Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

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Truth and Reconciliation Commissions

Truth Commission: Sierra Leone

United States Institut of Peace
United States Institut of Peace
October 5, 2004

Truth Commission: Truth and Reconciliation CommissionDuration: 2002 – 2004Charter: The Truth and Reconciliation Act 2000Commissioners: 7Report: Public report


Truth Commission: Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Dates of Operation: November 2002 - October 2004 (2 years)

Background: In 1990, President Joseph Saidu Momoh amended the constitution of Sierra Leone to allow multiple political parties to participate in elections, but the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), led by Foday Sankoh, vehemently opposed multiparty politics and fought for control of the government -- and control of the country’s diamond industry. The brutal war between the government and the RUF was predominantly fought in the east part of the country, but the conflict put tremendous stress on the entire political and social system. The RUF was known for its terror tactic of physical mutilations, rape, and the recruitment of child soldiers. By March 1996 civilian rule was reinstated and Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was elected. Kabbah negotiated a ceasefire in November but was ousted by the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), and later returned as president in March 1998. After the AFRC attempted to overturn the government again, the United Nations stepped in to restore order.

Article XXVI of the peace agreement between the government of Sierra Leone and the rebel Revolutionary United Front called for the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission within ninety days after the signing of the agreement on July 7, 1999. The commission was later enacted in 2000 by the president and parliament of Sierra Leone.

Charter: The Truth and Reconciliation Act 2000 (PDF-192KB), February 10, 2000

Mandate: The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was to produce a report on human rights violations beginning in 1991, provide a forum for both victims and perpetrators, and recommend policies to facilitate reconciliation and prevent future violations. The TRC act provided one year for the commission to produce its report and recommendations, with the possibility of an extension.

Commissioners and Structure: The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was comprised of seven commissioners: four men and three women, of whom four were Sierra Leonians and three were internationals. It was chaired by Bishop Dr. Joseph Humper.

Report: The final report of the commission was given to the President of Sierra Leone on October 5, 2004 and presented to the United Nations Security Council October 27, 2004. Howard Varney, Chief Investigator for the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission Produced an overview, findings, and recommendations on November 12, 2005. The final report is over 5,000 pages long and includes the names of responsible persons. Versions for secondary schools and children were also published.



  • The commission found that the central cause of the war in Sierra Leone was corruption and an overwhelming control of the executive. Colonialism and the subversion of traditional systems also had an effect.
  • While the majority of victims were adult males, perpetrators also singled out women and children.
  • Forced displacements, abductions, arbitrary detentions and killings, plundering, and looting were the most common violations.
  • The leadership of the RUF, the AFRC, the Sierra Leone Army (SLA) and the Civil Defense Force (CDF) were responsible for human rights violations against civilians. The leaders of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) and the RUF, Charles Taylor and Foday Sankoh, played pivotal roles in the conflict. The RUF was responsible for the highest count of human rights violations in the conflict, followed by the AFRC, the SLA, and the CDF.
  • Successive governments abused the death penalty and misused emergency powers against dissidents.


  • The commission’s recommendations were legally binding.
  • The commission’s main recommendations concerned the fight against corruption, the creation of a new Bill of Rights developed in a participatory constitutional process, the independence of the judiciary, strengthening the role of Parliament, stricter control over the security forces, decentralization and enhanced economic autonomy for the provinces as well as the government’s commitment to deliver basic public services and the inclusion of youth and women in political decision-making.
  • The commission recommended the establishment of a reparations program and an implementing agency, as it was already suggested in the Lomé Agreement.

Subsequent Developments:


  • In November 2007, the United Nations and Sierra Leone's Human Rights Commission urged the government to produce a completion strategy for the implementation of the TRC's recommendations without any further delay.
  • In August 2004, the parliament enacted the National Human Rights Commission Act (PDF-44KB); following the recommendation in both the 1999 Lomé agreement and the TRC’s final report. It has de facto taken on the role as the Follow-up Committee.


