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UN Member States Commends Sierra Leone's Human Rights Credentials

UN Member States Commends Sierra Leone's Human Rights Credentials

Geneva, Wednesday 12 May 2021: Sierra Leone is among dozens of UN Member States that have this month being reviewed on their human rights record. Sierra Leone's review took place on Wednesday, 12 May 2021, at the ongoing 38th Session of the Working Group Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations Assembly Hall in Geneva, Switzerland. 

Sierra Leone's first UPR took place in May 2011, and the second was in January 2016. At this 38th Session, Sierra Leone and 13 other UN Member States were reviewed from 3 to 14 May 2021.

The Head of the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Sierra Leone to the United Nations Office and Other International Organizations in Geneva, Ambassador Dr. Lansana Gberie, coordinated Sierra Leone's in the review. The high-power government delegation was headed by the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Hon. Anthony Y. Brewah. The delegation from Freetown participated using a virtual platform and Ambassador Gberie led an in-person delegation to the review in Geneva and moderated the discussions.

Introducing the delegation in Freetown, His Excellency Professor David John Francis, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said that Sierra Leone has made significant efforts to improve human rights since the last review in 2016, adding that the submitted national human rights report reflects achievements and challenges in fulfilling Sierra Leone's human rights treaty obligations during the implementation period under review. 

In his statement, Hon. Anthony Brewah Esq. said that Sierra Leone has made tremendous efforts in moving forward the Constitutional Review process, strengthening the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone, undertaking comprehensive justice sector and land rights reforms, and has taken important steps to abolish the Death penalty, among others.

"I reaffirm the Government of Sierra Leone's commitment to the Constitutional Review process. My Government has recently approved the recommendations made by the Committee of Experts on the Justice Cowan Constitutional Review Report and the 2018 Government Whitepaper. They are currently at the Government's printing department to be published ", the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice said.

"Following the 2nd cycle UPR in 2016, Government immediately commenced implementing the 177 accepted recommendations. We also fully implemented four (4) and partially implemented nine (9) of the remaining 31 noted recommendations. This is about 91% of the total 2nd cycle recommendations Sierra Leone intensified efforts to eliminate discrimination against children, like persons with disability, the protection of the rights of children, women, and other persons in vulnerable situations occupy center stage in our Medium-Term National Development Plan ", he said.

Hon. Brewah maintained that Sierra Leone has been building strong institutions with expressed mandates and inherent powers to protect, promote and fulfill human rights, including the newly established Sexual Offenses Model Court as part of the High Court of Sierra Leone.

During the interactive session, UN Member States commended Sierra Leone for repealing its 55-year old criminal libel law, for its robust fight against corruption, for its effective gender equality programs, for allowing pregnant girls back to school, for embarking on an effective national civil registration program, for hosting a successful Hands Off Our Girls Campaign as part of the national response to gender-based violence on women and girls, for guaranteeing the independence of the judiciary and other states institutions, and for combating human trafficking and child marriage.

As per practice, other UN Member States recommended that the Government of Sierra Leone abolish the death penalty, eradicate female genital mutilation, provide training for law enforcement officers, and implement laws to address discrimination against women, girls, persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups. 
 
On female genital mutilation and other gender issues, Honorable Ms. Manty Tarawalli, Minister of Gender and Children's Affairs, said Sierra Leone is committed to the progressive realization of the rights of our people based on the freedom to associate and participate in cultural activities to the extent that they are capable of making such decisions. 

Honorable Manty Tarawalli added that the Government's policy that bans FGM initiation of girls under the age of 18 remains in force. She explained that the criminal law under Sections 18, 20 and 49 of the Offenses Against the Person Act could be invoked to prosecute those who inflict assault or bodily harm on non-consenting adults in the course of performing FGM initiations.

"MOUs have been signed with all Chiefs and leaders of the secret societies, which gives them the authority to monitor and enforce the ban on under-age initiation of girls. At the same time, the Ministry of Local Government regulates the activities of the secret societies through the local chiefs. This has contributed to a sharp decline in the rate of FGM from 98% in 2007 to 78% (MICS 2019) ", she concluded.

Ambassador to Switzerland and Permanent Representative to the United Nations Office and other International Organizations, Dr. Lansana Gberie, said Sierra Leone is firmly committed to a comprehensive approach to Sustainable Development Goals, adding that a successful implementation of the SDGs must directly address human rights issues such as the right to education and development. 

When addressing concerns about the recent Cybercrime Bill that the Government introduced in Parliament a few months ago, Ambassador Gberie said that nothing in the Bill could be used to stifle freedom of expression or the media. The Government has already taken the bold step to repeal the libel law, which had been used with great efficacy by successive Governments for 55 years and therefore, the Government committed that it would not pass any covert and uncertain mechanism to pursue the same ends that the libel laws were used for.

At the conclusion of the review, Sierra Leone promised to take on board all the recommendations carefully and would use the Human Rights Council session in September 2021 to indicate which recommendations it will accept or note. 

The Vice President of the Human Rights Council thanked the delegation of Sierra Leone for engaging with the Council and providing a comprehensive record of the state of human rights in Sierra Leone. 

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