Rhetoric, ritual and reality: understanding the relationship between ex-combatants and the TRC in Sierra Leone
van den Berg Bhagwandas, Sayra Adinda
This thesis explores the relationship between ex-combatants and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in Sierra Leone. It fills important empirical and conceptual lacunae in foregrounding the transitional justice experiences of ex-combatants, a population that is both necessary to, but neglected within, the broader study and practice of transitional justice. Using qualitative research methods, it develops a multi-level and nuanced understanding of the relationship between ex-combatants and the TRC. On the institutional level this thesis critically examines the rhetoric, ritual and reality of transitional justice, and of post-conflict truth commissions in particular. On the micro-level, it unearths ex-combatant expectations, experiences and impacts in relation to Sierra Leone’s TRC. Along its institutional axis, a critique of the rhetoric of transitional justice addresses the normative foundations of this discourse. The dimension of ritual addresses the question of whose justice was formally captured within the TRC in Sierra Leone. The problematic binary identity model of transitional justice, that simplifies, dichotomises and pits pure victims against evil perpetrators is exposed. The reality of transitional justice empirically explores the practice of justice-seeking on the ground. This highlights the translation of the normative production, and institutional practices of, privilege, onto local transitional justice participant populations, and the deleterious effects thereof. Along its micro-level axis, this thesis develops an in-depth localised understanding of the relationship between ex-combatants and the TRC in Sierra Leone. This thesis illuminates ex-combatant expectations held towards the TRC, and in so doing reveals their justice needs. It assesses their experiences of the TRC, and in particular analyses participation deterrents. A localised framework for evaluating TRC impact is used to analyse the effects of the TRC on this population. The complex lived experiences of war, among ex-combatants, do not conform to the neat binary identity framework provided by transitional justice. Their relegation to the fringes of this discourse and practice has significant effects on the overall contributions and effectiveness of transitional justice moreover, which must break these binaries if the truth-telling, reconciliation and prevention aims of truth commissions are to be meaningfully achieved.