Sierra Leone Telegraph: 13 December 2017:
Political parties and candidates in next year’s elections should commit to the protection and promotion of human rights in Sierra Leone as a key objective if elected to office, said Amnesty International and over 40 Sierra Leonean civil society organizations today, in a document addressed to the country’s would-be politicians.
The Sierra Leone Civic Space Manifesto calls on all candidates and parties to sign a pledge committing themselves to protect and embed human rights principles including freedoms of expression, assembly, association and the protection of human rights defenders. Sierra Leone’s presidential and parliamentary elections take place on 7 March 2018.
“Sierra Leone has emerged from years of civil war with a vibrant society where its people are demanding the right to be heard. This manifesto provides the country’s politicians with an opportunity to entrench and protect their right to do so, for current and future generations,” said Solomon Sogbandi, Amnesty International Sierra Leone Director.
“It is our hope that all candidates and parties will commit to the manifesto’s principles by incorporating them into their party’s vision and policies and making a pledge to deliver these commitments if elected.”
The manifesto outlines a series of human rights commitments that Sierra Leone’s politicians should undertake if elected, along with specific policy recommendations in each area.
Candidates and political parties are being urged to uphold the right to freedom of expression, including by decriminalising press offences and protecting privacy.
Candidates should also take action to protect and promote the right of all people to gather publicly or privately to peacefully meet, protest or campaign. As part of this commitment, the security forces must be trained and enabled to police gatherings without the use of excessive force.
Existing or proposed legislation which places obstacles in the way of people forming associations, clubs or other organizations should also be repealed or amended.
“We raised concern that the NGO bill, proposed last year, would unduly restrict, rather than enable, the work of non-governmental organizations. We call on all candidates to ensure that freedom of association is fully respected and protected,” said Emmanuel Saffa-Abdulai, Executive Director of Society for Democratic Initiatives.
The manifesto calls on political parties and candidates to protect human rights defenders, who require safe conditions to carry out their work.
This can be achieved by a commitment to passing and implementing the Human Rights Defenders Bill that was submitted to the Attorney General’s office by the Human Rights Defenders Network in February 2017.
“Women human rights defenders in particular must receive the protection they need against gender threats and violence they may face due to their work. We expect political parties to commit to this,” said Lois Anita Kawa, President of Sierra Leone Female Lawyers Association, L.A.W.Y.E.R.S.
“Those who want to lead the country in future must recognize that civic space is the bedrock of any society that values and respects human rights. This needs to be safeguarded,” said Ibrahim Tommy of Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law.
“This coalition of more than 40 civil society organizations are calling on all presidential candidates and political parties to sign the civic space manifesto and commit to enabling people and civil society groups in Sierra Leone to participate fully and freely in civic life.”