From Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown

COMMENTS & OPINIONS
Celebrating the Queen’s Birthday with British Funded Human Rights Abuse?
By Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden
Apr 22, 2010, 17:20

Yesterday evening of April 21st 2010, the usual group of selected Sierra Leoneans were invited to the well kept, nicely secured Hill Station residence of the country’s British High Commissioner, the witty and charming Mr. Ian Hughes and his equally charming, highly intelligent wife. Unfortunately, I found myself unable to make it to this year’s event as, amongst other reasons, I was heavily tied up with work at the office.

Last night, I understood from those who attended that the usual nice speeches were made about the wonderful assistance that the people of this country are receiving from the Labour-led Government of Gordon Brown under the monarchy of the Queen whose birthday was being celebrated yesterday.

Sierra Leone, because of the lack of visionary leaders we have had in the past, is still tied to the apron strings of Great Britain which is why some 50 years after our Independence, one of the main points for celebration last evening, was the fact that the Gordon Brown led British Government was going to heavily finance the launching of, and the next one year of a free health care programme for pregnant women and young children in Sierra Leone.

It is a lamentable fact that without this deeply appreciated and worthy support from the Gordon Brown led British Government, despite all our rich natural resources and some fifty years of independence from our Colonial Masters in Great Britain, Sierra Leone would never have been able to launch the free healthcare for our pregnant women and young children next week.

Indeed, Sierra Leone should be grateful to Great Britain but we should also bear in mind that we are no longer a British Colony but a fully independent Republican state that should safeguard the rights of all Sierra Leonean citizens and guarantee them the same internationally recognised human rights being enjoyed by British Citizens.

This brings me to the crux of my point today. It is very sad that we are allowing British money to finance some disturbing human rights violations that are being carried out in this country. Certain persons are using British Government money to finance gross and flagrant abuse of our citizens’ rights; abuse that would create a hullabaloo anywhere else in the civilised world – especially in Britain!

Less than a month ago, there was serious uproar in Britain when for the first time in hundreds of years, suspected armed robbers were tried not by a jury of their peers but by a Judge alone. The four men were found guilty of armed robbery of almost two million pounds sterling and sentenced accordingly. However and rightfully so, British Bar Associations and Human Rights activists raised a lot of umbrage claiming the trial had taken their country back to the Dark Ages of draconian Kings who had ruled Britain hundreds of years ago.

Paul Mendelle QC, Chairman of Britain’s Criminal Bar Association did not mince his words when he scolded that trial by a jury of one’s peers was a fundamental right with origins going back 800 years.

"It represents the value that society places on the judgment of peers when citizens are accused of serious crime. Some values in a democratic society are beyond price. We would not countenance a restriction of the right to vote because elections were too costly, nor should we remove the right to jury trial... I am concerned that this is just the start of a process and that the government will bit by bit be trying to chip away at this bulwark of our freedom," Mendelle said in a statement issued just a few days ago in London.

Well, it will be interesting to know what Mendelle’s reaction will be to the fact that the tax he pays to the British Government is being used to finance similar reprehensible judicial aberrations in Sierra Leone through DfID funding of both the Anti Corruption Commission and Judges who sit alone over corruption trials without allowing a jury of the accused person’s peers to deliberate on the proceedings.

When Magistrate Adrian Fisher first raised dust over this issue last year, some of us did not really understand the significance of what he was lamenting about. For me, the events of past Monday April 19th, inside Hon. Justice Browne-Marke’s Courtroom, have been a serious eye-opener about the real dangers of Trial-By-Judge-Alone! I almost made a decision to pack my bags and abandon this land that I love so much when Hon. Justice Browne-Marke gave that "leave on file" ruling! An interesting ruling which I must say Jonathan Leigh of the Independent Observer newspaper has very adequately dealt with.

I wonder what British taxpayers like Mendelle will say if they ever learn that their hard-earned tax is being used to finance a ceaseless series of Trials By Judge alone in this country?

I wonder what British taxpayers will say if they ever were to learn that their hard-earned tax is being used to browbeat and detain civil servants in police cells for four days without access to legal counsel?

I wonder what British taxpayers will say if they ever learn that their hard-earned tax is being used to finance police officers conducting armed early morning raids on a citizen’s residence merely to invite her husband and children to a British-funded investigation?

I do not have to wonder what British taxpayers will say when they learn how their hard-earned tax is being used to finance free healthcare for pregnant women and young children in this country. British taxpayers will be extremely proud to know they are helping to save lives in the same way their soldiers helped to save this country with the launch of Operation Barras against the Westside Boys back during the civil war years.

Sierra Leoneans have every reason to be grateful for the free healthcare but as we celebrate the Queen’s Birthday, it is time to pause and ask ourselves if we are not being short-changed with the way DfID funds are used to fund some of the Nazi-like Gestapo and Guantanamo Bay tactics of our Anti Corruption Commission and the subsequent Trials-By-Judge-Alone being undertaken by DfID-paid Judges in our Judiciary. A Judiciary where some of its members lamentably see nothing wrong in upholding flagrant breaches of constitutional guarantees of Sierra Leoneans as long as such constitutional breaches is undertaken by agencies or persons funded by the British Government.

Under the current Labour leadership of Gordon Brown, lamentably, most lamentably, British Money is undisputedly funding some serious human rights abuse and judicial illegalities in this beautiful country called Sierra Leone. This, I submit, should be the real food for thought on the Queen’s Birthday! Thanks for reading this far and Good Day.



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