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Sierra Leone: Truth and Reconciliation Report

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Oct 31, 2004 (041031)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

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. See http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/sierraleone_23937.html.

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

Sierra Leone Truth And Reconciliation Commission Calls for Reparations

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," they said.

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 violent past.

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 group aggrandizement."

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 Reconciliation Commission

UN Press Release
ECOSOC/6140 GA/10287 SC/8227

27/10/2004

...

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 lost.

...

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 Effah-Apenteng.

...

Statements

...

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
http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/sierraleone_23937.html

Excerpts:

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. ...

Methodology

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 crying.

"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 said. ...

"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 Reconciliation Commission."

...

"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 said.

"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," they said.

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 it.

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 destroy.

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 unspeakable horror.

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 raped.

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.

...


AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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