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The establishment of truth and reconciliation commissions is widespread in countries emerging from violent conflicts. Peacebuilding practitioners endorsing the philosophy of this institution believe, the implementation of truth commission, and more so its truth-telling component amongst others is crucial for individual psychological healing. In spite of the criticisms and controversy surrounding the impact of truth-telling on psychological healing, it would appear that this mechanism is inexorably applied in all TRC processes, without proper regard for the context. Hence, using Sierra Leone as a case study, this treatise will examine the veracity of claims that the truth and reconciliation process - particularly, truth-telling - will manifestly resulted in the psychological healing of Sierra Leoneans former child soldiers of Sierra Leone.
The implementation of truth commissions in the aftermath of violent conflicts appears to be the proposed panacea for lasting peace. Recently, truth commissions have been frequently endorsed in post-war societies, to name a few: South Africa, Uganda, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone. Consequently, nation-building and reconciliation are words commonly discussed within peacebuilding institutions and post-conflict societies. Advocates of this mechanism believe that it is within the implementation of truth commissions that the power through which a society once fragmented by violence will psychologically heal and reconcile (Herman, 1997; and Mobekk, 2005). Accordingly, these proponents argue, the process greatly diminishes a country's propensity to relapse into war. Furthermore, some academics, civil society organizations and peacebuilding practitioners (Lamin, 2003; Schabas, 2003; Dougherty, 2004; Gberie, 2003; Goldstone, 1995, Gutlove & Thompson, 2004, and Chapman and Merwe, 2008) believe that the implementation of truth commissions following violent conflict is the best mechanism for reconciling victims and perpetrators cohabitating in a post-conflict society. This assertion is embedded in the philosophy that the implementation of truth commissions following violent conflict is crucial, as the achievement of the process will not only aid a country in "establishing an authoritative record of the past in order to overcome communal and official denial of the atrocity, violent, or abuses and get official and public acknowledgment, but at the same time will:
restore dignity to victims and promote psychological healing; end violence and human rights abuses and prevent them in the future;
create a "collective memory" or common history for a new future not determined by the past;
forge the basis for a democratic political order that respects and protects human rights;
identify the architects of the past violence and exclude, shame, and diminish the perpetrators for their offenses;
legitimate and promote the stability of the new regime;
promote reconciliation across social divisions;
educate the population about the past; and
recommend ways to deter future violation and atrocities
(Hayner, 2002; Lamin, 2003, Schabas, 2003, Dougherty, 2004; Gibson, 2004, Chapman and Van der Merwe, 2008; and Merwe et al, 2009).
It is in this belief, that truth-telling promotes psychological healing and, consequently, facilitates reconciliation which leads to lasting peace, that in the aftermath of the 1991-1999 civil war, the government of Sierra Leone with the support of international institutions such as the United Nations (UN) and the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR) -established in July 2002 by an act of parliament, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The ultimate goal of the TRC was to reconcile the population (Graybill and Lanegran, 2004; and SLTRC report, 2004, vol.1). Though the implementation of truth commissions may facilitate some of the aforementioned peace-promoting effects, the claims that the truth-telling component effectively results in psychological healing, is questioned. This is in view of the evidence put forward by both scholars and peacebuilding practitioners, that the assertion of psychological healing from truth-telling comprises mere assumptions which lack theoretical conviction. In spite of the criticisms and controversy surrounding the impact of truth-telling on psychological healing, it would appear that this mechanism is inexorably applied in all TRC processes, without proper regard for the context. Thus, it is the central argument of this treatise that, this process should not be generally applied in all post-conflict scenarios. Hence, using Sierra Leone as a case study, this treatise will examine the veracity of claims that the truth and reconciliation process - particularly, truth-telling - manifestly resulted in the psychological healing of Sierra Leoneans. That is, given the culture and particular context of the country, the study will assess what impact, if any, the process may have had on the child soldiers of Sierra Leone who were essentially both the perpetrators as well as the victims of the violence.
Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Mandate and Assessment of probable Impact of the Process
What does it mean for a nation to come to terms with its past? Do nations have psyches the way individuals do? Can a nation's past make a people ill as we know repressed memories sometimes make individuals ill? Conversely, can a nation or contending parts of it be reconciled to its past as individuals can, by replacing myth with fact and lies with truth? (Ignatieff, 1998, p. 168).
