Since January 2002 when President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah
officially declared Sierra Leone’s
brutal eleven year civil war over, numerous efforts have been made to
consolidate the peace. The 14 May election in which the Revolutionary United
Front (RUF) rebel group participated and was politically defeated, was, even if
flawed, a significant step forward. The country seems internally secure for the
first time in over a decade, despite looming trouble across the border due to
fighting between Liberian government forces and the Liberians United for
Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) insurgents.
Regional insecurity has not diminished the optimistic belief
among citizens that Sierra Leone
has entered a new phase. Nonetheless, the transition from war to peace is
fraught with dangers. Many root causes of the conflict remain unresolved,
including high levels of corruption, greed, uneven distribution of revenue from
natural resources, a weak and compromised judicial system, and widespread
poverty. Immediate challenges are to bring to justice those responsible for
crimes committed during the war and to reconcile a war-torn nation.
Two transitional justice mechanisms have been set up to
address these latter requirements: the Special Court
and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The Special
Court is meant to adjudicate the cases of those
accused of bearing greatest responsibility for war crimes and crimes against
humanity. It is the core institutional means of addressing impunity. The TRC is
mandated to create "an impartial, historical record of the conflict", "address
impunity; respond to the needs of victims; promote healing and reconciliation;
and prevent a repetition of the violations and abuses suffered". These hybrid
institutions – each with an international as well as a national component –
have only begun to operate in the last few months.
This briefing paper focuses on the difficulties faced by the
Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The TRC has its origins in the 7 July 1999 Lomé peace agreement
between the Government of Sierra Leone and the RUF. Unfortunately, the Lomé
process quickly collapsed, and resumption of the war delayed establishment of
the TRC, despite legislation that formally provided for its creation in 2000.
In early 2001, with improving stability in the country, serious efforts were
made by both national and international actors to set the process in motion.
This led to creation of the TRC’s Interim Secretariat in March 2002 followed by
the inauguration of the TRC proper on 5
In a report at that time, ICG noted a number of concerns
about government manipulation of the selection of key officials, the
relationship between the TRC and the Special Court,
and lack of funding. From July to December 2002, ICG continued to monitor the
TRC and found substantial problems with its start-up performance. These could
undermine the hopes of many victims of war and indeed perpetrators to tell
their stories and ultimately impair the institution’s contribution to
reconciliation. Many specific problems facing the TRC are rooted in the
three-month preparatory phase that followed the formal launch and left it
ill-prepared to begin its operational phase on schedule in October. Apparent
inaction in October and November resulted in a growing lack of confidence among
donors and Sierra Leone’s
Management issues have stymied the process from the start.
As these multiplied during the preparatory phase, tensions arose between the
national and international members and between the TRC and the Geneva-based
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
Funding has been a severe problem from the start. Donor fatigue, poor
fundraising efforts by the TRC and by OHCHR, and management difficulties have
On 4 December 2002,
the TRC deployed statement takers, who are to collect the stories from all
citizens who wish to come forward, regardless of war-time affiliation. These
stories will be the basis for public hearings in early 2003 and for the
creation of an official historical record of the war. However, the TRC
commissioners are still a largely dysfunctional body that has not yet developed
a comprehensive operational plan.
Since October, a concerted effort between OHCHR and the TRC
has produced some positive signs. The arrival of new and qualified staff
through a more transparent hiring process is expected to resolve accusations of
political bias and inefficiency. An effort is being made to reach out to civil
society and build partnerships with a number of local organisations.
Given the TRC’s limited time mandate, a number of measures
must be taken urgently to keep it on track, in particular improving the work of
the commissioners and relations between the national and international staff
within the TRC, and between nationals and OHCHR. The latter cannot remain
distant, only sending in trouble-shooters at moments of crisis. Although the
TRC is a national and independent institution, OHCHR, which controls the purse
strings, should take a more hands-on approach. The TRC must show it is working
well in order to provide donors with concrete reasons to support it. For its
part, the international community must be actively engaged to ensure that the
TRC plays its crucial role in the peace process.
Freetown/Brussels, 20 December 2002