted for
rape by all sides, and even young children had limbs amputated.
To the great despair of the innocent civilians and children, the
war had lost all reason and become a campaign of destruction and
madness. People were massacred, homes burned, properties looted. No
one knew any more what the war was about.
In 1998, ECOMOG (the Monitoring Observer Group of the Economic
Community of West African States) and the Allied Forces drove the
RUF and the AFRC out of Freetown. But in January 1999, the rebel
forces attacked Freetown and burned and looted many parts of the
city. ECOMOG fought to regain control of Freetown. Their efforts
succeeded, and in 1999 a peace agreement was negotiated and signed
in Lomé (Togo). This agreement became known as the Lomé Peace
Accord. In 1999 and 2000 peacekeeping troops arrived under the flag
of the United Nations. Everyone thought the war was over but
attacks continued. In the Provinces 500 United Nations soldiers
were taken hostage.
By the time the end of the war was officially declared, on 18
January 2002, thousands and thousands of people had lost their
lives, their families, their homes and all their possessions.
The children of Sierra Leone were targeted for attack and suffered
unimaginable violations. Many were brutally killed, mutilated and
Now we, the children, look back at the wreckage. We have lost so
many dear family and friends. The Truth and Reconciliation
Commission is helping record our experiences and our memories so
that we can try to understand what happened and the horrors of war
can be put into the past.
We must learn to make sense out of our survival, in order to
transform our lives and create a new dream for the future.
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