March 5, 2015 By Ibrahim Tarawallie
A report by the Center for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL) has highlighted serious challenges impeding the smooth work of the Family Support Unit (FSU) of the Sierra Leone Police in handling cases of sexual and gender-based violence.
The report, which is titled – “Assessing the Resource Gap in the Fight Against Sexual and Gender-Based Violence: is the FSU Hamstrung?” – was officially launched yesterday at the Santano House in Freetown.
The report indicates that the SLP disburses a paltry Le1 million each quarter for the entire FSU to cover operational cost, such as communication and stationery.
CARL’s Aruna Kallon, who presented the key highlights of the report, stated that the FSU Directorate has no money to provide police stations across the country with the requisite equipment for carrying out their mandate.
According to him, only twenty (20) out of the sixty-two (62) FSU stations across the country have an assigned office space with appropriate storage facilities for confidential files, and that as at July 2014, the unit had just two cars in service with one at the headquarters in Freetown and another in Pujehun, southern Sierra Leone.
“FSU stations are currently understaffed so that people who come to report a crime may be sent away and asked to come again on a later date. This has serious consequences for the investigation and prosecution of crime as well as for the welfare of victims,” Kallon stated.
He maintained that FSU officers frequently use their own calling credit or ask victims and non-governmental organisations for money to buy fuel in order to conduct searches or make arrests.
CARL recommends to the government, among other things, to isolate the budget of the FSU from that of the SLP, increase the unit budget, enforce the law on free medical services for SGBV victims, and provide capacity for public hospitals to do forensic tests.
Earlier in his welcome address, CARL’s Executive Director, Ibrahim Tommy, said the report identifies a number of challenges that the FSU encounters in their effort to effectively deliver on their mandate.
He said the report was part of his organisation’s effort to draw the attention of the government, particularly the president, SLP and Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, to a plethora of challenges confronting the unit.
“I have been to places where the FSU post doesn’t even have a cubicle to interview alleged victims. The challenges are too many for even the most committed and spirited public servant to effectively deliver on their mandate. When an alleged victim has to buy a calling card for the investigation officer, it reminds you of the level of deprivation that FSU personnel have to contend with,” he said.
Tommy noted that many victims had told him that while it hurts to be sexually or physically assaulted, it is even more painful that there is no guarantee that their perpetrators will be brought to justice.
Also, Gender Advisor in the Office of the President, Nausu Fofanah, commended CARL for putting out such a report, describing it as timely because it brings to the fore the emerging challenges in SGBV cases.
“SGBV cases have huge implications for women and the nation. Women in the SLP have told me that there is sexual harassment in the force. If men continue to rape our women, we will have few in decision making positions,” she stated and added that SGBV is embedded in the country’s culture and traditions.
Statements were also made by the Head of the Justice Sector Coordination Office, Dr. Henry Mbawah and a representative from the Access to Security and Justice Programme, Dr. Ibrahim Bangura.