August 19, 2020
By Ibrahim Kabba Turay
The Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone has called on the Independent Police Complaint Board (IPCB) to speedily investigate the discharge of fire arms by the security forces during the riot in Makeni, a situation they said might have led to the death of civilians.
After the July 17th and 18th incident in Makeni, HRC-SL launched an investigation into the issue and yesterday made public their findings through a press conference held at their head office on Tower Hill in Freetown.
Vice Chairperson of the commission, Victor Idrissa Lansana, told journalists that he and the Northern Regional Coordinator, Hassan Samba Yarjah, went to Makeni and had several engagements with the Mayor of Makeni City, Local Unit Commander of Makeni and other stakeholders, to ascertain as to what might have led to the death of six civilians.
He said they discovered that communication failure was one of the major problems that led to the riot, stating that the Mayor was informed by the Electricity Distribution Services Authority (EDSA) about the relocation of the generator.
He said the onus was on the mayor to disseminate the said information among stakeholders and community people, but she failed to do so.
In her remarks,Chairperson of the Commission, Patricia Narsu Ndanema, told pressmen that the mayor could neither disseminate information provided to her nor provided feedback to the Ministry of Energy, because she fell ill a day after the meeting and could not recover until after six weeks.
She explained that their investigation also uncovered that that, the Ministry of Energy couldn’t make follow up with the Makeni team on the delayed feedback until almost a month after the meeting, when rumours went viral that Makeni will be left in total darkness after the relocation of the generator ,a situation which reportedly left youth dissatisfied.
She said their investigation further revealed that on the 18th of July, Makeni was relatively peaceful, with people going about their normal businesses until when security forces raided the big market and released teargas canisters on protesters.
“To restore law and order, the Commission noted the use of live bullets by the joint security forces against youth who continuously regrouped in different parts of the town with sticks, stones and machetes. Engagements with injured victims at the hospital and the Medical Superintendent revealed that the six deaths resulted from the confrontation between the youth and security forces. The victims, the medical superintendent reported, had apparently died from bullet wounds in the community between the nights of 17th -18th July respectively,” she explained.
The commission, however, recommended that the Government of Sierra Leone should bear the medical cost for the injured victims, and that both central and local government should do more to open up the communication lines by frequently engaging each other.
She added that the National Council for Civic Education and Development should take the lead and that the law enforcement agencies should recruit citizens of good moral standing and temperament, and imbibes in them standard human rights trainings especially in dealing with riots.
The commission called on the Sierra Leone Police to stop taking fire arms containing live rounds at scenes of protest/demonstration, except where it is extremely necessary, stating that they should instead use rubber bullets and other lawful devices and means to dispersing protesters.
They called on government to make adequate provision that will better equip the police with riot safety gears and devices that will enable them to professionally respond to riots and protests without the loss of lives.