The Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone last Wednesday submitted its eighth report on the “State of Human Rights in Sierra Leone” to President Ernest Bai Koroma at State House in Freetown.
Submitting the report to President Koroma, the chairperson of HRCSL, Brima Sheriff said the eighth report catalogues the activities undertaken by the Commission in the protection and promotion of human rights, as well as the ways in which fundamental rights and freedoms in the constitution and international and regional agreements to which Sierra Leone is a party were observed or violated in the year under review.
Speaking about the year under review, Commissioner Sheriff explained that the outbreak of the Ebola virus posed a serious threat to the enjoyment of the rights to life, liberty, security of the person, as well as the right to health. “This was compounded by the unpreparedness and ill–equipped nature of the health-care system, which led to the rapid spread of the disease that eventually claimed over 2,000 lives, including medical doctors, nurses and other frontline health workers by the end of the year. Health workers and survivors experienced stigmatization by community members,” he stated.
He recommended for government and parliament to ensure that the current constitutional review process includes the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health as a fundamental human right in the revised constitution, and the allocation of at least 15 percent of the annual budget to the health sector in line with the Abuja Declaration.
The Commission called on the College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences and international partners to increase in the intake and training of doctors, nurses, lab technicians and other frontline health workers through provision of scholarships, especially in the management of infectious diseases, improved conditions of service and the strengthening of existing healthcare facilities nationwide.
The Commission noted the appointment of one High Court judge for Kenema and six magistrates to address the shortage of judges and magistrates nationwide, but said in the administration of justice, delays in processing indictments, shortage of judges and magistrates and the frequent adjournments of cases accounted for prolonged detention and overcrowding of correctional centres nationwide.
HRCSL welcomed the enactment of the Correctional Services Act 2014, and called on the Ministry of Internal Affairs to provide personnel of correctional services with training, logistical and infrastructural support so as to improve on the condition of inmates and to fully implement the Act as the general conditions of the correctional centres fall below standard.
“The detention of juveniles with adults and the absence of remand homes in some districts are in contravention of their human rights. The judiciary should only use custodial sentences as a last resort for punishing those juveniles who come into serious conflict with the law,” said Commissioner Sheriff.
Brima Sheriff raised concern that the Commission is currently a grade ‘A’ Status and will be reviewed in 2016. In that regard, he said government should provide the much needed resources to the Commission in compliance with UN Paris Principles for National Human Rights Institutions, the criteria set for maintaining its grade ‘A’ status.
The Commission therefore humbly requests the President to summon a joint meeting with relevant ministries and other stakeholders to discuss the institutional challenges prior to the Commission’s review.
Receiving the report, President Ernest Bai Koroma thanked HRCSL for their support provided in the fight against Ebola through the preparation stages in the fight against Ebola, the developing of the Standard Operating Procedures for quarantined homes and checkpoints and also in involving in sensitization.
The President noted the recommendations and human rights issues highlighted and stated that that from the looks of the report, the country’s human rights record was good. He assured of government’s commitment to promote human rights and democracy in the country, while stating that the country is making progress.