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Case Studies


Historical Background

Case Studies - Sierra Leone - Timeline

Case Studies - Sierra Leone - Timeline

From 1991–2002, Sierra Leone experienced an internal armed conflict between the government and insurgent factions. The main rebel force, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), led by Foday Sankoh, signed a peace agreement in 1999 with the government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. The Lomé Peace Agreement granted blanket amnesty to all combatants and called for the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission.

The government of Sierra Leone formally and publicly pledged its support for the process of reconciliation. The Sierra Leone Human Rights Committee, a consortium of local and international organizations committed to the protection and promotion of human rights, created a mechanism for tracking the implementation of human rights provisions in the Lomé Peace Agreement

A Truth and Reconciliation Working Group was created to ensure the representation of civil society in the truth-seeking process.

In February 2000, legislation was passed establishing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to receive testimony from all perspectives: combatants and noncombatants, victims and perpetrators. The commission was given a 90-day window for establishment and 12-month window to issue its final report.

The power-sharing mechanism of the Lomé Peace Agreement collapsed in May 2000. Sierra Leone suffered a serious outbreak of violence, which ended when an international armed intervention arrested Sankoh and other RUF members.

In 2002, in addition to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the government and the international community established the hybrid Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) to prosecute those most responsible for committing serious violations.


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The Truth Commission:

Sierra Leone’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission

The Lomé Peace Agreement and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Mandate



















The Lomé Peace Agreement articulated a broad range of objectives for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission:

  • Addressing impunity
  • Establishing the truth
  • Allowing victims and perpetrators to tell their stories

However, the Lomé Peace Agreement did not:

  • give specific instructions on how these ends might be achieved or prioritized
  • create a separate mechanism to ensure the effective development, resourcing, or functioning of the TRC

The subsequent Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act clarified the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s mandate by calling for the creation of an “impartial historical record.” In an attached memorandum, Parliament established this historical record as the principal function of the commission.

Commissioners in Sierra Leone devoted considerable time to interpreting the generic language of their mandate, a summary of which can be found in their final report with specific reference to the texts of the Lomé Peace Agreement and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act.

From these interpretations, the commissioners:

1. expanded the temporal scope of their inquiry beyond the official dates of the conflict

2. inquired into violations of economic, social, cultural, civil, and political rights as well as rights to development and peace

Witness To Truth: A Video Report On The Sierra Leone Truth And Reconciliation Commission
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Selection of Commissioners


Selection Process for Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Sierra Leone

Selection Process for Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Sierra Leone

Four national commissioners and three international commissioners oversaw Sierra Leone’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The national commissioners were selected by international and national stakeholders, while international commissioners were recommended to the Sierra Leonean president by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Lomé Peace Agreement

Membership of the Commission shall be drawn from a cross section of Sierra Leonean society with the participation and some technical support of the international community.

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Truth and Reconciliation Commission vs. Special Court for Sierra Leone

Voices of Dignity
Care must be taken to ensure that the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission will operate in a complementary and mutually supportive manner, fully respectful of their distinct but related functions.Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations, Letter dated January 12, 2001, to the President of the Security Council (S/2001/40).

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established in 2002 to investigate the causes, nature, and extent of the violence that had occurred during the civil war.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone, established at the same time as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, was intended to punish individual perpetrators, namely those who bear the “greatest responsibility,” including the planners and instigators of the worst violence.

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Truth and Reconciliation Commission vs. Special Court for Sierra Leone



Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Special Court for Sierra Leone

How It Was Created

Agreed to in the Lomé Peace Accord (1999), established under Sierra Leonean law by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act in February 2000

Special Court Agreement (Ratification) Act (2002)


Investigate the causes, nature, and extent of the violence that occurred during the civil war

Punish individual perpetrators, namely those who bear the “greatest responsibility”


Analysis of the patterns of violence and a more complete record of the conflict

10 persons were brought to trial (9 were convicted, 1 died during trial proceedings)

Work with Victims

Main forum for victims and others to describe their experiences

Limited number of victims take part in proceedings

Economic Recommendations

Broad recommendations on reparations, either drawn from or regarding the Special Fund for War Victims provided for in the Lomé Peace Agreement

Power to order the return of property, proceeds, or assets acquired unlawfully or by criminal conduct to their rightful owner or to the State of Sierra Leone

Legal Reform

Promotion of individual accountability

Making positive recommenda-tions for legal, political, and administrative reforms, thereby diminishing the likelihood of a repetition of abuses


Less than $5 million

$25 million annually



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Final Report and Recommendations

National Vision Project, Sierra Leone TRC

On October 5, 2004, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission submitted its final report to President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and UN representatives in New York.

