In May 2004, The Advocates for Human Rights sent a delegation to Sierra Leone to monitor the transitional justice process in that West African country. In addition to documenting the human rights abuses committed during the conflict, the team examined Sierra Leone’s two primary transitional justice mechanisms, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL).
Sierra Leone has emerged from more than ten years of a brutal civil war that received international attention for atrocities such as amputations, forced recruitment of child soldiers, and widespread sexual violence. An estimated 75,000 persons were killed, while as many as 2 million were displaced. All sides of the conflict, including the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) and the Civilian Defense Forces (CDF), were responsible for committing human rights abuses. The conflict in Sierra Leone was also characterized by cross-border involvement from Liberia, as well as the struggle for control of diamonds and other economic resources.
In 1999, the government of Sierra Leone and the RUF signed a peace agreement in Lomé, Togo. The Lome Peace Agreement included an amnesty for all parties to the war and an agreement to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The Sierra Leone Parliament passed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act in 2000 to create the TRC, which was mandated to develop an impartial historical record of the conflict, address impunity, respond to the needs of the victims, promote healing and reconciliation, and prevent the reoccurrence of violence. The TRC finished its work in the spring of 2004 and is expected to release its report and recommendations at the end of June 2004.
In August 2000, in response to a request from Sierra Leone President Kabbah, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1315 mandating the creation of the Special Court for Sierra Leone to prosecute "those persons who bear the greatest responsibility for the commission of violations of international humanitarian law" perpetrated between November 30, 1996 and 1999. On January 16, 2002, after over a year of negotiations, the U.N. and the government of Sierra Leone signed an agreement that created the legal framework for the SCSL, an independent court using both international and Sierra Leonean law, judges, and prosecutors. Trials began on 3 June 2004 and have concluded in the AFRC and CDF cases. A decision of the Trial Chamber in the RUF case is expected in late 2008. Former Liberian President Charles Taylor is being tried by a special chamber of the SCSL in The Hague.
The Advocates' team spent two weeks conducting on-site investigations and more than forty fact-finding interviews in the capital city of Freetown and in the Bo, Kono and Kenema Districts. The team interviewed representatives of the U.N. Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), TRC Commissioners and staff, government officials, victims, witnesses, media, police, lawyers, civil society organizations, a Member of Parliament, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone. The team also met with staff in all of the organs of the Special Court for Sierra Leone (Office of the Prosecutor, Office of Defence, Registry, Chambers), as well as individuals working in witness support, outreach, and the Press and Public Affairs office. In addition, they inspected the SCSL's detention facility and visited two amputee camps, a refugee camp and a torture treatment center. Pictures of The Advocates' mission are available on the Sierra Leone Photo Gallery section of this website.
The Advocates for Human Rights presented a written statement on the transitional justice process in Sierra Leone at the 2004 and 2005 meetings of the United Nations Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights; The Advocates also presented oral statements on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission processes in both Sierra Leone and Peru.
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