Meeting to Mark Publication of
Report of Sierra Leone Truth
and Reconciliation Commission
Final Report on ten-year Sierra Leone conflict published; seeks
to set out historical record, offer guidance for future
Presidents of Top UN Bodies at ‘Launching’ of 1,500-Page
Statement of Country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Launching the final publication of the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission at Headquarters today, Sierra Leone’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Mohamed Lamin Kamara, described the report as both documenting his country’s ugly past and shining the light on its more promising future.
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.
The Commission’s final report consists of 1,500 pages, plus 3,500 pages of transcripts of testimonies. It contains an executive summary and several sections, as follows: the historical antecedents of the war; the causes of the war; its nature, with a focus on such demented atrocities as amputations and sexual slavery; the role of external actors, and circumstances that fuelled the war, such as mineral resources; the impact of warfare on women and children; the relationship between the Commission and the Special Court for Sierra Leone; and the efforts made to help the country reconcile with its past. It also proffers a detailed set of recommendations, including a call to abolish the death penalty.
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.
Hailing the publication of the final report, Emyr Jones Parry (United Kingdom), Security Council President for October, noted that the Commission had worked tirelessly over the past two years to give the Sierra Leonean people a chance to voice their feelings and views. It had taken the statements of more than 7,000 people from across the country, making a specific effort to include children. Finally, it had produced a set of recommendations which everyone, especially the Sierra Leonean Government, would want to study very carefully. He hoped the Commission would prove to have made a real contribution towards lasting peace in Sierra Leone, which its people so richly deserved.
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.
Economic and Social Council President Marjatta Rasi (Finland) said that the Commission had been needed so that the history of the conflict could be examined through a victim-centred, truth-seeking process. It had investigated numerous cases, and it had examined the causes and nature of the conflict itself. The recommendations and guidelines had covered the key areas, with the aim of promoting reconciliation and national healing. The report would assist the people of Sierra Leone in moving beyond their complex past. The child-friendly part of the Commission had paved the way for children to break the cycle of violence and build a better future.
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.
A joint meeting of the Presidents of the General Assembly, the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council was held this afternoon upon the launch of the final report of the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Representatives of Sierra Leone, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and the media were expected to attend. The 5,000-page report of the Commission, set up in 2000 to create an impartial historical record of human rights abuses related to the armed conflict in Sierra Leone from the start of the conflict in 1991 to the signing of the Lomé Peace Agreement in 1999, concludes that building a lasting peace in Sierra Leone can begin only with a comprehensive understanding of the country’s past the many lessons it holds for forging a politically and economically healthy Sierra Leone.
Opening the meeting, EMYR JONES PARRY (United Kingdom), Security Council President for October, said the three Presidents were co-chairing the Meeting because of what it symbolized for the United Nations as a whole, namely, its involvement in peace-building and in tackling the problems that that process encountered. Everyone made their individual contributions and, hopefully, their sum would be a collective and successful intervention in peace-building.
Hailing the publication of the final report, he said the Commission had worked tirelessly over the past two years to give the people of Sierra Leone a chance to voice their feelings and views. The Commission had taken the statements of more than 7,000 people from across the country, making a specific effort to include children. Finally, it produced a set of recommendations which everyone, especially the Sierra Leonean Government, would want to study very carefully. He hoped the Commission would prove to have made a real contribution towards lasting peace in Sierra Leone, which its people so richly deserved.
Similarly, JEAN PING (Gabon), President of the General Assembly, said the publication of the final report was an important event for the people of Sierra Leone and the world. It constituted an example for Africa and for the entire international community. After a decade of bloody war and massive human rights violations, efforts by the international community at the regional and subregional level, and by the United Nations, had helped to restore peace to that country. 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.
He said the Commission’s relevant recommendations had reflected the will and determination of Sierra Leone to rebuild unity and eradicate impunity. He congratulated the members of the Commission, and the Government and people of Sierra Leone, for their commitment to promote the rule of law, good governance, and respect for human values and dignity. He called for further international support of the Sierra Leonean people, particularly the victims of the conflict, in order to foster hope and faith for a better future.
