The Sierra Leone Web


Freetown, 14 April 2003


Chairman and Members of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen:

We are assembled to mark a very important milestone in the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission - the launching of public hearings.

Like most of you, and all our compatriots, I still feel much pain whenever I have cause to recollect or refer to the traumatic experience of our beloved country during the war years. I, like you, am looking forward to the day, hopefully in the near future, when we can look back to those dark days and feel that they are fully gone, never to return, and that our country has moved completely to a higher plane, where impunity and mass violence are inconceivable in the body politic.

We have taken great strides in that direction over the past two years. We can recall with justifiable pride the successful disarmament and re-integration of ex-combatants, the conduct of our world acclaimed free-and-fair General Elections, the on-going transformation of our Armed Forces and Police into forces for the good of the country; and not least the setting up of two critical institutions directly charged with helping us address impunity and reconciliation, namely - the Special Court and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

This occasion is for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. But let me first take a few moments to make some comments on the Special Court.

The Special Court was set up in conjunction with the International Community in fulfilment of our obligations, not only to the international community who continue to invest so much in the welfare and future well-being of our country, but more importantly in fulfilment of our obligations to the future generations of the poor people of Sierra Leone, many of whom were victims of heinous crimes committed by combatants during the unholy civil war; future generations who must be protected from any possible repetition of crimes against humanity. The Special Court is therefore charged under International Law with bringing to book those, and only those who bear the greatest responsibility for the most grievous crimes committed against the people of Sierra Leone. For this reason, it can even be conjectured that those who may be liable to face the Special Court will be very few. This should therefore put an end to the rumours and speculations that the Special Court will try all or even most of those who participated in the events of the 10-year war. The proper place for most of them and their victims will be the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Therefore, I am fully convinced that those who love Sierra Leone and its people will readily cooperate with and assist the collection of distinguished and honourable men and women that constitute the Special Court in the discharge of their important responsibility.

To ensure that all Sierra Leoneans will have equal and fair treatment by the Special Court, its charter and mode of operation have ensured that it is completely independent and that no one, not even a President, can interfere in its deliberations; and no one, again not even a President of this or any other country, is immune from prosecution. This is as demanded by the ordinary people of Sierra Leone - the so-called "small people" who have for years been abused and down-trodden by people they have put in authority. The "small people" have demanded, and we have responded to their call for independent impartial institutions. The Special Court, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission are the result.

I have every confidence that both institutions will, and do operate, under internationally accepted standards of probity, transparency and fairness. I know that the people of Sierra Leone, as well as the international community will take both institutions to task if for a single moment they should err in that respect. Let me also state here that I have every confidence in all my collaborators during the conflict, some of whom are Ministers in my Government up to this date. Within the confines of the law, which I as President willingly uphold, I continue to do all that can be done to support them.

Now turning to the specific occasion at hand.

I regard the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as one of the most significant pillars of peace, justice and reconciliation ever created in our country. The sensitisation and public education programmes that have been undertaken by the Commission and civil society over the past eighteen months have clearly improved awareness about the nature and activities of the Commission.

In assessing the importance of the Commission, regard should be given to the right of the people to know the circumstances relating to the events that caused them so much suffering. The most important accomplishment of this Commission, it is hoped, will be the reconciling of our population and ensuring that Sierra Leone shall never again experience the evils of the past 11 years.

We must not forget, however, that the work of this Commission is more than just finding out and hearing the story told, truthfully, of what happened during the civil war. The most important purpose of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is its therapeutic contribution to the entire peace process and to the search for lasting national reconciliation.

It is difficult and expensive to repair the physical damage done during the rebel war. It is more difficult to heal the physical wounds inflicted on the thousands of victims who survived the onslaughts. Even more difficult still is the healing of the trauma and removal of the emotional scars of that unnecessary armed conflict. It is our expectation that the work of the Commission will help in a great way in healing the emotional scars of the conflict.

Mr Chairman, we have today arrived at a very important state of that healing and reconciliation process, namely, the holding of public hearings about the abuses and violation of human rights between 1991 and 1999. In the public hearings victims and perpetrators are expected to openly narrate their personal experiences - what they did, what they saw, what they endured and how they felt about it all, in what could be described as a special national barray (town meeting) of human conscience, a haven for the restoration of the dignity of all victims, especially women and children. In the same forum, observers or witnesses will also have the opportunity of interacting with both perpetrators and victims.

It would be unnatural not to expect that, in some cases it will be painful and humiliating for people to come forward and relate their experiences publicly. However, the process of healing and reconciliation demands that the Commission goes beyond the taking of individual statements in private, the gathering of information and the collection of written submissions from victims, perpetrators, observers and others, as has already been done. It also demands that individuals testify in public. In doing so they will be exercising their fundamental and inalienable human rights, including the right to freedom of expression. They will also be helping to ensure that such rights will continue to be promoted and protected throughout Sierra Leone, and that the atrocities of the rebel war will never again be encouraged, facilitated or perpetrated for any reason.

Mr Chairman, unlike other Commissions, the work of the TRC is of limited duration. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act 2000, states explicitly that the entire process should last for one year after its inauguration. As President I could, by statutory instrument, extend the term for a further six months. However, all things being equal, it may not be necessary to extend the life of the Commission, because of the level of cooperation the Commission continues to receive from the public, and the continued support of our friends in the international community. My Government, for its part, is fully committed to fulfilling its financial and other obligations.

Mr Chairman, let me on this occasion renew my determination, one that I expressed several months before it was incorporated into the Lomé Peace Agreement, to establish a more permanent institution for the promotion and protection of human rights. That will be a statutory Human Rights Commission that could serve as an appropriate successor to the TRC. The citizens of our democratic Sierra Leone are entitled to a credible, impartial and permanent institution, besides the courts of law, where their complaints of human rights violation and abuses can be heard and addressed.

At this stage, I would like to commend the Chairman, Commissioners and staff of the TRC who, in cooperation with civil society, the Government and international partners, have worked hard and with the highest integrity, to bring us at this stage of the healing and reconciliation process. I have no doubt that you will continue to meet the public's expectations of impartiality and trustworthiness.

We should all be reminded that the TRC cannot resolve each and every consequence of human rights abuses and violations committed during the rebel war. We also should not expect the TRC to heal every emotional wound of the victims of the war. However, as it has already demonstrated, the Commission will be of tremendous help in our collective effort to consolidate peace through healing and national reconciliation.

I now have great pleasure in launching the public hearing phase of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.