School girls in Sierra Leone arrested and detained for attempting to register to vote

8 March 2012

Just weeks ago, a serious political row erupted between the ruling APC party and the country’s main opposition SLPP, when the later issued a press statement complaining about serious irregularities in the voter registration process.

They accused the ruling APC of gerrymandering and sponsoring the registration of ex-combatants and non-residents in the opposition’s southern districts of the country. No one has been arrested or detained by the police following those allegations against the government.

But reports from Freetown say that an opposition Member of Parliament has been arrested for alleged electoral registration misconduct and detained without bail.

Also, today it is reported that 10 school children have been arrested and detained in inhumane conditions in the southern district of Kailahun, after similar allegations of electoral registration malpractice.

The country’s human rights commission has issued the following statement, to register its concern at the violation of the rights of those children, as tension rises:

“The Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone (HRCSL) has been monitoring the incident of the arrests at a voter registration centre in Ward 25, Mendekema, Kailahun District of ten (10) school girls on the 1st of March 2012, who allegedly attempted to register in the ongoing Biometric Voter registration on false pretences that they were 18 years.

“The Children were detained at Kenema Police Station for six days.

“Concerned that the suspects are children entitled to the protection of their rights as juveniles in conflict with the law, the Commission recommended their release on police bail pending investigations.

“In fulfilling its statutory mandate, the Commission also monitored the overall treatment of these girls whilst in detention at the Kenema Police Station, through its Eastern Regional office, since their arrest, engaged the police to ensure that the rights of the children were respected and protected.

“All ten girls were charged to Court in Kenema on Wednesday, March 7 and were granted bail and have returned home. The Commission will continue to monitor the court proceedings and the general well being of these children.

“The Commission appreciates the cooperation it received from the children, their families , the Police and the National Electoral Commission on this issue.

“The Commission is however deeply concerned about the prolonged detention of the girls by the police for six days before they were charged to court and calls on the police to comply with constitutional provisions relating to the detention of all suspects pending investigations.

“The Commission is also investigating alleged degrading treatment meted out to the girls during their arrest and detention.

“The Commission reminds the judiciary of their duty to ensure that the children are tried in a juvenile court in compliance with national and international standards for juveniles in conflict with the law.

“Meanwhile, HRCSL wishes to admonish all especially citizens who will not be 18 years by the eve of the November 17elections to refrain from presenting themselves at registration centers for registration.

“Adults, especially politicians, are also urged to desist from encouraging children to unlawfully present themselves for registration; and all citizens to refrain from acts that create circumstances conducive for violations of human rights during the electoral process.”


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