Searching for Answers: Sierra Leone’s Truth & Reconciliation Commission

by Beth K. Dougherty

Abstract

This article examines the creation and operation of the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission and offers an assessment of its work to date. Despite the brutal atrocities committed during the decade-long conflict, the 1999 Lome Peace Agreement granted a full amnesty to all sides. The TRC was established as an accountability mechanism, and tasked with investigating and reporting on the causes, context and conduct of the war and with offering both victims and perpetrators a public forum in which to relate their experiences. During a multi-phase process in 2002-2003, the TRC collected over 9,000 statements and conducted reconciliation activities. However, the TRC lacked adequate funding and suffered from serious mismanagement and staff recruitment problems. Its relationship with the contemporaneous Special Court for Sierra Leone ran into difficulties at the end of 2003 that bruised both institutions. The TRC successfully gained the participation of major stakeholder groups — women and girls, children, amputees and ex-combatants — but its larger impact on society remains to be seen. The TRC’s contribution to peace and reconciliation in Sierra Leone rests on its final report, which is months overdue.

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Beth K. Dougherty is the Manger Professor of International Relations at Beloit College (WI). She teaches courses on Middle Eastern and African politics, human rights, nationalism, and international law and organizations. In 2003 she was a Fulbright scholar at the Danish Institute for Human Rights researching transitional justice issues in Sierra Leone and Iraq. She has received both campus and national awards for innovative teaching in political science and has published several articles on pedagogy.