From Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown

FEATURES
The Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone (HRCSL).
By
Sep 8, 2010, 17:10

1.Who are we?

 

The Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone is an independent Commission which was established in 2004 by an Act of Parliament. Our mandate is the protection and promotion of human rights in Sierra Leone.

 

2.     What we do?

The Commissions responsibilities are many. They include:-

Receiving, investigating and making decisions on complaints made to it alleging that human rights have been violated.

Providing public education and public awareness about human rights

Holding public inquiries into human rights issues.

 

3.      What are the powers of the Commission?

To enable it effectively investigate complaints brought before it the Commission has been given powers of the High Court to:

Compel witnesses to answer questions put to them by the Commission.

To order the production of documents or other things necessary for its investigations

Enter and search premises

Refer a person to the High Court for contempt if the person refuses or fails without good reason to comply with a decision, direction or order of the Commission.

 

4.      Can the Commission grant me a remedy?

 

The Commission has powers to:-

Recommend that compensation be paid to a victim of human rights violation or to their families or legal representatives.

Award costs arising out of pursuing a complaint lodged at the  Commission

Make orders, directions for the enforcement of a decision it has reached on a complaint.

5.           Human Rights- what Are They?

Sierra Leone has recognized human rights and guaranteed them in the Constitution and by signing international agreements that protect human rights.  Human rights are therefore legally guaranteed in Sierra Leone and can be enforced as individual entitlements.  You can do this by going to the Supreme Court or by filing a complaint at the Commission if your human rights are violated.

Part II: - Complaints

 

1.      What Complaint can be brought to the Commission

The Commission will accept and register complaints that allege human rights or freedoms have been violated. The act or conduct complained of must however have happened after the 26th August 2004 when the law that established the Commission came into force.

The Commission will receive any complaint that alleges violation of the right to life, personal liberty, and freedom from torture or inhuman treatment, right to privacy of ones person or home, right to fair hearing, freedom of movement, rights of children, women, and persons with disabilities.

The above is not a full list of rights which you can complain about in case of violation.  What you need to do is to come to the Commission when you feel your right has been violated. The Commission will advise you whether or not your complaint can be accepted or not. The Commission will also give you appropriate advice in case your complaint falls outside the mandate of the Commission.

2.      What is a Human Rights Violation?

A human rights violation happens in any of the following circumstances;

When a public officer does something that violates or denies somebody his or her rights or freedom.  A public officer is a government or local government official or an official of an institution or organization supported with government funds.

When a person acting on behalf of government or a government institution or on behalf of a public officer violates or denies somebody his or her rights or freedom.

When a public officer or government or its agents fails to perform his or her duty and as a result violates or denies somebody his or her right or freedom.

When a public officer approves of an act or fails to intervene when a persons right is being violated.

When a public officer or the government knows or should have known that human right was likely to be violated but did nothing to protect a person or group of persons from the violation.

When the government or its servants or agents refuse, or neglect to investigate and or act on a clear violation of human rights. Government has a duty to investigate all violations of human rights. This is one way human rights can be protected.

When a person is treated with discrimination. Discrimination takes place when you are or a group of persons are treated less favorably compared to another person or group because of your or their age, or race, or colour or sex or ethnicity, or disability. Public officials must treat all people whom they serve equally without discrimination.

 

3.      How do I lodge a complaint?

You can lodge a complaint by walking into any of the offices of the Commission located in Freetown, Makeni, Bo and Kenema.  If you can read and write, an official in the office will give you a Form to fill. The Form has all the relevant questions to be answered to enable you properly file your complaint.

 

If you are unable to read and write or wish to be assisted to fill the complaint form, an officer will assist you to lodge your complaint by helping you write down the information needed for the complaint. You can also take the form and ask a friend or a lawyer to help you fill it.

 

Complaints can also be filed by sending a letter or e-mail to the Commission.  It is also possible to print the complaint form from our website and use it to lodge the complaint.

 

The working language of the commission is English. You are nevertheless free to file your complaint in the language you understand well. The Commission will get an interpreter to translate it into English.

 

4.      What kind of complaints will the Commission not accept?  

 

The law clearly states that the Commission will not handle the following type of complaint:-

 

Complaints arising from something that happened before 26th August 2004

Complaints based on a matter already decided by a court or pending before a court.

Complaints not based on acts or commissions or negligence of a public officer or person acting on their directives.

Complaints that do not reveal serious content or appear to be brought in bad faith. Such complaints are usually those intended primarily to annoy, harass somebody rather than to seek a remedy.

Complaints based on hearsay, rumor or media reports.

Complaints that fail to identify the complainant or the victim

Complaints not filed within 9 months from the time the act complained of took place unless the complaint has valid satisfactory reason for the delay.

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5.   Will I pay fees to lodge complaint?

 

No, the HRCSL receives and investigates complaints free of charge. We will impartially handle all complaints and try to resolve them without much technical formality.

 

6.     How long will it take to have my complaint concluded?

The length of time it will take to conclude a complaint depends on how complex the issues are. It could take weeks to several months to finally conclude a complaint. By law however a complaint must be resolved within one year.  The Commission however, can give priority to a complaint depending on its nature and urgency of the matter.

 

7.      What will happen after my complaint is filed?

 

When your complaint is received it will be registered and the receiving officer will give you an acknowledgement letter stating your file number. You will be given pack giving you information about complaints. The officer will also provide you with all relevant information and any advice you may require.

After registration your complaint will be assessed by the Commission to find out whether it is the correct type of complaint to be brought before the Commission.  If it is not your file will be closed. A written notice with reasons will be sent to you explaining why your file was closed. You will also be advised of your right to appeal to the high court if you are not satisfied with the reasons why your complaint was terminated.