The establishment of truth and reconciliation commissions is widespread in countries emerging from violent conflicts. This is in view of evidence that, this mechanism is an important component towards the trajectory of transitional justice. That is, states and societies must address past crimes and transgression in order to achieve lasting peace. To this end, Sierra Leone was no exception. More so, it is assumed that through the process of truth commissions, the outcome of the truth-telling component manifestly leads to the psychological healing of victims of wartime abuse and "that public and official acknowledgment to victims usually is the first step in their healing process" (Goldstone, 1995, p. 489). Consequently, the Lomé Peace Agreement of 1999, negotiated between the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) - the principal opposition to the government of Sierra Leone - and the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) provided for the establishment of the TRC under Act 2000. Accordingly, the TRC was tasked with:
"Creating an impartial historical record of violation and abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law related to the armed conflict in Sierra Leone, from the beginning of the conflict in 1991 to the signing of the Lomé Peace Agreement; to address impunity, to respond to the needs of victims, to promote healing and reconciliation and to prevent a repetition of the violations and abuses suffered. (TRC Act, article 6, p. 1)
One of the principal claims advanced by advocates of truth commissions is that truth-telling "gives a voice to the voiceless, to the people who for years have been persecuted, but have never been recognised for the trauma and pain they suffered" (Mobekk, 2005, p. 267). More so, advocates emphasize that the process of truth-telling is cathartic for individuals and society after a violent conflict in which grave human rights abuses have been committed, as the truth must be told in order for victims and survivors to reconcile through psychological healing (Hayner, 2002; Lamin, 2003, Schabas, 2003, Dougherty, 2004; and Gibson, 2004). In her book, Trauma and Recovery Herman (1997) discussed three stages that victims experience, namely: safety, acknowledgment and reconnection as they heal from trauma. Thus, by exposing and acknowledging past crimes victims are likely to show signs of decreased loneliness, a sense of inner peace, a decrease in isolation, anger and bitterness, and decrease in feeling animosity and hatred toward others. (Herman, 1997; and Thompson, 2004). As a result, the appearance of these signs is presumed to be the restoration and dignity of victims.
Though there is evidence within clinical psychology that supports the notion that "storytelling is an important aspect of acknowledgment. When survivors tell their story of trauma, it can transform the traumatic memory [in a way] that survivor can...integrate the memory in to their life story" (Herman, 1997, p. 175) - the process of truth commissions however, does not allow for the expanded period of time within which such an outcome can be realized. A victim that is made to recount terrors of the past in a short amount of time, and to whom a couple of minutes of counselling is given is not adequately equipped and; should not be expected to automatically(mechanically?) forget the carnage witnessed over long periods of time. Though the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission (SLTRC) may have been effective in creating official authoritative accounts of past crimes and misdeeds; promoting public education; aiding in the restoration the rule of law; facilitating institutional reform and therefore democracy - it is not likely that the process had the impact of psychological healing. This is in view of the fact that both historical and cultural processes though tolerant, may not allow for this experience, in both the adult population as well as that of child soldiers - the culture already exercises the practice of restorative justice. Therefore this begs the question: "under what conditions and after which types of conflict should this mechanism be implemented [?]" (Mendeloff, 2004, p. 352).
Sierra Leonean Culture and Context
As a result of a colonial structure that infused a sense of superiority and privileged certain ethnic groups in (Freetown) over those of the much larger provincial territories, shortly after its independence in 1961, the people of Sierra Leone found themselves divided along political lines (Stovel, 2006; and Alie, 2008). This divide deepened as the elite representatives of opposing factions - the Sierra Leone's People Party (SLPP) and the All People's Congress (APC) - formed cleavages and maintained ethnic loyalty through the practice of corruption and plundering of state assets. The country quickly disintegrated as the APC ruling party escalated the stated practices and intensified the practice of nepotism thus diminishing the capacity of Sierra Leoneans to form a nation principally centered on national cohesion and identity (Pham, 2006; Alie, 2008; and SLTRC report, 2004). It is important to note however, that this divide did not translate into ethnic or religious intolerance as the civil war never took on such dimensions (Stovel, 2006, and Alie, 2008).
