US heartened by current efforts of Sierra Leone’s political leaders to enter mediated dialogue – says Ambassador Hunt

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 25 September 2023:

As the people of Sierra Leone continue to pin their hopes on the outcome of political dialogue between President Bio’s ruling SLPP and the main opposition APC, over allegations of massive vote rigging at the June 24 elections which saw President Bio declared winner, questions are being raised about the dialogue process itself.

The opposition APC are calling for a re-run of the elections, amidst accusations of vote rigging by the Electoral Commission whose Head is said to be a loyal supporter of President Bio and a patron of the ruling SLPP.

The USA and election observers have described the election results as lacking integrity and transparency.

Despite calls for all polling station results to be published, the Electoral Commission has refused, claiming there are no laws requiring it to publish those results.

What many in Sierra Leone, including supporters of the opposition APC are expecting is that the dialogue process will include at the very least, setting up of a review group of independent election experts from abroad, who will examine the polling station results to verify and determine who really won the election.

Speaking last week, in commemoration of the International Day of Peace, US Ambassador to Sierra Leone – Bryan Hunt, made the following statement:

Ladies and gentlemen, esteemed guests, and friends. Thank you to our UNDP colleagues, in partnership with the Independent Commission for Peace and National Cohesion, for hosting us here today on this 42nd International Day of Peace.

On this occasion, the world stops to reflect on peace and to imagine the kinds of communities – locally and globally – in which we want to live.  But for many rights now, instability and insecurity – particularly in this region – are top of mind.  Violent extremists, transnational criminals, corrupt elites and institutions, dire economic conditions, food insecurity, and climate change – all these have the power to undermine development, endanger security, and spark humanitarian crises.

This year, as we come together to dream of a more peaceful world, it is impossible to ignore the forces and destabilizing actions that wrest us all from those visions.  From the unlawful regime changes being seen throughout this region, to the horrors of Russia’s unprovoked war in Ukraine, there is reason to question whether peace, stability, and international norms are still ascending.

Russia’s illegal invasion of its neighbour has sent shockwaves throughout the international community.  It has disrupted global stability, imperilled economies, disrupted trade, and, most significantly, displaced millions of innocent civilians.

Sierra Leone, like many African nations, has paid the price for Russia’s choice to violate international norms and pursue aggression.  Downward shifts in global financial and commodity markets, humanitarian assistance shortfalls, and the rising cost of necessities are all directly linked to this choice and are having a devastating impact on ordinary Sierra Leoneans.

Shoulder-to-shoulder with our Sierra Leonean partners, the United States has worked to marshal the support of the international community to stand in defense of the UN Charter and the values of sovereignty and territorial integrity that Russia’s war has violated.  On multiple occasions at the UN, 140 nations – two/thirds of member states – stood with Ukraine and those cherished principles, and I want to thank Sierra Leone for its leadership in defense of international law.

As President Biden said this week at the UN General Assembly, “Russia believes that the world will grow weary and allow it to brutalize Ukraine without consequence. […] If we allow Ukraine to be carved up, is the independence of any nation secure?

Sierra Leone’s stance in support of Ukraine sends a powerful message that the world should stand together in condemnation of those who engage in unprovoked aggression and in support of those who strive for peace.  This reason is among the many reasons that the United States looks forward to welcoming and working closely with Sierra Leone as it assumes a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council in January.

Sierra Leone’s own history serves as a beacon of hope for those who suffer from violence and a shining example of the constructive role that both United Nations peacekeeping and international reconstruction assistance can play in helping societies end and recover from conflict.

Sierra Leoneans’ commitment to rebuilding this nation and moving it forward along a democratic trajectory has inspired many around the world.  And though the democratic institutions and the spirit of national cohesion that you have built continue to be tested, the United States is heartened by the current efforts of Sierra Leone’s political leaders to enter mediated dialogue and by what we are confident will remain a commitment to non-violence to overcome the immense challenges stemming from the country’s recent elections.

It is evident that the pursuit of peace is not a solitary endeavor, but rather a collective responsibility, and it requires national leaders to compromise place the interests of those they serve continuously above their personal and partisan ones.

Part of the answer to challenges to security and stability lies, of course, in developing effective, competent, and professional law enforcement and security services that protect citizens while respecting human rights.

The United States has been proud to provide training to the Sierra Leone Police and members of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces.  But as Secretary Blinken said in a recent speech, not everything can be solved with more and better-equipped security services.  Getting at the root causes of instability and insecurity is the only way to bring about lasting peace.

This means strengthening and developing criminal justice and security sector approaches that respect the rights of every individual, and which hold accountable those that abuse their powers.

It means expanding economic opportunities – particularly for young people – who may otherwise feel they have no alternatives beyond drug abuse, crime, or causing unrest.

And it means supporting and growing democratic institutions. Democracies everywhere are increasingly under threat from within and without challenged internally by politicians stoking fear and exploiting resentment to enrich themselves and seize greater power and challenged externally by autocratic regimes who spread disinformation and weaponize corruption for their political gain.

As the people of Sierra Leone know all too well the corruption that leads to the impoverishment of communities through illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing, illicit mining, and illegal timber harvesting also fundamentally undermines democratic institutions, national cohesion, and peace.

As we commemorate this International Day of Peace, let us reaffirm our commitment to the core principles of peace: adherence to international law, defense of fundamental freedoms, and respect for human rights.

Let us continue to strive for inclusive and sustainable economic growth that allows opportunities for everyone to thrive with dignity and for stronger democratic institutions that can continue to carry the aspirations of our societies forward.

Let us work together, as global citizens, to ensure that the horrors of conflict, such as the one in Ukraine, may become a distant memory and those responsible for them are held fully accountable.  Finally, let us recommit ourselves to continuing to fight against that corruption which deprives communities of their livelihoods and erodes democratic institutions both from without and from within.

In closing, I want to express my gratitude to the people of Sierra Leone for their resilience, their dedication to the cause of peace, and their determination to build a democratic future for this nation.

Thank you and let us work tirelessly for a more peaceful and just world.

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