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‘Rights and Freedoms Are Critical Challenges in Sierra Leone’….Amnesty International

Amnesty International (AI) launched the human rights report on Africa on April 8th and the Sierra Leonean Section launched the report on April 14th following the lockdown and other stringent measures taken by the government to contain the coronavirus.

According to AI, the human rights situation in Sierra Leone is a mixed one wherein the government is making some progress at some fronts while the citizens still face critical challenges in the enjoyment of rights and freedoms. The 2019 Report details that the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) continues to use draconian provisions in the Public Order Act 1965 bordering on freedom of assembly and public protest to forestall citizens from expressing the right to peaceful protest and assembly. While Freedom of expression continued to be restricted by the use of sections of the Public Order Act on defamation and sedition. Violations of the rights of human rights defenders were reported.

The Amnesty International Report highlights May 31st, 2019 High Court cancellation elected Members of Parliament from the opposition All Peoples Congress (APC) for breaches of the electoral law during the March 2018 legislative polls. The decision for which violence erupted between police and supporters of the APC at the party’s headquarters in Freetown. It also highpoints the National Electoral Commission cancellation of the results of August 24 by-election in Constituency 110 because of violence at some polling stations.

Amnesty International frowns at Public officials for continued to use Part V of the Public Order Act (POA), which deals with defamatory and seditious libel, to silence journalists, activists and other people who criticize them. A proposed amendment to repeal Part V was approved by the Cabinet, and Parliament made recommendations to be further discussed in 2020. However, civil society organizations expressed concerns about other draconian provisions that could remain in the POA and which restrict the rights to freedom of expression.

AI also expressed concerns about the Development Cooperation Framework – the regulations for NGOs – approved by the Cabinet in December 2018. The document required all NGOs to register with the Sierra Leone Association of Non-Governmental Organizations (SLANGO) and stipulated that 70% of all donor funds to an NGO must be directed to targeted beneficiaries and 30% towards administrative costs. In response to concerns expressed by civil society organizations, the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development removed the mandatory registration with SLANGO and expressed its willingness to continue discussions with NGOs in 2020.

Exposing Policy brutality, AI 2019 Africa Human Rights Report records the growing concerns about public order management by the Sierra Leone police. Notably, on 21 January 2019, two people were shot dead during clashes between members of local communities and security forces in the Sahn Malen Chiefdom in Pujehun District. On 31 May, police forces caused serious injuries when they used excessive force, including the use of tear gas, to disperse a protest on APC premises denouncing the nullification of some 2018 legislative results. In December, an investigation was launched into the rape of a minor, allegedly by a police officer in Kenema, eastern Sierra Leone. On 26 April, the authorities committed to legal reforms to give more power and independence to the Independent Police Complaints Board, responsible for receiving individual complaints and making recommendations regarding police abuses.

On WOMEN’S RIGHTS, the Report details that sexual violence continued to be a major concern. According to statistics from the Rainbo Initiative, 2,264 sexual assault cases have been reported to its centers from January to July, an increasing number when compared to 2018 in which 2,900 cases were reported nationwide for the whole year. On 19 February, President Bio declared “a State of Public Emergency over rape and sexual violence”. The announcement came amid growing outrage following a series of cases involving minors, including a 5 years old girl. Parliament on 19 June revoked the measure but on 19 September passed the Sexual Offences Amendment Bill into law. This new legislation provides that all sexual offense cases will proceed to the High Court for trial without having to be heard in a Magistrate’s Court to determine the sufficiency of the evidence. The law also prescribes life imprisonment as a maximum penalty for perpetrators of rape of a child. The Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education stated on October 15, clarifying that pregnant girls can now sit exams but still cannot attend school. On 12 December, the ECOWAS Court rejected the 2015 government ban on pregnant girls from sitting exams and attending mainstream school. The Court found that this policy amounted to discrimination against pregnant schoolgirls and breached regional and international human rights law.

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