The level of ethnic tolerance displayed by Sierra Leoneans is attributed to two distinct factors. That is - on one hand, the culture models the practices of religious cosmopolitanism which greatly contributes to peace and on the other hand, truth-telling forms an integral part of the justice system within the indigenous societies under whose jurisdiction 80% of the population happens to fall (Stovel, p. 4, and Alie, p. 133). It is the practice within the Sierra Leonean culture that all crimes must be met with punishment; however the form of justice enforced greatly depends on the severity of the crime. Furthermore, there is a belief within the culture that justice is served when there is "an acknowledgment by the wrongdoers of their crimes and actions...an apology to the person who has been injured, and a genuine expression of remorse" (Alie, p. 136). Restoration through reconciliation is at the core of the Sierra Leonean culture (Stovel, 2006; and Alie, 2008). Given the context, many believe that the establishment of a TRC in Sierra Leone, that involved a truth-telling component was not necessary (Alie, 2008; and Stovel, 2006). The characteristic that forms this culture is principally centered on truth-telling, and as a result one would expect following the civil war, through indigenous processes aimed at repairing and restoring, this mechanism would be applied. It is important to note that though the culture is centred on restoration and reconciliation, it does not however ascribe to the notion of justice that leads to psychological healing after truth-telling. That is, the culture does not dictate that the acknowledgment of wrongdoings by perpetrators and acceptance of wrongdoers by victims ultimately translates into an all out psychological healing.
How does a nation heal from truth-telling, when both the victims and perpetrators are themselves victims and witnesses of barbaric acts?
The Impact of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on child soldiers
The Involvement of Children in the Sierra Leone Civil War
On 23 March 1991, a group of armed RUF rebels led by Foday Sankoh an ex-army corporal, with the support of the then president of Liberia Charles Taylor, attacked Sierra Leone in the town of Bomaru near the eastern frontier. The RUF claimed their attack was to put an end to the governance of the APC party - who had ruled the country over three decades - under whose rule, corruption, nepotism and mismanagement of the country's natural resources and public funds led Sierra Leone to decay. However, soon after their stated intentions, it became clear that their primary target were the civilian population on whom - acts of indiscriminate amputation, abductions of women and children, recruitment of children as combatant, rape, sexual slavery, cannibalism, gratuitous killing and destruction of villages and towns were inflicted on (Lamin, 2003; Pham, 2006; Schabas, 2003; and 2005 SLTRC report, 2004). It is important to note that at the onset of the conflict, children - that is both male and female from ages 19 and under formed the majority of the population (see Appendix A). Consequently, the conflict had a severe impact on children as they were systematically violated by all warring parties. Children became the target of abduction, forced recruitment, sexual slavery, rape, amputation, mutilation, displacement and torture. Though there are no accurate figures to determine the exact number of children associated with the fighting forces, conservative estimates from both Non-governmental organizations and the TRC final report puts the number at 10,000 (SLTRC Final report, p.235). Thus, children in this respect were not only perpetrators but also victims.
According to a report submitted by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICF), to the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission, those "particularly vulnerable to the abuse were children, as they were violated in deep and lasting ways, some too awful to be adequately described...In some ways, it is as if a new level of cruelty has been attained in this war, setting the bar lower than ever imagined" (cf, SLTRC final report, p. 234). Therefore during the Lomé Peace Agreement, it was recognised and declared that children are entitled to special care - that their right to life, survival, and their development is in need of protection. Accordingly the agreement explicitly stipulated that "the Government of Sierra Leone [should] accord particular attention to the issues of child soldiers and that the special needs of children should be addressed in the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration process" (SLTRC final report, p. 235).
The Traditional role of children in Sierra Leone before the war
Sierra Leone is no exception to the limited role granted to children within African societies. At best, children sit on the fringes of decision-making. This is in view of the fact that hierarchy and authority determines how decisions are made. Thus, children are not the key decision makers within this culture. Adults most often are responsible for shaping the lives of children and it is believed that "they are acting in the best interest of the child" (SLTRC final report, p. 240). While this may be true, most often, these decisions have a negative impact on the life of a child - for example, the non education of the girl child, a common practice in the north and eastern provinces of the country. As well, children are expected to carry out domestic chores such as cleaning, fetching water, cooking and caring for younger siblings. Yet, it is important to note that these practices are commonplace within the African society and should not be misinterpreted as exploitative - for, a fundamental principle that guides this culture, is a collective role in the sense of a family and community rather than individualism. In spite of this, the country's economic decline and resulting poverty out of necessity required that many children work outside of their homes (SLTRC final report, Stovel, 2006; Alie, 2008).
In addition, it is important to note that customarily children are not allow to speak in front of their elders and chiefs and as a result ex-combatants may be at risk of being sanctioned or stigmatized for contravening this rule. Furthermore, the culture prohibits children to speak in self-defence and defying this custom often results in punishments that may include the levying of exorbitant fines. This coupled with the fact that the educational system favoured the urban population over that of the much larger provincial territories, and a cultural philosophy that endorses the education of male children over that of females intensified with the rise in dissatisfaction amongst the much younger population. Also discontent over unjust punishment made the conversion to the causes of the RUF easier for the younger generation. The education system in Sierra Lone was at an all time low when the conflict broke out. This explains why ex-combatants (child soldiers) associated with the RUF. However, most ex-combatants quickly started to disassociate themselves with this course, as the RUF indiscriminately went on a rampage, destroying schools and educational facilities all over the country (SLTRC final report p. 243).
