United Methodist bishop leads hearings in Sierra Leone
4/16/2003 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York
NOTE: Photographs are available.
By United Methodist News ServiceThe
Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission, led by a United
Methodist bishop, began public hearings April 14 in Freetown to address
the wounds of that West African country's civil war.
the 1999 Lome Peace Agreement and established by an act of parliament in
February 2000, the commission's mandate is to create an impartial
historical record of human rights violations and abuses during the
1991-99 armed conflict in Sierra Leone.
The goals of the
hearings, which continue until mid-July, are similar to that mandate,
according to United Methodist Bishop Joseph C. Humper, who serves as
During an April 9 media briefing, Humper
explained the commission hopes "to provide witnesses with an opportunity
to tell their stories either publicly or in private and help relieve
their grief through providing them a platform that validates their
experience and offers official acknowledgment of the wrongs done to
Humper added that the hearings also will "create an
opportunity for the country to be engaged in a dialogue with itself
about what went wrong and what needs to change."
listening to individual witnesses, the commission will hold three other
types of hearings. "Thematic hearings" are designed to produce a social
analysis in addressing patterns of abuse. With "event-specific
hearings," the commission will attempt to determine "whether particular
events served an especially catalytic role" in human rights abuses.
"Institutional hearings" will be used to consider whether specific civil
or state institutions warranted scrutiny for their role "in inflicting,
legitimizing or ignoring abuses."
Humper explained that closed
hearings might be used as the commission responds to the part of its
mandate requiring it to learn about the experiences of women and
children, particularly in cases of sexual violence, the testimony of a
child or when testimony may jeopardize the witness's reintegration into
The bishop said the Truth and Reconciliation
Commission "has a clear understanding of the enormity of the task that
lies ahead with regard to the public hearings." He noted the commission
had recently hosted Alex Boraine, former deputy chairperson of the South
African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, for a four-day
The commission also has reached
agreement with the United Nations Fund for Women for a three-day,
gender-based training event for members and staff.
of Sierra Leone appointed all seven of the commission's members, three
of whom are from outside the country. Besides Humper, the Sierra Leone
members are Justice Laura Marcus-Jones, vice chairperson, Professor John
Kamara and Sylvanus Torto. Other members are Professor William A.
Schabas of Canada, Santang Ajaaratou Jow of the Gambia and Yasmin Louisa
Sook of South Africa.
At the end of last year, more than 70
people were recruited and trained to take statements of witnesses from
various parts of the country. Thousands of statements already have been
collected. About 50,000 people died in the conflict, which also left
many others maimed or mutilated.
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