Sierra Leone Telegraph: 23 August 2020:
Sierra Leone’s Chief Minister – Professor David Francis is believed to have confirmed that President Bio will attend the forthcoming United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) summit, provisionally set by the UN to take place in mid-September 2020 to early October 2020, joining other Heads of States and Governments in New York.
But will president Bio be able to keep his head high and emboldened by a strong human rights record?
His supporters say that “the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Report, supported by the United Nations and other Western countries clearly exonerated President Bio of any human rights violations during his service with the NPRC junta” in the 1990s.
But his critics say that since taking over power in 2018, there has been no fewer than 48 State sanctioned killing of innocent Sierra Leoneans by his government’s security forces with impunity, as no one has faced justice for those brutal killings.
In his defence, his supporters argue that the killings are legitimate and in response to the growing lawlessness in the country.
But this argument does not resonate comfortably with those who say that the killing of citizens without due legal process is unconstitutional and a gross violation of human rights that has no place in the United Nations.
Some of his critics have gone so far as to call for the International Court of Justice to investigate the killing of unarmed civilians in Sierra Leone by the president Bio’s security forces, and to hold the president accountable.
Many of president Bio’s supporters are instead deflecting such calls on to what they regard as the president’s “good stewardship” since he was elected President of Sierra Leone two years ago.
President Bio they argue, is delivering on his manifesto commitment to provide Free Quality Education (FQE) for the children of Sierra Leone in promoting children’s rights to education.
They also point out that President Bio has allocated 21% of the Country’s GDP for spending on education.
President Bio’s commitment to freedom of speech they argue, “is evident for all to see. After 55 years in the country’s Statute Books, President Bio moved for a repeal of Part V of the 1965 Public Order Act. The APC Government failed in its promise to the people of Sierra Leone to repeal this Act.”
President Bio’s Chief Minister Francis, says that the President is passionate about the protection of women against gender and sexual based violence, for which the president declared a state of emergency on rape and sexual violence, and prescribing a maximum penalty of 15 years in jail for those found guilty of such crimes.
Bio’s supporters point out that the President has established a Rape and Sexual Offences Court for the first time in Sierra Leone, as a testament of his commitment to human rights.
The president’s supporters also point to the Global Peace Index which ranks Sierra Leone as the 46th most peaceful country among 163 countries as evidence of success by his government, but they play down the fact that since coming to power in 2018, scores of opposition party executives and supporters have been arrested, beaten and locked up in prison – facing a rigged justice system.
SLPP government’s supporters also speak highly of what they regard as “President Bio’s demonstrable commitment to establish and operationalize the Independent Commission for Peace and National Cohesion (ICPNC) before the end of 2020”.
But critics say that the proposed CPNC will simply become another gravy train, a white elephant and job creation scheme for SLPP party loyalists and their cronies. “It is just another bogus scheme to perpetuate corruption in the country,” they say.
Other developments mentioned by SLPP party loyalists as evidence of president Bio’s good stewardship “is the establishment of the Ministry of the Environment to promote environmental rights in Sierra Leone. The afforestation and tree planting project target the planting of five million trees in Sierra Leone”.
“With these achievements, President Bio will walk shoulder high to the United Nations General Assembly in New York where he will interact with other World Leaders. President Bio will have the moral high ground to mount the podium to address his colleagues. The President will not be distracted by trivialities,” his supporters conclude.
But will the killing of scores of unarmed citizens in just two years of being in office, and the arrest and detention of opposition politicians and supporters, create discomfort for president Bio at the United Nations General Assembly, or will he hold his head up high?