Though some of the aforementioned factors did contribute to the collapse of the state, it is important to note that the causes of the carnage that took place in Sierra Leone are very complex. Furthermore, the dynamics that underpinned the conflict do not only remain unchanged but are visibly interwoven into the social fabric of the nation (Schabas, 2005; and Stovel, 2006). Thus, given this context, it is unlikely that the involvement of child soldiers in the TRC's truth-telling process resulted in their psychological healing.
The SLTRC process and probable impact on child solders
Whiles estimates reveal that the 1990s saw the "death of over two million children as a direct result of armed conflict, globally, over 300,000 are reported to have been active child soldiers in countries affected by conflict" (Sherret, 2005, p. 2). Limited access to and control over resources - the profitability of war, coupled with extreme poverty have been cited as reasons for the increased use of child solders (Pham, 2006; Schabas, 2005; and Sherret, 2005). The decade-long war that took place in Sierra Leone is no exception to this phenomenon as the greatest perpetrators and victims were children. As noted earlier, a definitive estimate as to the number of children who in some way or the other participated in the war cannot be calculated as there are different variables by which institutions measure victims and perpetrators. There are estimates that children (both boys and girls) associated with fighting forces number over 48,000. More conservative estimates set the number at approximately 10,000 (McKay and Mazurana, 2004). In view of the extent to which children were involved in the atrocities that took place in Sierra Leone, if victims and aggressors were to cohabitate with one and other, it is necessary that a system of reconciliation be put in place. As a result, the TRC was required within its mandate to provide special attention to the needs of children affected by the conflict. Consequently, Sierra Leone is the first post-war country to create a specific TRC process sculpted around the sensitive nature of children within armed conflict.
Given the short period of time in which the TRC process in Sierra Leone came to a close, it is difficult to predict with all certainty a definitive outcome or its impact on child soldiers. However, based on available evidence, one may speculate that though the process may have aided in reviving a spirit of reconciliation amongst Sierra Leoneans, this effect does not necessarily translate into an all out psychological healing for its child soldiers. The theoretical underpinnings in which the effects of truth-telling and its impact on psychological healing is based are not conducive to the Sierra Leonean context. Within these lines, Fletcher and Weinstein (2002) for example argue that while they are not vehemently against the implementation of truth commissions, there is reason to believe that the outcome of such processes are "likely an individual act that represent a choice made based on one's ability to forgive or forget [and that such action is not one] the state or international community can mandate" (p. 637). Thus, providing a platform for victims to officially tell their story does not ultimately lead to a victim's recovery or the reintegration of perpetrators (Stovel, 2006; and Croker, 2000). In short, healing is an individual progression that manifestes overtime, and therefore is impossible that it will take place within the limited span of time in which truth commissions operates.
In spite of this controversy, the restorative power of truth-telling has been quoted as a first step towards reconciliation (Gutlove and Thompson, 2004, Gibson, 2004). Accordingly, Johan Galtung (2001) defines reconciliation, which occurs between perpetrators and victims, "as the result of closure (an end to hostilities) combined with healing (being rehabilitated)" (p. 1). It is within this scope, that the TRC in Sierra Leone granted the participation of child soldiers in the process of truth-telling, and treated them as witnesses instead of victims and perpetrators. As a result, children's names, identities and stories remained confidential with no information shared with the Special Court of Sierra Leone. Furthermore, at hearings children were provided access to social workers specifically trained to offer emotional support. At the end of the process, a child friendly version of the final report was printed. Though these are commendable steps taken towards the reintegration of child soldiers into the society the question still begs, whether they were effective, and resulted in the psychological healing of these children.
Assessing the probable impact
The paucity of data on the psychosocial impact of truth commissions on children creates difficulty in assessing the TRC's approach on this group. Furthermore, there is a lack of theoretical and sound empirical data on the long-term effects of truth-telling processes on individuals and society as a whole (Mendeloff, 2004; and Merwe & Chapman, 2009). Thus the likely impact of the TRC on child soldiers in Sierra Leone will be made based on available information known about children's experiences of armed conflict.
