The Sierra Leone Web




On behalf of my government, permit me to express appreciation for this opportunity to briefly address an institution of great significance to the future of this country and to the possibilities for the entire region to live in peace and provide for the well being of all its citizens. There is a well known saying that those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it. No one would conceivably want this country or any country to repeat the horrors that have been its history for far too long.

The United States is proud to count itself among the strongest supporters, both morally and materially, of two institutions created to assist Sierra Leoneans in their efforts to address the past and to avoid further tragedy. While the Special Court and this Commission are independent of each other, they are inextricably bound together in a national and international effort to come to grips with the truth, the truth that will end the cycle of impunity that for too long has been permitted to be the standard response to the most reprehensible of actions in many parts of Africa and the truth that will permit those who suffered and those who caused them to suffer, often the same persons, to come to personal terms with their experiences and actions. We have listened with great interest to the testimony to date before this Commission and in many cases have been inspired by the courage and simple honesty of so many who have recounted their experiences despite the obvious pain involved in the retelling. We wish to commend the Commissioners, both national and international, as well as the dedicated professional staff who have combined to effectively develop this forum and have guided it in a manner calculated to "create an impartial historical record . . ., to address impunity, to respond to the needs of the victims, to promote healing and reconciliation and to prevent a repetition of the violations and abuses suffered" as required by the Act of Parliament that established the Commission.

It is to the final point of that quotation, "to prevent a repetition," that I would like to very briefly address myself. At the end of these proceedings, it will be the heavy responsibility of the Commissioners to produce a report that is worthy of the courage demonstrated by so many average citizens who have endured pain and risk to testify, to dare to tell their stories irrespective of consequences in the hope of finding closure, compassion and reconciliation. In so doing, those people demonstrated great faith in the integrity of the Commission and those who have chosen to support it. I hope and trust that the final product will be consistent with that great faith.

Yet the most brilliant and honest of reports will be for naught if it is not used to motivate and assist Sierra Leoneans and their friends in answering one simple but terrible question - why did this happen? It is only by beginning to answer that question that Sierra Leoneans can hope to identify the actions essential to preventing a repetition. I imagine that the final report will faithfully reflect the experiences of those who testified at hearings as well as the research and investigations conducted by the Commission. But it must not be an end in itself. It will only be successful to the extent that it serves to assure that what has happened to Sierra Leone over the past eleven years and for decades before that is never repeated. To achieve that objective it must be a catalyst to a continuous and long-term process of introspection, by Sierra Leoneans and by their friends in the international community. It must also lead to a credible and therefore independent National Human Rights Commission to support this introspection and concrete action to attack any future abuse or forgetfulness with respect to the lessons of the past. It must aid Sierra Leoneans in their thinking about their own values and what role those values played in the horrors that have occurred. Sierra Leoneans must ask questions that no outsider can pose and contemplate answers that no outsiders could conceivably provide. International partners must at the same time also ask themselves hard questions. Did we fail to read properly the signs of impending disaster? Did we fail to do enough to influence the course of events? How can we best continue to contribute to the work of this Commission and whatever successor institution there may be?

Too often in the past the international community, faced with the horrors such as those experienced by Sierra Leone, has said "never again" and yet it has happened again. We fervently hope that the proceedings and results of this Commission will serve as a landmark in our collective efforts to assure that indeed, this will never, ever happen again.