By Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai
On the 4th April, 2018 President Julius Maada Bio assumed the mantle of leadership from former President Ernest Bai Koroma as President of the Republic of Sierra Leone.
In his party’s New Direction manifesto, he promised a New Direction for Sierra Leone as a united, peaceful, progressive, dynamic, confident, enterprising and happy nation where the people have unlimited access to jobs, food, education and health services and where there is equal justice and equal opportunity for all.
Twelve Months on, there have been instances involving the Sierra Leone Police and the general public which hinge on the manner in which they have been discharging their constitutional mandate. Today’s ideal is “democratic policing.”
This means, broadly, a Police force that is publicly accountable, subject to the rule of law, respectful of human dignity and that intrudes into citizens’ lives only under certain limited circumstances.
It is on this basis that as an Institution that has worked extensively on human rights and democratic good governance in Sierra Leone since its inception in 2003; and has engaged with Sierra Leone authorities on a range of issues, we would therefore like to take this opportunity to raise with the issues that require President Maada Bio and his new government’s urgent attention.
RESTRICTION ON FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
On this, we want to bring to his attention that the Sierra Leone Police should be mindful of the fact that the right of Freedom to Peaceful Assembly and Association can be exercised by individuals, groups and associations. Participation in peaceful assemblies helps ensure that people have the opportunity to express opinions they hold in common with others and supports dialogue within civil society and among civil society, political leaders and government, as well as being important for the full enjoyment of other Human Rights.
Mr. President Sir, the restriction on the freedom of association creates a chilling effect on people and limits their ability to exercise their Right to freedom of peaceful assembly. There is a justifiable culture of fear in Sierra Leone because people know that if they come out to protest, they will be intimidated by the police in one way or another and it is unlikely that anyone will stand up for them.
The right to freedom of peaceful assembly, together with the closely related rights to freedom of Association and Freedom of Expression, is enshrined in human rights treaties to which Sierra Leone is a party, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Africa Charter and the constitution of Sierra Leone explicitly provide for the Right to the Freedom of Assemble which include the Right to protest. Member states to these treaties have an obligation to respect, protect, promote and fulfill these rights, that is, to ensure that their own agents do not violate these rights further that no restrictions are imposed on them other than those which are demonstrably necessary and proportionate for a legitimate purpose permitted under international law; to protect the exercise of these rights against interference by third parties; and to ensure that individuals within their jurisdiction are able to exercise these rights in practice.
It will interest you to again note that the Sierra Leone Police have used lethal and excessive force to disperse protests over the past 10 years with impunity. This approach limits the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and creates a chilling effect, with people reluctant to exercise this right due to fear of intimidation and violence
INTIMIDATION OF DISSENTING VOICES
SDI is of the view that democratic policing should be viewed as a process and not an outcome. Societies experience a continual tension between the desire for order and liberty. There is a paradox in the fact that a democratic society needs protection both by police and from the police. Given the constitutional mandates of Police in democratic societies, citizens must continually ask “how efficient do we want police to be and under what conditions are the police discharging their responsibilities?
Democracy, whether viewed as a process or an end condition, is defined by broad values involving participation and formal rules. But for most persons most of the time, these are removed from daily life. That is not true for the police, the agency of government that citizens are most likely to see and have contact with.
All democratic societies use police to control crime and to contribute to public order (e.g., mediating and arbitrating disputes, regulating traffic and helping in emergencies). However, the organizational conditions under which police operate, the means they use and the ends they seek vary greatly between democratic and non-democratic societies, even as there are overlapping areas involving the control function of policing
One element in defining a democratic society is a police force that:1) is subject to the rule of law embodying values respectful of human dignity, rather than the wishes of a powerful leader or party 2) a police can intervene in the life of citizens only under limited and carefully controlled circumstances and 3) is publicly accountable
On Tuesday 17th July 2018, the Executive Director of Native Consortium – a civil society activist Mr. Edmond Abu was invited by the Sierra Leone Police to give an account of a peaceful protest he intended to stage over the removal of fuel subsidies which consequently led to the increase of fuel product prices in Sierra Leone from Le. 6,000 to Le.8, 000
His Excellency, SDI fully believes that citizens have the fundamental human right to protest on government policies without any limitation or hindrance from the Police as provided by the 1991 Constitution Section 26 (1) which states “Except with his own consent, no persons shall be hinder in the enjoyment of his freedom of assembly and association, that is to say, his right to assembly freely and associate with other persons and in particular to form or belong to any political party, trade unions, or other economic, social or professional associations, national or International, for the protection of his interest”
Similarly, an opposition politician who is the Leader of Alliance Democratic Party, Mr. Mohamed Kamarainba Mansaray was again invited to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) for allegedly speaking his mind on radio and television interviews he granted to Radio Democracy Good Morning Salone program and the Africa Young Voices (AYV) respectively.
As a democratic state, free speech is guaranteed which is a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or a community to articulate their opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation, censorship, or sanction. The term “freedom of expression” is sometimes used synonymously but includes any act of seeking, receiving, and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used.
Freedom of expression is recognized as a human right under article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and recognized in international human rights law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 19 of the UDHR of which Sierra Leone is a party thus states that “everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference” and “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice”
It is important for the Sierra Leone Police and Public officials to note that “Freedom of expression…is applicable not only to information of ideas that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock, or disturb the state or any sector of the population”.
It is on this basis that SDI strongly condemns the actions of the Sierra Leone Police and also notes that individuals have the right to express their opinions with regards the state and on government policies. Government in turn has the mandate to correct any information which they deem as inaccurate or misleading rather than to arrest or invite citizens to the Police for expressing their fundamental rights
We believe that it is government’s responsibility to protect the universal rights and freedoms of all Sierra Leoneans and foreign nationals living in Sierra Leone. As the fountain of honor, the President wields great influence in ensuring that the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) respects and enforces the rights and freedoms embodied in both part III of the 1991 Constitution as well as international human rights instruments. What he says in support of rights and freedoms can have significant influence in consolidating democratic policing.
We therefore urge the President and his government to make these issues a priority. We divided our recommendations on each subject into those that can have near-immediate impact on the human rights situation of large numbers of people, and those that will require longer-term commitment of political will and resources; There should be robust engagement between Sierra Leone police and the communities they serve around the policies and priorities of policing.
• Police actions should be guided by rules and policies that are transparent and formulated with input from the public
• The Sierra Leone Police should develop and use sound metrics of success that encompass all of the goals of policing, including community trust.
• The Sierra Leone Police should ensure they adhere to conventions and treaties signed by the government of Sierra Leone on behalf of its people
• The responsibility of the police is to protect lives and properties and also provide security for peaceful protests when the need arises
In anticipation of your usual cooperation, we thank the President in advance for taking robust action on this all important issue