RECOGNITION, PROTECTION AND ENFORCEMENT OF SOCIO-ECONOMIC AND CULTURAL RIGHTS UNDER THE NEW CONSTITUTION OF SIERRA LEONE

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A position paper by Rashid Justice Dumbuya for the urgent consideration of the Constitutional Review Committee of Sierra Leone – November 2015

November 19, 2015 Author: Rashid Justice Dumbuya

Introduction

Socio – economic and cultural rights include among other things the right to food, housing, education, health, water, cultural life, social security, fair minimum wage etc. International recognition of these rights dates as far back as the early 20th century when the International Labour Organization, then an agency of the League of Nations adopted a series of conventions intended to improve labour standards around the world. However, after World War 11, a good number of international treaties and conventions guaranteeing socio-economic and cultural rights began to emerge, the most recent being the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Efforts have also been made within the African Regional Human Rights system to codify socio- economic and cultural rights. For example, the African Charter on Human and People Rights protects among others the right to work, health and education.

Despite the fact that Sierra Leone has signed and ratified a good number of these international covenants that guarantees and protects socio-economic and cultural rights, it is vital to note that the 1991 constitution of Sierra Leone does not recognize, protect or allow for the enforcement of socio- economic and cultural rights. Though some piece meal provisions exist under the Fundamental Principles of State Policy in Chapter 2 to provide for a framework through which socio- economic and cultural objectives can be realized, by section 14 of the 1991 constitution however, the chapter 2 socio- economic and cultural objectives do not confer legal rights and are also unenforceable through the courts of law. They merely exist as fundamental principles and objectives of the state to be taken into consideration in the governance of the country and the making of laws by parliament. These objectives were never intended to confer individual rights to the citizens. Conversely however, the 1991 constitution of Sierra Leone does recognize, protects and guarantees civil and political rights. These rights are enshrined under Chapter 3 of the constitution and are also entrenched provisions within the constitution.

But irrespective of the plethora of calls by the UN Human Rights Committee, the African Commission, International Non-Governmental Organizations, Human Rights defenders and Civil Society Organizations for the recognition, protection and enforcement of socio-economic and cultural rights within the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone, no attempt has since been made by the state to succumb to these recommendations. The ongoing constitutional review process will therefore provide a window of opportunity for such plausible recommendations to be perhaps considered.

Justifications or Reasons for the recognition, protection and enforcement of socio-economic and cultural rights under the new constitution of Sierra Leone.

Though plausible arguments such as the lack of resources, over-population and under-development have been forwarded by the state in defense of not been able to guarantee or allow for the enforcement of socio- economic and cultural rights, the following under-mentioned reasons underscores the importance of having socio-economic and cultural rights guaranteed and enforced in the new constitution of Sierra Leone.

  • Sierra Leone is a party to many international conventions that recognizes and protects socio- economic and cultural rights. Such covenants include: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights etc. Not guaranteeing therefore these socio- economic and cultural rights at the domestic level is a clear violation of international law by Sierra Leone.
  • Furthermore, Sierra Leone is a country with rich natural resources and endowments. There are over 15 viable natural resources in the country that are of great commercial value in the world market. Hence, the argument of lack of resources by the state to guarantee socio- economic and cultural rights to its citizens is untenable. If the state where to effectively manage and account for the country’s resources in a transparent way, the 6 million population can be satisfactorily guaranteed their socio-economic and cultural rights
  • Also, Sierra Leone’s population is just around 6 million. It is not an over-populated nation as compared to Nigeria, Kenya or South Africa. There is therefore no tenable reason as to why this limited population should not be allowed to enjoy their socio- economic and cultural rights especially so when there is proof of viable natural resources to match the available population.
  • More importantly, socio- economic and cultural rights are core to the existence and survival of the citizens in a state. Constitutionalizing Socio- economic and cultural rights will therefore reflect a genuine commitment by the state to guarantee the most fundamental interests of individuals that are necessary for the enjoyment of their wellbeing and existence.To deny citizens of these rights will constitute an attack to their very existence and survival. For instance, the right to health and the right to housing have been seen as ‘survival rights’ whiles the right to education has been reputed to be an ‘empowerment or emancipation right.’
  • Finally, having a constitutional provision that guarantees enforceability of socio- economic and cultural rights will make the state more accountable and sensitive to the aspirations and welfare of its citizens. The state will become more proactive and efficient when it is made clear under the constitution that it can be held accountable by the citizens for both its actions and inactions. In this way, rapid socio- economic development may be realized in the country.

Proposed Recommendations

The fundamental Principles of State Policy under chapter 2 of the 1991 constitution must be discarded and replaced with the following socio-economic and cultural rights provisions under the heading; RECOGNITION AND PROTECTION OF FUNDAMENTAL SOCIO-ECONOMIC AND CULTURAL RIGHTS OF THE INDIVIDUAL:

The Right to basic Food

The Right to clean water

The right to affordable housing

The Right to basic healthcare for all particularly children, women and the aged

The right to Energy Access and Affordable electricity supply

The right to Education; with primary and secondary education being made compulsory and free for all.

The right to the approved minimum wage as well as to social security or social insurance when employed.

The right to cultural life and preservation particularly for indigenous peoples and their communities.

The right to benefit from the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which one is the author.

 

More importantly, section 14 of the constitution should be amended to now read as follows:

‘’Every Citizen of Sierra Leone has an enforceable right to the minimum core provisions enshrined under chapter 2 of the new constitution of Sierra Leone.’’

Furthermore, the above rights must also be made available, accessible and affordable to all the citizens of Sierra Leone without discrimination as to gender, religion, race, region, or political considerations.

Lastly, to prevent the mad rush and clamoring of the citizens for these socio- economic rights, it must be made clear under the new constitution that ‘the socio-economic and cultural rights enshrined in chapter 2 will only be progressively realized by the state both individually and through international assistance and co-operation, especially economic and technical, to the maximum of its available resources, with a view to achieving the full realization of the rights by all appropriate means, including particularly the adoption of legislative measures and affirmative actions.’

Conclusion

Majority of the Sierra Leonean citizens lack access to basic socio-economic services and amenities. A continuation of the status quo will ultimately ignite conflict, create disunity and increase social vices within the society. But with the recognition and protection of socio-economic rights under the new constitution, many of these inequalities will be remedied and a more cohesive, developed and progressive country will emerge. I therefore call on the Constitutional Review Committee and the people of Sierra Leone at large to incorporate socio- economic and cultural rights into the new constitution and to further guarantee their enforceability in the courts of law.

All Rights Reserved

Rashid Dumbuya is a practicing Barrister and Solicitor from the Republic of Sierra Leone as well as an international human rights advocate and Public Defender. He is currently a state prosecutor at the Anti- Corruption Commission and a part-time lecturer in the Department of Law, Fourah Bay College University of Sierra Leone.

For further inquiries, please contact RASHID DUMBUYA Esq. on Email: rashiddum@yahoo.co.uk


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