MARJATTA RASI (Finland), President of the Economic and Social Council, said that, in light of the decade-long suffering marked by cruel violence against civilians, especially women and children, it had been encouraging to note Sierra Leone’s adoption of a national policy on advancement of women and gender mainstreaming. That action had been intended to cultivate better understanding of gender issues in society. Another important factor had been the support of the family by the police force, which had established the means to investigate and combat physical and sexual abuse of women and children, and was now present in almost all local units throughout the country. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission had been needed to examine the history of the conflict through a victim-centred, truth-seeking process.
Indeed, she said, the Commission had investigated an extensive number of cases -- their causes, nature and extent, and it had examined the causes and nature of the conflict itself. The recommendations and guidelines covered well the key areas and themes and were aimed at promoting reconciliation and national healing. The report would assist the people of Sierra Leone in understanding and moving beyond their complex past. The child-friendly branch of the Commission had paved the way for the child to break the cycle of violence and build a better future. Through its Commission on Human Rights, the Council had welcomed the essential work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and urged the Sierra Leonean Government to contribute to promoting and protecting human rights. It had also encouraged the country to implement the Commission’s recommendations.
MOHAMED LAMIN KAMARA, Deputy Foreign Minister of Sierra Leone, before presenting the report, thanked all those present on behalf of the President of Sierra Leone and Sierra Leone’s people. He said the ceremony was the result of weeks of collaboration between the missions of Sierra Leone and the United Kingdom and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). On 23 March 1991, the first shot of the scrimmage that had developed into full-scale armed conflict had been fired in a small village, ushering in 11 years of war. For a country that had prided itself on peace and security, it had been a total nightmare. The war had been characterized by crude violence, including rape, killing, abduction, forced labour, torture, mutilations, arbitrary detention, sexual servitude and the forceful recruitment of children for armed combat. The Lomé Peace Accord had provided for the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. After two years of hard work and against the background of financial constraints, the Commission had completed its work.
The report was an authoritative documentation of an ugly past and the light to see the way clearly to the future, he said. Sierra Leone’s Government took the findings and recommendations seriously. The report left only one choice –- to learn from the nature and consequences of the conflict. The major objective of learning was to address the issues that had generated the conflict and to create an environment that would restore dignity and pride. It was one thing to produce a landmark report, and another to implement its recommendations. The will, urgency of purpose and responsibility to implement the recommendations existed. Coming out of a conflict that had paralysed the economy, however, meant that extensive assistance would be needed to implement the report’s recommendations. Much had been sacrificed to bring Sierra Leone to where it was today, and additional resources would ensure that the fruit of those efforts were not lost.
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.
By creating an accurate record that acknowledged the crimes committed, the Commission provided a basis for social and political reform to prevent further abuse, she said. Children’s involvement in the process demonstrated how children could become active partners, helping to break the cycle of violence and re-establish confidence in the rule of law. In telling the story of war, the children of Sierra Leone had expressed their determination to build a bridge to the future. Children were impatient for the future, and there was not a moment to lose.
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.
AMINU BASHIR WALI (Nigeria), speaking on behalf of the African Union, said his country was delighted to participate in the ceremony and recalled Nigeria’s modest contribution to peace and security in Sierra Leone. Nigeria had supported the Commission in the belief that it would help heal past wounds caused by the war. The conflict had been characterized by gross violations of human rights. In the mayhem, there was hardly a family that had not suffered one form of indignity or another. Nigeria hoped the Commission’s recommendation would help restore dignity and confidence to the victims. He also hoped they would be compensated adequately. In that way, the Commission would have helped to create the necessary conditions for reconciliation.
Thanking the United Nations for the success of its peacekeeping operation in Sierra Leone, he also expressed appreciation for the Security Council’s gradual approach to the drawdown of the force in Sierra Leone. He reaffirmed his country’s commitment to peace and security in Sierra Leone and called on the people to continue to sustain the peace process, to forgive the pain of the past and to look forward to a brighter future.
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