What is the role of children in the process of reintegration and reconciliation in Sierra Leone, after the decade-long armed conflict? What procedures must be used in the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in order to safeguard the rights of children and make sure that their account of the events is properly recorded?
A report by UNICEF, in collaboration with the National Forum of Human Rights and UNAMSIL/Human Rights contains recommendations for the TRC in dealing with children. The role of the TRC is that of producing an impartial and historical report of violations of human rights and international law during the civil war that Sierra Leone experienced from 1991 to 1999. In particular, the TRC recognises the importance of children in this process as their rights were extensively abused during the conflict.
The work of the TRC should be guided by internationally-recognised children’s rights as expressed in the Convention on the Right of the Child and the African Convention on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. It must also consider all children equally, with no differentiation between victims and perpetrators, and specifically address gender-based violence. The procedures that must guide the work of the Commission are:
Children’s protection through confidentiality and anonymity. Children will be allowed to participate only through confidential statements; formal sessions in camera; and special public sessions held in various communities with the assistance of representatives of child protection agencies.
The impossibility for people between the age of 15 and 18 of being prosecuted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone, which is a judicial institution.
Building upon ongoing processes of reintegration and reconciliation at the community level, in close collaboration with child protection agencies, and using traditional practices and ceremonies.
A preliminary background research based both on primary sources (direct information from adults and children) and secondary sources (studies and reports from child protection agencies, NGOs, the UN, the media and academics).
Protection of the physical, psychological and spiritual well being of children through the use of experienced and well trained staff who can offer psycho-social support and through the choice of friendly environments for interviews.
The aim of the report is to help prevent a similar tragedy in the future and encourage society to guarantee the protection of children’s rights. Measures that need to be taken to facilitate this are:
The establishment of a War Fund for War Victims to provide reparations. These must take place at the community level such as the rebuilding of social services, rather than at the individual level.
The wide dissemination of the report, especially among children and adolescents through simplified versions, its inclusion in school curricula, and the involvement of community and religious leaders.
The creation of a “follow-up Committee” to monitor the implementation of the report.
Periodic information by the media about the activities of the Commission. However, to protect confidentiality and anonymity, it is necessary to establish regulations, such as an accreditation system for news agencies and a Code of Conduct for the media.