By Bampia Bundu
The United Nations International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (ICC) in Geneva has awarded the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone (HRCSL) an “A” status accreditation.
According to the HRCSL’s Fifth Annual State of Human Rights Report, launched on Friday, June 22 this year at the Commission’s headquarters at the National Electoral Commission’s (NEC) building at Tower Hill in Freetown, the human rights status in Sierra Leone in 2011 was generally satisfactory and that the enactment of the Persons with Disability Act 2011 was a welcome development, which when implemented, would address the human rights concerns of disabled persons.
The report also hailed the introduction of the free health care in 2010, claiming that it has led to a marked decrease in maternal and infant mortality rates in the country.
According to HRCSL’s Commissioner Moses Kanu, the report comes after the successful review of Sierra Leone for the first time in September 2011 at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the UN Human Rights Council, where the Commission and civil society were represented.
He explained that the support provided to the Government to the Commission from the preparatory to the concluding stages of the exercise was immense, adding, that this culminated in the holding of the national consultative conference on the implementation of recommendations organized by the Commission in partnership with UNIPSIL and the Government to move the process forward in preparation for the next review in 2016. Commissioner Kanu maintained that the blanket ban during the year under review imposed on all political activities by the Sierra Leone Police violated the rights of the people and their freedom of assembly and association. He urged the Government to ensure that citizens enjoy their civil liberties, more especially their civil and political rights as enshrined in the national law and international human rights instruments.
He pointed out also that specific issues of human rights concerns include excessive use of force by the Police on unarmed civilians, arbitrary arrests, delayed trials and poor prison conditions, adding also that there are also challenges in the implementation of the free health care in relation to the allegations of missing drugs and impunity in relation to suspects identified, inadequacy of human resources, equipment and infrastructure which need to be addressed.
He called on Government to fulfill its obligations by submitting its outstanding reports particularly to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention against Torture (CAT). He stressed that as a Commission they would support Government in this regard.
He stated that as in previous years, they have made a number of recommendations that would, if implemented by Government, go a long way in remedying the human rights infringements catalogued in their report.
He maintained that despite the challenges they face as an institution, the Commission continued to fulfill its mandate, even though it was very broad and received inadequate funding from Government. This, he observed, continued to limit their capacity to deliver their services nationwide and to recruit and retain essential staff.
He appealed to Government to increase and provide regular budgetary support to the Commission, especially when it now has an “A” status.
He disclosed that for the first time the Commission held its first public hearing in respect of a complaint of discrimination from ex-Servicemen of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces against their former employers, while the decision of the public hearing is yet to be implemented by Government almost a year after it was taken.
“We are calling on Government for a speedy implementation of the decision as its delay has the potential of undermining the peace and security of the country,” he concluded.