Firstly, according to Bazemore (1996), "A more restorative paradigm of juvenile justice emphasizes the need for perpetrators to be accountable for harms caused, [therefore] until an offender becomes aware of the harm caused and the consequences of his or her behaviours, true rehabilitation will never occur" (p.37). Though the culture provides for this mechanism to occur, it is unclear that this principle holds in truth-telling processes. Even though, it could be said that efforts were made that would result in producing the aforementioned outcome, the production of a Child Friendly Report of the events that occurred, creates a problem with regards to its impact. The majority of former child combatants are illiterate and as a direct result of the war, make up approximately two-thirds of the population (Alie, 2008; and Stovel, 2006). Considering the circumstances, a more cultural approach would have been appropriate.
Secondly, it is believed that armed conflicts have a dominant impact on children and adolescents that is mediated through age, physical nature, and development factors. Consequently, "a child's moral intelligence will reflect his or her war-time suffering more than an adult's, the experiences having occurred early in the stages of his or her development" (Cohn, 1999, p.135). Furthermore, the identity development of a child is believed to be affected by exposure to extreme and prolonged circumstances of conflict. Therefore, the psychological damages caused to child combatants - a result of their active participation in hostilities as well as witnessing atrocities may only become apparent over a long period of time. Hence, it is evident that short-term counselling support systems established during truth-telling process in Sierra Leone for child combatants may likely not prove beneficial.
Finally, there are increasing number of studies that show former child soldiers are at a tremendous risk of developing mental health problems, including anxiety disorder, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A study recently conducted in northern Uganda by Derluyn, Broekert, Schyten, and De Temmerman (2004) "evaluated 17 former child soldiers, and found extremely high rates (97%) of post-traumatic stress reactions" (p. 861-863). Also Bayer, Klasen, and Adam (2007) conducted a similar study on 169 former child soldiers in rehabilitation centers in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) " and documented a third of their sample (34.95) met clinical system thresholds for PTSD" (p. 555-559). Though these studies may serve as a possible indicator of the psychological impact of truth-telling processes in relation to child combatants, it is important however, to note "that long-term psychosocial adjustment is influenced not only by past experiences, but also by post-conflict factors, which may vary widely" (Betancourt, Agnew-Blais, Gilman, et al., 2010, p. 18).
It is important to remember that the case of Sierra Leone presents a distinct feature, as child combatants here, are seen as both victims and perpetrators, yet, there are no distinctions made within the psychosocial literature that demonstrates the impact of armed conflict between these two groups. This absence may be reflective of the lack of knowledge on the phenomenon of child perpetrators or an indiscriminate focus on children as victim. However, as stated by Sherret (2005), "regardless of whether the perpetrators themselves or not, are victims of circumstance that allowed atrocities to be committed" (p. 12). Simply put, through the TRC's recognition of choices made available to child combatants were anything but harsh realities, steps taken to not labelled child soldiers as perpetrators, prove the most potential for allowing for long-term reintegration. As stated earlier, though the culture of Sierra Leone provides for reconciliation through repair and restore, it however, does to not ascribe to the idea "forgive and forget" logic that advocates of truth-telling subscribe to. Therefore, it should be of little surprise that studies by Humphreys and Weinstein (2004, 2007) of former child soldiers in Sierra Leone shows very low levels of community acceptance. More so, Humphreys and Weinstein (2004, 2007) studies demonstrated that "the degree of acceptance encountered in families may also vary from the broader community" (p. 542). This outcome is not as a result of lack of sensitization campaigns in the communities by the TRC - bringing communities and child soldiers together, but failure by the institution to acknowledge or understand the core principle that underpinned the culture (Stovel, 2008; Betancourt & Khan, 2008; and Alie, 2008). This explains why the day-to-day interaction of youth with others in their community reminds them that all is not forgotten. Therefore, the initial response to the return of an ex-combatant is often met with fear and distrust (Betancourt, Simmons, et al., 2008).
