October 22, 2019
By Ibrahim Tarawallie
Human Rights Defenders Network Sierra Leone, has lamented the continued intimidation, harassment, unlawful arrest and detention meted on environmental and land rights defenders in the country.
According to the network’s Executive Secretary, Alphonso Gbanie, there are also trumped up charges in courts against rights defenders, a trend he described as worrisome.
Sierra Leone yesterday joined other African countries to observe this year’s African Human Rights Day, which affords member states and governments the opportunity to renew their commitment to the fight against impunity in Africa.
The day also provides a unique opportunity to urge all African Heads of State and Governments to honour their obligations to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and take all necessary measures to ensure the respect, protection and promotion of human rights for all.
Mr. Gbanie told pressmen that while they acknowledged the government’s commitment to accelerating delivery of Sustainable Development Goal targets for justice for all, much is still needed to be done to deliver justice for everyone in the country.
“As we speak 19 human rights defenders are facing trials from trumped up charges while the government refuses to charge and prosecute perpetrators responsible for the deaths of two relatives of human rights defenders in the Sahn Malen Chiefdom, Pujehun District,” he said.
He noted that even though a technical Committee was set up to investigate and produce a report that could be used to settle the concerns of the landowners in Sahn Malen Chiefdom, government is reluctant to allow the committee to present its report.
Gbanie said government remains quiet towards the promulgation of law protecting human rights defenders despite being a signatory to the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and also accepted recommendations urging them to take measures to protect them.
He said the government through the Development Cooperation Framework (DCF) has demonstrated its willingness to restrict operations of human rights defenders, thus undermining freedom of association.
“As we observe this day, the Network noted serious concerns. Despite efforts made by the government to protect women and girls in Sierra Leone, they remain to be more at risk. They are subjected to domestic violence, rape, marginalization and political exclusion. Pregnant girls continue to suffer exclusion from school simply because they are “pregnant”,” he noted.
He also lamented the Network’s dismay at the continued existence of restrictive provisions in the Public Order Act on the exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and protest.
He claimed that procedural specificities in the POA can be used to curb legitimate protest, giving the state the capacity to arbitrarily declare a protest unlawful or a threat to public order.