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That report on the state of human rights in Sierra Leone 2012

That report on the state of human rights in Sierra Leone 2012

The sixth annual report of the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone (HRCSL) has been made public. The sixty-three page report details the “State of Human Rights (SOHR) in Sierra Leone.” The report is worth examining for numerous reasons. Among them is the fact that if the commission was a class six pupil, it should have taken its National Primary School Examination (NPSE) in the sixth year and should have been preparing to go to Junior Secondary School (JSS) One when schools reopen shortly. In essence, the report should be viewed as the commission’s transition from primary to secondary school. The promotion, which is the case with pupils, who have just passed the NPSE, comes with joy for both the pupils and their parents/guardians. But as some celebrate, others who did not pass the exam are unhappy and worried. For those pupils, it is moment of reflection for them and their parents on the way forward. Indeed, transition does not always come with the good; it also comes with the bad and the ugly.  Is that the case with the sixth SOHR, 2012?

I will start my humble review of the report with a quote from the Chairperson of the HRCSL. The Rev Moses Khanu’s printed statement on the submission of the report notes that “The State of Human Rights in Sierra Leone is a report of activities of the HRCSL covering the period 1st January to 31st December, 2012. As required by the Act, the report includes the ways in which the fundamental rights and freedoms in the 1991 Constitution and the International and Regional Agreements to which Sierra Leone is a party, have been observed or violated. It also includes steps taken by the HRCSL to promote and protect human rights: the results of individual complaints investigated, and the interventions and recommendations made by HRCSL in respect of matters brought before it.”

In line with the premise laid by the chairperson, the report clearly detailed the work of the commission in terms of its investigations, interventions and recommendations on  human rights violations. The commission’s intervention and subsequent setting up of the First Public Inquiry (Bumbuna Inquiry) was remarkable.  The follow up on the implementation of the recommendations of the Public Hearing in the Blamo Jesse Jackson and the 235 ex-service men complaint was another milestone in the work of the commission. Regarding that case, the HRCSL in April 2009 received complaint from Blamo Jesse Jackson and other ex-service men, alleging that since 2008 when they were discharged from the service, their human rights were violated by the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces and the Ministry of Defence (RSLAF/MOD). The substance of that complaint involved discrimination, cruel and inhuman treatment and invasion of privacy. The ex-soldiers complained that they did not get the same benefits given to other Wounded in Action (WIA).  The commission after hearing the matter recommended among other things “That RSLAF and MOD take steps to ensuring that the Complainants receive the same payments as Wounded in Action One and Two (WIA1& 2).”

On the ways in which the fundamental rights and freedoms in the 1991 Constitution and the International and Regional Agreements to which Sierra Leone is a party, have been observed or violated, the report also made some interesting points. Its succinctly raised the issue of the administration and dispensation of justice, loss of lives of citizens, human rights challenges in the extractive sector, the problem of accessing clean and safe drinking water in communities, the challenges in the introduction of the 6-3-4-4 system of education, obstacles to the effective implementation of the Free Health Care Policy, and issues affecting women and children’s rights among others. The commission did an incredible work in highlighting these points and proffering recommendations.

I singled out the case of the ex-soldiers because it is one of the few cases that clearly manifested the indivisibility of human rights. In that single case, the commission pointed out three fundamental human rights: discrimination, cruel and inhuman treatment and invasion of privacy. I dare add the fourth, the right to life, which should be a must for the enjoyment of all human rights. Furthermore, the commission took the bold step to challenge the wrong decision taken by the RSLAF/MOD against the ex-soldiers.  Considering the approach the commission used to deal with this matter in 2011, I am left with the firm belief that the SOHR of 2012 did not do justice to those rights.

Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) is clear on the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing. Article 6 (1) of the ICESCR recognizes the right to work, which includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely chooses or accepts.  The protection of the right to life is provided for in Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 6 (1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Section 15 (a) and 16 (1) of the Constitution of Sierra Leone, Act No. 6 of 1991. On employment issues, the commission made reference to Article 7 of the ICESCR dealing with the right to just and favourable conditions of work without making reference to the Article 6(1) which first recognises the right to work. In my view, the commission was selective in its approach to the issue of employment. The commission focused on the just and favourable conditions of work (those who are already employed; it’s important though) and put little or no emphasis on the right to work (focusing on the unemployed).

The report did not cite the issue of housing, which was and continues to be a serious problem in the country. If the commission thinks Economic, Social and Cultural (ECOSOC) rights are ‘progressive rights’ and governments should work towards implementing them when resources are available, it should rethink again.   This is because Sierra Leone has got the resources to implement and enforce all, if not; most of those ECOSOC rights. The right to privacy was also a critical issue in 2012. I would have expected the commission to address the people’s right to privacy the same way it treated the case of Blamo Jesse Jackson and others, citing Section 22 of the Constitution of Sierra Leone, and Article 17 of ICCPR. In 2012, politicians and ordinary citizens were subjected to arbitrary and/or unlawful interference with their privacy of homes, correspondences and unlawful attacks on their honour and/or reputation.  Surprisingly, the report is silent on this important issue.

But on the whole, the commission’s work is worth commending particularly when one considers what it has got to perform the work of a national human rights institution. It is no secret that the government has not manifested its total support to the promotion and promotion of human rights in Sierra Leone. As the Chairperson of the Commission acknowledged in his foreword to the report, “The major institutional challenge was inadequate funding and logistical support from Government. The late payment of subventions also impacted on the prompt delivery of services.”  This is the chairperson making such statement. So the obvious question is, how do people rate the government’s commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights when its financial obligation to the body responsible to oversee human rights related issues is ‘inadequate’ (insufficient, not enough, scare, too little) and is also ‘late’ (not on time, delayed)?  This is double jeopardy; the funding is inadequate and the subvention is late. This is what government officials, spokespersons and sympathisers call a government that believes in the promotion and protection of human rights. So the commission wanting to do its work, most times resort to what the Chairperson stated in the same foreword “We are however grateful to our partners especially, Irish Aid, and UNFPA for their cooperation and support during the year.”

In conclusion, the fact that the commission has consistently and constantly been repeating certain recommendations in its yearly report tells you and I that the government is not treating the HRCSL with the seriousness it deserves. For me, it is waste of papers and other resources to be reprinting the same recommendations year-in, year-out without state institutions and officials implementing them. Even in the 2012 report, the chairperson points out that the commission is “concerned that most of its key recommendations and directives following the Bumbuna Inquiry are yet to be implemented or adhered to by the various parties.” The question is do we continue to make recommendations that are not adhered to or implemented? Is it the ‘feel good factor’ paradigm that has taken over the true commitment and support to the promotion and protection of human right? Don’t tell me the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone has been accredited under the Paris Principles with an ‘A’ status from 2011 to 2016. Well, the commission might have passed its primary and secondary exams even without the needed resources, arguably because the ‘government is paying fees for all public exams.’ I would like the commission to know that it is now at the University for which the Sierra Leone Government grant-in-aid is mainly granted to those who have been granted approval by the political will and the political class. In short, the commission cannot maintain its ‘A’ status without the provision of adequate and timely funding.

By Francis Sowa

Francis Sowa is a journalist/social and media analyst and lecturer, Mass Communication Department, Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone (fsowa2007@yahoo.com, +232 76 866 519/ +232 77 866 569)

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