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The three days lockdown in Sierra Leone satisfies the three limb test under international law

The three days lockdown in Sierra Leone satisfies the three limb test under international law

A lot of people living both within and outside Sierra Leone have expressed criticism over the three days shut down that is due to take place from the 19th to the 21st of September 2014 in Sierra Leone. They have raised eyebrows on the shutdown pronouncement for fear that such action may breach fundamental rights and freedoms of the citizens. As an international human rights lawyer, I make bold to say that the three days shut down is an appropriate action as it falls clearly within the confines of international law.

Under International law any action or policy of a state that blatantly violates the rights and fundamental freedoms of the citizens will be considered illegal except if those actions and policies satisfy three vital conditions. These conditions are: Legitimacy, necessity; reasonableness and justifiability.

When one takes a cursory look at the above requirements in the light of the three days shut down that has been declared by the government of Sierra Leone, one would observe that, such action clearly satisfies the three limb tests under international law. To understand this better, let’s take a brief look at the three limb test above and juxtapose them with the pending Ebola crisis situation in Sierra Leone.

  1. The test of Lawfulness. Is the pronouncement of the three days lock down lawful and legitimate? YES, it is lawful and legitimate I would say. This is the case because a state of public emergency was declared by His Excellency in line with the 1991 constitution which by extension gives the government the power to curtail certain fundamental rights in good faith without recourse to due process. If no state of emergency has been declared, then this action would have been illegal under international law. However, because a state of public emergency has been declared before now, the 1991 constitution allows under a state of emergency for restriction of rights to take place albeit in good faith and in the interest of the general good.
  1. The test of Necessity. Is the three days shutdown really necessary? My answer is also a big yes. I say so because when you consider the amount of people in Sierra Leone that have already been lost to the virus (about 500) and the amount of people already affected by the virus (about 1300), one may not help but agree on the need and necessity for such pro-active action to be taken particularly so when there is pregnant evidence suggesting that the Ebola virus has spread out to almost every area in the country.
  2. The test of Reasonableness and Justifiability: Is the three days lock down reasonable and justifiable in a democratic society? I will say yes again and for obvious reasons. Firstly, on the issue of reasonableness, there were many calls for 7 days, 14 days and even 21 days to be imposed by the government so as to fully meet the Ebola incubation period and easily detect Ebola victims. But the government in its wisdom sees this as too costly and decided to start with the very least of days. It is also reasonable because about 2 weeks’ notice was given out to everyone to prepare for the 3 days shut down. It was never done arbitrarily or without due notice.

Furthermore, the action is justifiable because the primary way the virus spreads out is by way of contact with affected persons. Restricting therefore public contacts and gatherings for some days might have some positive impacts to the campaign especially in detecting those already affected and also help increase awareness on the Ebola virus itself. It further shows genuine commitment by the nation at all levels to curtail the virus.

In conclusion however, the fact that this action has satisfied the three tests under international law does not necessarily mean that the government should be complacent and not go beyond itself and take additional steps to mitigate the sufferings and limitations of fundamental rights that will be evident during the three days shut down. A good and responsible government that has respect for the rights of its citizens will endeavour to take additional measures to help minimize the shutdown impact and negative effects that might occur on the vulnerable population.

Below are a few recommendations which I think might be of assistance in mitigating the negative impacts of the three days shutdown. I appeal to the government of Sierra Leone to ensure that these additional measures are implemented.

  1. Ensure to make basic food stuffs available especially to vulnerable communities.
  2. Ensure the free and unhindered flow of clean water to the population.
  3. Ensure that there is regular flow of electricity to the population to keep them comfortable during the three days shut down.
  4. Ensure to have emergency help lines open to receive calls for emergency support.
  5. SLBC and radio stations should help entertain the population during these three days with educative and meaningful programmes.
  6. Communication is key at such times. Do not leave the population uninformed. Keep regular flow of information and let it be systematic and consistent, emanating from one source of authority.
  7. Be a bit flexible and understand that there will be situations for discretion to be used by law enforcement agencies that are monitoring the shutdown. Let this be made known to the law enforcement agencies so they don’t abuse the citizens and mis-treat them.
  8. All Sierra Leoneans should ensure to have credit on their phones and contact the emergency help lines in case of any emergency situation that needs urgent attention while they stay in their homes.

I pray that through this action, the good Lord will step in and the Ebola crisis will finally come to a halt in Jesus Name. May God bless our darling Sierra Leone. Peace!

by Rashid Justice Dumbuya

Rashid Justice Dumbuya is an international human rights advocate and Public Defender and also a practising Barrister and Solicitor from the Republic of Sierra Leone. He holds and LLM in International Human Rights law from the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria South Africa. He is currently a Commonwealth Scholar pursuing LLM in Petroleum law and Policy in the University of Dundee, Scotland, United Kingdom.

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