If your complaint is correctly before the Commission the person or institution you have accused (the respondent) will be notified of the complaint and required to respond to the allegations in the complaint. A copy of your complaint will be forwarded to the respondent to enable him make a proper response.

When a response from the respondent is received, the Commission will assess the information.  The Commission may forward the response to you the complaint to ask for clarifications on any conflicting facts arising as a result of the information contained in the response.

The Commission may advise a mediation or conciliation of the complaint. If the parties agree and the matter is successfully mediated or conciliated an appropriate agreement will be concluded between the parties and the file will be closed.

Where mediation or conciliation is not possible the Commission shall investigate the matter and reach a decision based on the evidence gathered by the investigation .The parties will be informed of the decision reached by the Commission. Either party is free to appeal to the High Court against the decision reached by the Commission .Both will formally be informed of this right.

The Commission may at its own discretion decide to conduct a formal hearing on the complaint; In that case the parties will be advised to bring their witnesses to testify before the Commission after which the Commission will write a decision based on the evidence of the parties.

 

8.      Do I have any rights as a complainant?

 

Yes. A complainant has several rights

 

a) Right to have the complaint impartially investigated and resolved as soon as possible.

b) Right to be informed from time to time of the progress of the case.

c) Right to be represented by a lawyer at his or her expense.

d) Right to appeal to the High Court against any decision of the Commission.

e) The right to discontinue the complaint at any stage of the investigations.

f) The right to be informed of his/her rights.

g) The right to receive  written acknowledgement from the Commission that his/her complaint was received.

h) Right to have his/her complaint investigated free of charge.

 

9.      What do I do if my complaint is dismissed or if I lose the case?

 

If your complaint is dismissed or if you lose the case you will be given a written explanation. You are thereafter entitled to appeal against the decision to the High Court.  It may be necessary in such a case for you take legal advice whether or not to appeal. Any cost related to your appeal will be paid by the party appealing. The Commission does not meet the cost of the appeal.

 

10.    What is expected of me as a complainant?

 

For a quick and fair resolution of a complaint a complainant has certain responsibilities:

To tell the truth in clear and understandable manner.

To provide names and contact addresses of all relevant witnesses.

To remain in contact with the Commission and notify the Commission of any new facts regarding the complaint and change of addresses.

Generally to cooperate with the Commission in investigating the complaint.

 

Part III: - THE RESPONDENT.

 

1.      Who is a respondent?

A Respondent is a defendant in a complaint filed at the Commission. A person or institution/organization accused in a complaint of violating human right is a respondent who by law must respond to the allegations.  When a complainant lodges a complaint he/she will name the person or institution complained against.  A complainant however, may not be able to name the proper respondent.  The human rights officer receiving the complaint will make the necessary assessment and advise accordingly.

A Respondent is not necessarily the person who commits the act or fails to do an act complained about. For example a policeman who violates a persons right may not be the respondent, if he/she was acting in the course of his/her duties. The respondent would be the Inspector General of Police or the Attorney General who represent the Government in all legal claims.

 

2.      What happens when a complaint is filed against respondent?

 

All complaints before the Commission must be investigated fairly and impartially. To ensure fairness and impartiality, and to allow proper investigations, the respondent will be notified of a complaint filed against him/her. A copy of the complaint will be forwarded to the respondent.

 

The respondent will be required to file a defense or state his/her side of the story. This must be done within 15 days on service of the notice.

If the respondent fails to file his/her side of the story the investigations into the complaint will nevertheless continue. A decision on the complaint may be reached without his/her side of the story.

 

3.      As a respondent do I have any rights?

As a respondent one has several rights:

n The right to be notified of any allegations made by a complaint.

n The right to respond and contest any allegations made against him/her.

n The right to be represented by a lawyer at own expense.

n The right to an impartial and fair consideration of the complaint.

n The right to seek clarifications on the nature of the complaint.

n The right to call witnesses in support of his/her case.

n The right to adequate to prepare his/her defense.

n The right to be notified in writing about any decision of the Commission       on the complaint.

n The right to appeal to the High Court against a decision of the Commission on the complaint.

n The right to request that the complaint be resolved by mediation or conciliation.

4.      What is expected of me as a respondent?

a)  When a respondent gets a notification letter he should respond within 15 days. He should do so in writing with detailed answers about the alleged facts.  If you fail to respond as required a decision on the complaint will be reached without your side of the story.

b) Respondent should state facts truthfully in answer to the allegations in the complaint.

c) Respondent is expected to provide names and contact addresses of any witness that can help decide the dispute fairly and impartially.

d) To generally co-operate with the Commission during the investigation of the complaint.

e) To take all communications and directives or orders from the Commission seriously and obey them to avoid being punished for contempt.

 

                         Part IV: Contact us.

A complaints investigation is an important function of the Commission. It is through it that violators of human rights are held accountable. It is also possible for victims of human rights violations to get appropriate redress. Do not therefore hesitate to contact us on the address below. You are welcome to seek further information about the Commissions complaint handling process. Our officers will always be at hand and happy to assist you process your complaint. Similar assistance is open to those accused of human rights violations who might want clarifications on how to respond to the accusations against them.

Contact addresses:

 

1. Freetown Head Office: 38 Wellington Street.

2. Northern Regional Office, Makeni: 30 Wallace Johnson  Street

3. Southern Regional Office, Bo: 1 Old Railway Line

4. Eastern Regional Office, Kenema: 69 Blama Road


Telephone

                   078-336306

                   033 -461741

                  Email-hrcsl1@yahoo.com

                  Website-www.humanrightssl.org

 

          THIS ACTIVITY IS FUNDED BY Irish Aid



© Copyright 2005, Freetown, Sierra Leone.