  • The TRC co-existed with the Special Court for Sierra Leone, which had a responsibility to try “those with the greatest responsibility” for international crimes during the conflict.


  • The National Commission for Social Action (NaCSA) was designated by the government to implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Beginning in August 2008, the government of Sierra Leone and the United Nations implemented a one-year project aimed at building the institutional capacity to implement the TRC recommendations related to reparations. This project received $3 million USD from the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund. A total of 29,733 victims have been registered. As of early 2010, amputees, war wounded and victims of sexual violence received a $100 USD interim payment. The NaCSA has partly started to implement other reparative measures such as educational support and health care, and the government in 2009 launched the Victims’ Trust Fund provided for in the Lomé Peace Agreement of 1999 and the TRC Act of 2000.

Special Notes: The Act establishing the commission required the Government to establish a committee or other body including representatives of the Moral Guarantors of the Lomé Peace Agreement to monitor and facilitate the implementation of the recommendations.


Center for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation. "Justice in Perspective - Truth and Justice Commission, Africa -Sierra Leone." Available at http://www.justiceinperspective.org.za/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=30&Itemid=19 (accessed June 12, 2008).

Hayner, Priscilla B., Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, and International Center for Transitional Justice. Negotiating Peace in Sierra Leone Confronting the Justice Challenge. Geneva: Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue; International Center for Transitional Justice, 2007. Available at http://www.hdcentre.org/files/Sierra%20Leone%20Report.pdf (accessed August 28, 2008).

Hayner, Priscilla B. Unspeakable Truths: Facing the Challenge of Truth Commissions. New York: Routledge, 2002.

Kelsall, Tim. "Truth, Lies, Ritual: Preliminary Reflections on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Sierra Leone." Human Rights Quarterly 27, (2005): 361-391.

Post-conflict Reintegration Initiative for Development and Empowerment (PRIDE). Ex-Combatant Views of Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Special Court in Sierra Leone. Freetown: PRIDE in partnership with the International Center for Transitional Justice, 2002. Available at http://www.


 (accessed October 26, 2011).

Schabas, William A. "Conjoined Twins of Transitional Justice? The Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Special Court." Journal of International Criminal Justice 2, no. 4 (2004): 1082-1099.

Shaw, Rosalind and United States Institute of Peace. Rethinking Truth and Reconciliation Commissions Lessons from Sierra Leone. Washington, DC: U.S. Institute of Peace, 2005. Available at http://www.usip.org/resources/rethinking-truth-and-reconciliation-commissions-lessons-sierra-leone (accessed July 3, 2008).

Sierra Leone Web. "A Statement by His Excellency the President Alhaji Dr. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah made before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission made on August 5, 2003." Available at http://www.sierra-leone.org/Speeches/kabbah-080503.html (accessed February 9, 2011).

Suma, Mohamad, Correa, Cristián and International Center for Transitional Justice. "Report and Proposals for the Implementation of  Reparations in Sierra Leone," December 2009. Available at http://ictj.org/publication/report-and-proposals-implementation-reparations-sierra-leone (accessed May 12, 2011).

United Nations and GA/10287 ECOSOC/6140  SC/8227. Final Report on Ten-Year Sierra Leone Conflict Published; Seeks to Set Out Historical Record, Offer Guidance for Future: Presidents of Top UN Bodies at ‘Launching’ of 1,500-Page Statement of Country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission: Press Release October 27, 2004. Meeting to Mark Publication of Report of Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission 2004. Available at http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2004/ecosoc6140.doc.htm (accessed July 3, 2008).

United Nations Peacebuilding Fund. "Sierra Leone Peacebuilding Fund Approved Projects and Progress Updates." Available at http://www.unpbf.org/sierraleone/sierraleone-projects.shtml (accessed January 20, 2010).

Varney, Howard. Email from Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission Chief Investigator, 2004.

Witness to Truth: A Video Report and Recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Sierra Leone, Edited by WITNESS.