The Sierra Leone Web


Freetown, 5 July 2002

Over the past three years we signed joint communiques, ceasefire and peace agreements. We launched and successfully implemented a wide-ranging programme of disarmament and demobilization of ex-combatants. We witnessed the destruction of arms and ammunition, and subsequently initiated a community-based arms collection exercise. We conducted fair, violence-free and politically inclusive elections. We have also embarked on a comprehensive programme for the reintegration of ex-combatants. These are all important milestones on our long journey towards lasting peace in Sierra Leone. Today, we have arrived at yet another equally important milestone on that journey. This is the official inauguration of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

Of course the Commission will investigate and report on the causes, nature and extent of violations and abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law during the conflict. Of course it will create an impartial historical record of the atrocities perpetrated against innocent civilians during an eight-year period of the war. However, it is absolutely necessary that we look beyond those functions and see the work of the TRC as a therapeutic process.

It was a brutal war. It caused grievous physical and emotional damage for thousands of our compatriots. It also created divisions between families, and among neighbours and friends. To a large extent the conflict also fractured the body politic of the nation.

Well, the guns may have been silent or destroyed, but the trauma of the war lingers on. We have a lot of healing to do, especially since many of the perpetrators of the atrocities were also victims of widespread abuses of human rights and humanitarian law related to armed conflict. This is why the TRC is, and should also be seen, as an instrument of national reconciliation, and another means of strengthening the peace.

I would like to emphasize that the efficacy of this institution would be called into question unless its Commissioners possess and maintain the highest standard of integrity and credibility in the performance of their functions. As the Attorney-General has outlined, the seven Commissioners were meticulously identified through a rigorous process designed to ensure that the appointees are not only competent, but are also impartial and trustworthy. Let me take this occasion to say that we succeeded in getting such individuals. I am satisfied with the outcome of the selection process. I am also confident that they have the ability to do the job without fear or favour.

This is also an occasion for me to reiterate that no one, not even the President, should control, direct or seek to influence the Commission or members of its staff, in the performance of their functions. At the same time, the provision in the Truth and Reconciliation Act that members or staff members would be dismissed if found guilty of misconduct, also underscores the importance that we attach to the integrity and independence of the Commission.

Another aspect of the Commission that is also related to its status as an impartial institution, and which should also engender public trust in its activities, is the international character of the membership. It comprises Sierra Leoneans and citizens of other countries. I think this composition says a lot. It is indicative of the moral obligation of the international community to collaborate with us as far as possible, in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and international humanitarian law. I should add that these objectives are central to the appeal, including one from the UN Security Council, for assistance in facilitating the work of the Commission.

The success of the TRC will also depend on the extent of support and cooperation it receives from all Sierra Leoneans. In view of its importance, I can say that failure to support and cooperate with the Commission would be a disservice to the nation. Indeed, such a failure would diminish the healing that we so desperately need at this crucial time. It would also deprive the victims of the war of their dignity as human beings.

I would therefore like to appeal to all parties, factions and individuals, all those who are committed to lasting peace in Sierra Leone, to cooperate with the TRC. I know it will be painful or even humiliating for some people to relate their experiences as perpetrators, victims or observers of abuses during those eight years. However, I encourage them to come forward and help in this national duty.

On that note, I am honoured to formally inaugurate the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), and to express my commitment to fulfilling my responsibilities under the TRC Act, 2000 -- those pertaining to the final report and recommendations of the Commission.