Your Excellency, soon after my colleague Commissioners and I took Oath of Office in December 2006, we made a public commitment that we would produce our first State of Human Rights Report as required by the law establishing the Commission.
Almost four years have passed since then and much has occurred in the life of the HRCSL and the nation and I am happy to recall that we did live up to that promise. It is therefore with great pride and pleasure that we, members and staff of the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone stand before you, once again to present what is now our third annual State of Human Rights in Sierra Leone Report.
|Chairperson Human Right Commission Edward Sam delivering his Statement
As required by section 24 (1) of the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone Act (Act No. 9 of 2004), HRCSL has produced a report that includes:
a) the ways in which the fundamental rights and freedoms in the Constitution and in the international and regional agreements to which Sierra Leone is a party have been observed or violated
b) steps taken by HRCSL to ‘respect, protect and fulfill human rights, including results of individual complaints investigated and interventions and recommendations made by the Commission or by any of its committees in respect of matters brought before them’.
HRCSL is pleased to report that the human rights situation in Sierra Leone in 2009 was generally satisfactory. The Government of Sierra Leone can be commended for its observance of and respect for many of the fundamental rights and freedoms set out in our 1991 Constitution and in international agreements that the State of Sierra Leone has signed and ratified. However, there continued to be a number of serious human rights challenges highlighted in the Report which government should endeavour to address.
As in previous years HRCSL has made a number of recommendations that would, if implemented by Government, go a long way in remedying the human rights infringements catalogued in our Report.
Economic & Social Rights
1. With regard to economic and social rights, HRCSL commends the Government for upgrading infrastructure and services provided by a number of referral hospitals across the country and for raising the allocation to the health sector from 5% to 8% in the 2009 National Budget.
2.The establishment of the Gbamanja Commission of Inquiry into the dire state of the school education system with a view to make recommendations for its improvement, was also a welcome step. HRCSL urges Government to speedily implement the recommendations of that Commission.
3. However, endemic poverty remains the greatest barrier to Government’s fulfillment of its human rights obligations towards the wellbeing of its citizens. HRCSL renews its call to the Government of Sierra Leone and the international community to redouble its efforts and resources to tackle and overcome poverty in Sierra Leone.
Civil and Political Rights
4. The Report noted the institution of the MACP in response to the spate of armed robberies around the country but was disappointed at the low rate of prosecutions and convictions for serious crimes. Police limitations on citizens’ freedom of assembly and public protest, its failure to respect the 72 hours limit on detention without charge as well as its excessive use of force remained a concern.
5. Improvements in the juvenile justice sector were not matched in the prisons system where appalling sanitary conditions, overcrowding, court delays and inadequate financial allocations were the order of the day.
6. The Report also gives a detailed account of the difficulties encountered by Madam Elizabeth Simbiwa Torto, as she struggled unsuccessfully to access the courts to enforce her rights to contest paramount chieftaincy elections granted to her by Parliament through the Chieftaincy Act 2009. Madam Torto’s story was just one example among many cases of citizens, who were denied their rights to access justice through the courts.
HRCSL is extremely concerned at this situation, bearing in mind the substantial sums of foreign tax payers money currently being spent by international partners on our justice system.
7. The Report notes that as there has still been no authoritative interpretation by the courts in Sierra Leone of “fair hearing within a reasonable time” as contained in Section 23 (1) of the 1991 Constitution, lengthy delay persists in criminal court operations across the country.
8. The death penalty violates the right to life and the prohibition on inhuman and degrading treatment prohibited by the Constitution. Despite calls by the TRC, the Constitutional Review Committee and even HRCSL, in 2009 the death penalty remained in our laws. This unsatisfactory situation should not be allowed to continue and HRCSL calls for decisive action to be taken to commute all death sentences.
9. While commending the Government for the President’s courageous step in issuing “The Apology to Women and Girls” in March 2010, the SOHR reminds us of continuing failure by state institutions (primarily the SLP and the Courts) to provide adequate responses, remedies and protection for women and children who are victims of sexual and gender based violence.
10. The SOHR 2009 argues that pro-child initiatives taken seemed to be ad hoc, uncoordinated and superficial. A recommendation was made for an
indepth, holistic, far-reaching, result-oriented programmes to be instituted by Government, international partners and even HRCSL itself to address the very serious situation confronting most Sierra Leonean children. An important first step will be the operationalization of the commission envisaged in the Child Rights Act 2007.
11. Ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is highlighted in the Report as well as our various efforts to validate and review the Disability Rights bill. However, 2009 ended without the passage of this bill into law. Now that the bill is before Parliament, HRCSL looks forward to its speedy enactment.
12. Unemployment, lack of education and housing, discriminatory access to justice and inadequate participation/representation in decision-making processes were the major challenges confronting young people in Sierra Leone in 2009. HRCSL strongly recommends that Government prioritizes the provision of resources to operationalize the Youth Commission and ensures that it is not only regionally and gender-balanced, but also inclusive of youths from all sectors and strata of society.
The TRC Recommendations
13. As indicated in the Report, HRCSL noted that in 2009 the focus of Government’s efforts to implement the TRC recommendations centered on the Reparations Programme. NaCSA launched the long awaited Trust Fund for War Victims in December and implemented a number of activities directed at war victims. While these initiatives were welcome, HRCSL strongly believes that full implementation of all the outstanding TRC recommendations would not only consolidate the peace, but also foster sustained democracy in Sierra Leone. HRCSL recalls your Excellency’s declared commitment to implement the TRC recommendations ‘to the letter’ and therefore calls on Government to:
a. Establish the TRC Follow-Up Committee;
b. Provide the remaining 49% of its contribution to the Reparations Programme;
c. Implement the 30% quota for women in leadership;
d. Complete the Constitutional Review process in the shortest possible time; and,
e. Fulfill the remaining TRC recommendations.
HRCSL Activities and Finances
14 The SOHR 2009 acknowledges that the Government of Sierra Leone made substantial increase in its financial support to the Commission and Chapter 2 of the Report gives a detailed account of the various operational and programmatic activities undertaken by the Commission nationwide, almost entirely through funding from GoSL.
The Minister of Finance’s budget presented in December 2009 included a further substantial increase in HRCSL’s subvention for which the Commission is very grateful. HRCSL takes this opportunity to publicly acknowledge that this increased support was not accompanied by any attempt by GoSL to interfere or control the activities or pronouncement of the Commission.
The Universal Periodic Review
15. Your Excellency Sir, the Universal Periodic Review is a State driven process under the auspices of the United Nations Human Rights Council that provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situation in their countries and to fulfill their human rights obligations.
Sierra Leone comes for review at the Human Rights Council in Geneva in May 2011 and is required to deposit its State Report no later than November 2010. HRCSL stands ready to work with and support the Government of Sierra Leone and Civil Society to ensure Sierra Leone meets this deadline. As you know it has now become our tradition following our presentation to you of this Report, for your Excellency to convene a meeting of HRCSL and cabinet ministers to discuss the content of the Report and particularly its findings and recommendations. The Commission is respectfully suggesting that in light of this ongoing UPR Process, this year our follow-up meeting be expanded to include presentations and dialogue on the UPR.
16. In conclusion, let me take this opportunity once again to assure you, the government and the people of Sierra Leone that we, Commissioners and Staff of HRCSL are united and committed to work to protect and promote human rights in Sierra Leone.
I now, on behalf of Commissioners and staff, present to you Sir, our third annual State of Human Rights in Sierra Leone Report 2009 and thank you for making time to meet with us.