Possible implication for peacebuilding policy
The assumed beneficial effects of truth-telling processes are frequently questioned in current peace-building literature. Thoms, Ron, and Paris (2008) for example in a comprehensive overview of current research on the effects of transitional justice mechanisms, assert that there is "insufficient evidence to support proponents' claims that truth commissions contributes to reconciliation or psychological healing...nor is there strong evidence to support sceptics' claims that truth commissions progress toward these goals" (p.4). Likewise, Mendeloff (2009) argues that the literature on truth commissions and postconflict peace building has "surprisingly...failed, with very few exceptions, to ask" whether truth telling has salutary or harmful effects for the people involved" (p.595). As Borer (2006) writes, the importance of truth commissions "has been reiterated so often that it has achieved the status of truism" (p. 30). Therefore, Mendeloff (2004) argues that the claims made in the literature about the beneficial impact of the truth-telling mechanism on reconciliation and peace, are based on flawed assumptions and faith rather than on empirical evidence. For example, his recent article on the psychological effects of postconflict justice provides an excellent overview and analysis of the phenomenon -albeit the paucity - research in this field, on which he critically reflects that to date "there are almost no systematic studies of truth-telling's psychological impact on victims of war and atrocity and the implications for post-conflict peacebuilding" (Mendeloff, 2009, 601).
Therefore, examining the impact of the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in a country like Sierra Leone goes beyond a simplistic understanding of the effectiveness of the aforementioned mechanism as a peacebuilding tool. The acclaimed impact of psychological healing in truth-telling is a logic that necessitates not just mere assumptions, but an in-depth theoretical and empirical understanding. The causes of the carnage that took place in Sierra Leone are very complex. Furthermore, the dynamics that underpinned the conflict do not only remain unchanged but are visibly interwoven into the social fabric of the nation. Therefore any form of peacebuilding intervention aimed at bringing lasting peace to Sierra Leone should not only be limited to the resolutions found in truth commissions. Thus, it is necessary for peacebuilding practitioner to understand the context, in order to achieve that which is desirable. A more robust multi-dimensional alternative of peacebuilding strategies not excluding those already established should be implemented for an effective outcome. The truth-telling component, of TRC's it appears, was ill-suited to the context of Sierra Leone - this is in view of the fact that whiles truth-telling processes may contribute to future deterrence of abuses, promote the rule of law, create public awareness of atrocities, the aim of healing should not be one of them.
Consequently, if truth-telling is to become an effective non-contested component of the truth commission processes, a review of the process is necessary in order to ascertain its relevance and scope. The common idea that truth-telling is healing is yet to be systematically tested (Hember, 2001; and Thoms, Ron, and Paris, 2008). If there are risks involved, they must be accounted for, and adequate steps must be taken in order to mitigate these risks "so that such initiatives for peace do not contribute to a backlash and renewed violence" (Brouneeus, 2010, p. 2). Therefore, it is time the debate of truth-telling, translating into psychological healing be moved "from 'faith-based' to 'fact-based"... [and] more interdisciplinary and mixed methods' research [be conducted]... at both the societal (Macro) and individual (micro) levels" (Thoms, Ron, and Paris, 2008, p. 5-6). At present, it appears that its scope is too broad. In short, "the question of what is possible must follow the question of what is desirable" (Aukerman, 2002, p. 19 - 20).
The establishment of truth commissions following violent conflicts have become the panacea for postconflict peacebuilding. More so, truth-telling is applied in all TRC's as it is believed "remembering and telling the truth about terrible events are prerequisites for the... restoration of social order and for the healing of individual victims" (Herman, 1992, p.1). However, in "remembering and telling the truth", advocates of truth commissions fail to acknowledge the fact that this process is not a long-term therapy for the psychologically wounded victims, and that "survivors are only given a one time opportunity to tell their story, usually to a stranger whom they will likely never see again" (Hayner, 2002, p. 135). Granted that the central aim of truth commissions is to create a detailed historical record of the events that led to the conflict; the coming forward of these victims to tell their story provides an accurate account of progression of the conflict but does it achieve the alleged claim of healing - which is the central argument of this treatise.
A more reconciled society is said to be one in which people understand, accept and even appreciate differences in groups other than their own. Former child soldiers of Sierra Leone share a common experience and therefore form a group of their own. Victims, as well as perpetrators also form part of a group. However, to the extent that Sierra Leoneans respects the past of ex- child combatants and understand their predicament, the process of truth-telling should not be thought of as "a final stage of union, harmony or total lasting agreement [psychological healing], but rather as a mutually trusting relationship in which people or groups involve can deal peacefully and respectfully with the ups and downs of their relationship" (Stovel, p. 192). Using Sierra Leone as a case study, this treatise explored the controversy surrounding the impact of truth-telling on psychological healing and it aimed to prove that granting its benefits, without proper regards for context, the implementation of truth-telling processes should not be generally applied in all post-conflict scenarios.
Population of Sierra Leone in 1991 (in thousands) divided according to age category and sex.
Source: U.S Census Bureau: International Data Base. Available athttp://www.census.gov/ipc/www/idb/index.php