Sierra Leone Telegraph: 8 May 2019:
As political tension continues to rise in Sierra Leone, after last week’s walking out of parliament by the main opposition APC party, in protest at what they see as the SLPP government’s abuse of power, the heat has been directed at civil society activists who are being accused of partisanship.
But yesterday, a group of civil society organisations – representing the majority of human rights activists in the country, spoke with one voice in condemning the growing attacks on their members as well as the current political climate: “There is an urgent need to call out the forces responsible for building up the prevailing tense political atmosphere”.
This is what they said:
We the undersigned express our deep concerns and dismay at the shrinking space for inclusive political participation and dialogue in Sierra Leone, following the March 2018 general elections.
We also unequivocally condemn the recent attacks and intimidation on civil society leaders, including the Executive Director of Campaign for Good Governance (CGG) – Madam Marcella Samba-Sesay, who has publicly expressed critical views on the current governance challenges.
We view such attacks as completely unwarranted and a veil threat to silencing critical civic voices on national issues, thereby reducing the scope for genuine political participation and advocacy in Sierra Leone.
We therefore urge the government to take immediate steps to ensure that the right to defend human rights and fundamental freedoms are respected, protected and fulfilled.
We are also concerned about the growing intolerance of dissenting civil society activist(s) and how the “Us vs Them” dichotomy has manifested itself in various forms across the nation – from censorship fiats to acts of outright physical intimidation and emotional blackmail.
The escalating attacks on civil society activist(s) and whistle-blower(s) have taken a toll not just on individuals but also on social justice activist(s) and human rights defenders, and in circumstances in which the agents of such acts of violence are often alleged to be state actors or their accomplices.
We are therefore reminding the government of its primary responsibility not to acquiesce to such acts but to adopt such measures necessary to ensure that the rights and freedoms are guaranteed at all times.
Civil society has long played a crucial role in peacebuilding and national cohesion in Sierra Leone, providing life-saving assistance and upholding human rights for all. As the space to work freely and without fear shrinks, there is a need to reflect on this troubling situation.
Whilst we condemn the brazen attack on critical civic voices, we affirm our support for the proposed National Peace and Cohesion Conference – dubbed Bintumani 3, in reference to and continuation with Bintumani 1&2 Conferences that were hitherto led by civil society groups ahead of the 1996 democratic multiparty elections.
Considering the sacrifices made by many Sierra Leoneans and our international partners to promote peace and strengthen democratic governance, it is imperative for us to consider the multiple factors that have created conditions that make it dangerous to do a job that is critical in a democracy.
There is an urgent need to call out the forces responsible for building up the prevailing tense political atmosphere.
As civil society leaders, we have no doubt that the proposed National Peace and Cohesion conference is important and timely, but we are equally convinced that we will lose the essence of the proposed conference and ultimately unable to achieve the intended objective if not organized by independent and sincere actors and in good faith.
It is in this light that we strongly recommend that the Bintumani 3 be led by independent moral guarantors of the Lomé Peace agreement with the active participation of all political parties, national and religious leaders.
Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI)
Human Rights Defenders Network (HRND-SL)
Amnesty International Sierra Leone
Budget Advocacy Network (BAN)
Amazonian Initiative Movement (AIM)
Sierra Leone Action Network in Small Arms (SLANSA)
Campaign for Good Governance (CGG)
Action Aid Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone Market Women’s Association
National Civil Society Forum- Moyamba
Network Movement for Justice and Development (NMJD)
Western Area Rural District Civil Society Forum
Thorough Empowerment Education and Development for Women and Girls in Africa
Skyy Women’s World Network
Girl2Girl Empowerment Movement (G2G)
Center for Democracy and Human Rights (CDHR)
Social Enterprise Development – Sierra Leone (SEND)
John Thorpe Girls Empowerment Program
Forum Against Harmful Practices (FAHP)
Bambara Town Women’s Organization (BTWO)
Civil Society Movement Sierra Leone (CSM-SL)
Civil Society Movement East – Kenema
Fambul Tok International
Ms Valnora Edwin