The report provides an extensive record of human rights violations that occurred in Sierra Leone between 1991 and 2002 and offers insights into the root causes of the conflict. It also makes specific recommendations on how Sierra Leone could move forward.

Ultimately, the report was deemed a credible offering to the people of Sierra Leone. By any measure, their Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a testament to intensive work carried out over a two-year period under difficult circumstances, with scarce resources, while handling extremely sensitive information.

A particularly innovative recommendation was the project “National Vision for Sierra Leone,” which allowed ordinary citizens to participate in policy recommendations in light of their own experiences.

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Relapse into conflict

A violation of the ceasefire agreement in May 2000 significantly destabilized Sierra Leonean society and put the continued development of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in jeopardy. In this uncertain environment, the continued commitment of international agencies, particularly programs of the United Nations, proved critical to maintaining momentum of the truth-seeking process.

Funding Constraints

Even with significant international intervention, the Lomé Peace Agreement did not offer a real financial commitment to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission by establishing institutional or funding mechanisms. A lack of clarity about how the commission would be funded, dating back to the initial peace talks, further obstructed the commission’s access to adequate resources.

The commission ultimately received about a fifth of the amount of funds allocated to the Special Court of Sierra Leone, which carried out criminal prosecutions of human rights abuses.

The lack of adequate and consistent funding impaired the commission’s operations at every level:

  • Reliance on civil society to conduct sensitization programs
  • Fund disbursements were delayed, making planning difficult
  • Logistical constraints, like inadequate supply of technology and transport
  • Staff was reduced and units of the commission were merged to save costs


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Management and Staffing Issues

Internal mismanagement and staff recruitment problems contributed to difficulties, which, in turn, eroded confidence among potential donors, further exacerbating the already-difficult funding environment. For example, when recruiting six national consultants early on in the commission’s tenure, there were no guidelines or minimum standards of qualification for recruitment, no job advertisements for the position, and no established interview board. As a result, a third of those hired were considered unqualified for their positions or redundant, according to UNDP.

Selection of Commissioners

The selection process was scandalized by allegations of government manipulation. Reports arose that the government had added extra names to the list of national commissioner prospects without consulting the selection commission and that the national commissioners all had strong ties to the president’s Sierra Leone People’s Party.

Despite potential ties to the president’s party, the commissioners nevertheless accepted adverse findings against the party and the president himself. The international commissioners also did not voice any dissent or concern regarding the impartiality of their nationally based colleagues. The international community has generally conceded that commissioners in Sierra Leone’s commission acted independently of bias.


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Recommendations Carried Out

Based on the recommendations of the TRC, reparations have been delivered, with limitations, to victims of human rights abuses in Sierra Leone. Parliament has passed into law some of the legislation recommended by the TRC, including some designed to fight corruption.

Overcoming Staff Issues and Public Concerns over Commissioner Appointments

The commission was able to overcome the mismanagement and staffing issues experienced early in the process. Despite concerns over the suitability of the commissioners selected, they were able to make independent decisions, including accepting adverse findings against the president and his political party. The solid evidence developed by commission investigators and the fact that the three international commissioners would have made such findings public in a dissenting report (had the local commissioners refused to incorporate them)s were factors that encouraged an independent stance.


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Lesssons Learned


International Political Will and Funding

Strong and consistent political will on the part of the international community are essential for:

  • Securing victims’ rights
  • Providing technical support and viable funding
  • Providing legitimacy and a valid forum to the final products of a commission

Additionally, since the end of the conflict in Sierra Leone, the United Nations and the international donor community have done much to improve the coordination and funding mechanisms necessary to ensure more effective budgeting and fund management in post-conflict situations. (The Peacebuilding Fund and Multi-Partner Trust Funds are two such examples.).

Strong Commissioners Are Important

It is notable that an imperfect mandate provided commissioners with the space to exercise their judgment and find a common vision.


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Lesssons Learned


Funding Should be Considered in Advance

The challenges faced by the TRC concerning funding and support mechanisms are cause for consideration. There is a chance that had these been provided for in the peace agreement or Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act some of the obstacles faced by the commission might have been forestalled or prevented.

Importance of Official Legislation If Peace Negotiations Dissolve

Sierra Leone is an important example of expedited passage of official legislation proving crucial to achieving its outcomes. Considering how quickly the peace process deteriorated, the existence of legislation when the ceasefire collapsed was a fortunate boon that prevented reluctant parties from reneging on their commitments to the TRC.