Dr. Sylvia Blyden
Popular female publisher and outspoken journalist, Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden, has raised suspicions over the composition of the independent investigative panel set up by the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone (HRC-SL) that is currently looking into the circumstances leading to the disturbances in the town of Bumbuna, Tonkolili District, Northern Sierra Leone on 16th, 17th and 18th April 2012.
Dr. Blyden is specifically not comfortable with the inclusion of one ambassador Alieu Kanu in the investigative panel who she described as a senior strategist within the top echelons of the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP).
In a concerned note to HRC-SL’s Director of Communications, Dr. Blyden wrote:
“Knowing that Ambassador Alieu Kanu is a very strong, key, inner-core member of the main opposition SLPP, was it wise to include him into such a Panel? I know the HRC-SL Act gives the discretion to include such persons but was there no other non-partisan legal person who could have been included? I have nothing against Ambassador Kanu, but I am deeply troubled that the HRC-SL could use such a highly partisan person on its Panel.”
According to Sylvia Blyden, the inclusion of such a “highly placed and very significant SLPP top brass” into the Panel will “definitely diminish the relevance of whatever report the HRC-SL produces at the end of the public hearing and will subject such reports to credibility issues.
Furthermore, Dr. Blyden is troubled by a section of a speech delivered on the opening session of the five day hearing on July 16th 2012 by the Presiding HRC-SL Commissioner, whom Blyden refers to as “our highly respected sister, Madam Jamestina King”, reading thus:
“In addition, the Inquiry conducted three Focus Group Discussions in Bumbuna as a means of collecting evidence. These discussions were with Youth, Women and a mixed group of community stakeholders. The Inquiry had initially planned to conduct four Focus Group Discussions; with the fourth planned for the workers of African Minerals Ltd. This was not possible because our letter to the management of African Minerals Ltd to release some of their workers for the Focus Group Discussion received no response.”
In the light of the above assertion by Jamestina King, Dr. Sylvia Blyden wrote more concerns to the HRC-SL as follows:
“Knowing that the HRC Act gives tremendous powers to the HRC to enforce the appearance of any person or corporate entity in front of it, why did the HRC not apply those powers to ensure African Minerals staff were included in its ‘Focus Groups’?”.
Dr. Blyden continued by asking of the HRC as follows:
“Is the HRC aware of the fact that the incidents [of gross human rights violations] would not have happened if the African Minerals staff had not gone on an unruly, totally lawless rampage amongst the locales of the indigenous residents of Bumbuna and with no 21 days prior strike notice as required by law?”
Sylvia Blyden furthered by asking:
“If the HRC-SL is aware of the catalyst to be actions of the staff of African Minerals, then how come the HRC-SL does not see the grave importance of enforcing the appearance of the African Minerals staff members especially the ring-leader of the staff demonstrations reportedly named Mr. Foday Daboh who was widely quoted in local and international news media including Reuters International?”
Meanwhile, top officials of African Minerals SL Ltd (AML) reportedly expressed “total shock” to learn that Commissioner Jamestina King had alleged they did not send a response to the letter from the Commission.
According to Lawyer Kweku Lisk, an AML corporate legal adviser, they received the said letter dated 17th May, 2012 on Friday 18th May 2012 in the late afternoon, and first thing Monday morning of May 21st 2012, they dispatched a response to the Human Rights Commission.
“I can confirm the letter was served and received on the 21st May and was signed for by one Mary Jabbie who works for the commission at Tower Hill,” Lisk was quoted to have confirmed.
Meanwhile, Dr. Blyden wants to know how the SLPP’s senior political strategist Ambassador Alieu Kanu got to be placed on the 3-Man Panel of such an important Independent Investigative Panel?
Furthermore, she claimed that HRC-SL shielded the likes of Foday Daboh and other ringleaders of the lawless riots whilst Frank Timis, Moseray Fadika and other African Minerals hierarchy were impugned as ‘Persons of Interest’.
Dr. Blyden believes the Commission does not seem to have any interest in enforcing its powers to have the ringleaders publicly questioned on their roles in the unfortunate riot which caused the death of an innocent woman and caused millions of damages in property as well as emotional stress for the poor residents of Bumbuna, who had nothing to do with the staff’s disgruntlement.
“President Koroma and the ruling All Peoples Congress should not just sit and wait until the HRC-SL releases a report that will be tainted and of impugned value similar to the Kelvin Lewis Report on the Bo disturbances which produced certain of its findings that made little logical sense to anyone with even the most basic common sense. The Executive arm of Government should look into these issues I am raising and do so immediately,” said Dr. Blyden.
The publisher of the award winning Awareness Times newspaper, who is currently in China, said the November elections were less than 20 weeks away and the public could not afford to have another Kelvin Lewis kind of report at this point in time. She said citizens should be very proactive and should help the authorities nip any opposition influenced report in the bud.
“Most of us independent-minded, non-partisan citizens are already being subjected to horrible verbal abuse by SLPP as a party and from their agents, but that should not deter us from standing up for what is right for our land. We must be proactive” said Dr. Blyden