Urges increased gov’t commitment to address challenges
By Abu-Bakarr Sheriff
A group of civil society organizations at the just concluded United Nations Human Rights Committee review of Sierra Leone in Geneva, Switzerland, has welcomed the maiden review of the country and urged the government to address persisting challenges in the area of governance and human rights.
The group, comprising Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law, Prison Watch-Sierra Leone, IPAS, and Dignity Association-Sierra Leone, attended the Geneva review which assessed Sierra Leone’s commitment to implementing its obligations under the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
According to a statement released by the group yesterday following the end of the review, the four days exercise “focused extensively on civil and political rights, and served as an eye-opener to the progress Sierra Leone has made as well as the significant challenges that persist in addressing these rights.”
The group said it “acknowledges the cooperation of the Sierra Leone Government in the process, and commends the Committee for their diligence and patience throughout the review”, while applauding the “Committee’s recognition of efforts made by the Sierra Leone Government in signing and ratifying the ICCPR”, and its commendation of the government’s efforts in protecting women’s rights, by way of enacting the four gender justice laws, plus the commencement of the constitutional review process.
However, the group said it was deeply disappointment at the failure of the Sierra Leone Government to send a delegation from Freetown to attend the all important review meeting, which would have been in a better position to provide concrete answers to the questions the Committee raised at the review.
Consequently, the group said that although the void was occupied by the country’s Ambassador to Switzerland, Jongopie Stevens, his presence could not prevent the fact that answers to key questions remained unanswered.
According to the release, the Committee was not quite pleased with a couple of defects in Sierra Leone’s current governance mechanism, and “expressed serious concerns about a wide range of issues that include the delays in trials and the paucity of law officers in the country; the appalling prisons conditions, the widening impunity gap for security officers accused of unlawful killings, the lack of cooperation by the state in bringing former aide to Charles Taylor Mr. Ibrahim Balde to justice, violence perpetrated against persons on the basis of their actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity, the challenges confronting the Constitution Review Committee, the fact that the abortion bill was drafted five years ago and has still not been enacted, the failure of the state to abolish the death penalty, and the government’s reluctance to enact a legislation protecting the rights of women from harmful traditional practices”.
The aforementioned issues were also captured in a shadow report prepared and submitted by civil society organisations to the Committee ahead of the review, the release further said.
In his response to the numerous concerns, Ambassador Stevens is said to have spoken about the efforts of government to addressing these issues, albeit conceding that “declining donor support to the government, deep traditional and cultural beliefs, impact of the war, and issues relating to the exploitation of state resources as some of the impediments for the state to comply with its obligation under the ICCPR.”
The Committee urged the Sierra Leone Government to honour its obligations under the covenant by taking concrete steps to address the issues highlighted, while civil society also urged the government to respond to the issues raised, as a matter of urgency, the release concludes.