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“We remain proud of our human rights record as a government”

February 24, 2017

While reacting to the just published 2016/17 Amnesty International Report on the state of human rights, which seriously damned the Government of Sierra Leonein terms of promoting and protecting humanrights, Official Government Spokesperson noted that: “We remain very proud of our human right record as a government. And reason being, President Koroma has been calling for the respect of human rightseven when he was in opposition.”

AbdulaiBayraytay told Concord Times in a mobile phone interview yesterday that the respect for human rights, as exhibited by the government of Sierra Leone, was necessitated by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report, which, earlier cited excessive violation of human rights as one of the causes of the eleven years brutal civil war in Sierra Leone.

He said the government of President Ernest Bai Koroma has been promoting human rights, and that during the last Universal Periodic Review, they were commended for promoting political tolerance.

“People were always accommodated by the president even when they unnecessarily bash at the government. Since we came into governance in 2007, we have no political prisoner and have not killed anybody. The media continue to be friendly with government due to the enormous freedom they have,” he said.

The 2016/17 Amnesty International report, which was launched on Wednesday at the new Brookfields Hotel in Freetown, noted that President Ernest Bai Koroma agreed to ratify several international human rights treaties, but did not accept a number of recommendations made during the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process.

The report noted that Sierra Leone agreed to repeal or revise laws used to restrict freedom of expression and association, but refused to prohibit by law, female genital mutilation (FGM), to allow pregnant girls to attend school or to guarantee the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people

But according to the Official Government Spokesperson, on the recommendation of the UN onthe prohibition of FGM by law, he said they have brought up progressive laws and that government policy has changed,with the age of consent for girls to be initiated into the secret society being 18 years as at now.

“We were commended for upholding human rights during the last UPR. Based on the support we are giving the Human Right Commission of Sierra Leone,they continue to maintain a class ‘A’ status,” he said.

On LGBT rights, he said: “We as a government have not got an issue where we have arrested an individual for being a gay or a lesbian .It has never been an issue for us, just as we have political tolerance. Only that people respect their cultural values and that the issue has to do with the freedom of the individual. While other countries have laws that prohibit the practice, our Constitution is silence on that, and since it is silence about it, we have no issue with it for now.”

Reacting on the infringement on the right of pregnant girlsbeing barred from accessing mainstream school, he said,  “We have dealt with that issue and we came out very clearly that we have a responsibility to enhance the educational status of girls,particularly. So, for the girls that were pregnant, instead of seeing things asdiscriminatory, we viewed it as a very proactive measure and created alternative for them where they were accessing psychosocial support that they could not get in the mainstream school.”

On the issue of women’s rights, Bayraytay notedthat thegovernment was on record for bringing into law,the three gender Acts, coupled with the Sexual Offences Act of 2012, geared towards protecting young girls, especially in the area of age of consent.

“It is only a government that is serious about promoting the right of girls thatwould take certain step,” he said.

While the report lamented on President Koroma’s refusal to sign the Abortion Bill, the Official Government Spokesperson said the 1991 Constitution has a very clear provision under which basis somebody’s life could be taken, and that the abortion bill was not clear as to what stage somebody’s  featuscould bedeveloped.

“Because of that legal implication, the president sent it back to parliament and remindedthem that since the issue borders on  human  rights, and the Constitutional Review Committee  was sitting, parliament could refer to it, so that what becomes an entrench clause in terms of protecting human rights, could not be violated . That singular act shows that we arepromoting human rights to the highest degree,” he said.