ERSG Meets Civil Society Organisations (CSOs)

24 Aug 2011

ERSG Meets Civil Society Organisations (CSOs)

The first ERSG-CSO Engagement meeting was held on the 16th August 2011 at UNIPSIL

Purpose of Meeting:

UNIPSIL is in the process of institutionalising meeting/engagement between the ERSG and CSOs. The purpose is to create space for engagement and meetings between the ERSG and CSOs for information sharing on the role of the UN in the country; the activities of the Civil Society Organisations and issues facing civil societies; and also as an accountability mechanism.

The role of CSOs in the work of the UN system as a whole has been recognized by the UN Charter as far back as 1945 when it was promulgated. Further to this, the institutionalization of engagement is in the right direction.

The relationship between the ERSG and the CSOs has sometimes been on an adhoc basis. The relationship should be symbiotic and the UN will continue to recognize the CSOs. The Civil Society Organizations are key partners in all development programs and their cohesion and coordination will contribute immensely to sustained awareness and development of communities. The UN should be seen as helping civil society organizations carry its mandate of advocating on behalf of the people or helping people to advocate on issues they faced on a day to day basis. The UN realized that the CSOs have a good role to play towards non-violent, free and fair 2012 elections.

The meeting was attended twenty members of nineteen civil society organizations. The agencies that participated in the meeting were Coalition of Civil Society, IRC SL, CSO/UNDP Forum, WANEP SL, AKHO, CESPEC, NETHIPS, NYC, NMJD, Western Human Right Committee, Women's Forum, Hope SL, CGG, Kontri Vision, WSSG, CSM, TUC SL, NEW, CSM SL, and UNIPSIL

Executive Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations
The ERSG in his opening statement talked about the 2012 elections, Sierra Leone Conference, extractives, Non-State actor project and constitutional review. On elections, he stressed tor the participation of women, non-violent and free 2012 elections. On the Sierra Leone Conference, in his opinion he will advocate with the President of Sierra Leone for a national debate before the conference. He further stated in his opinion that based on the current situation, it is not feasible for a constitutional review. Any constitutional review before elections will be disastrous for the country. He stressed on the need to get things right. CSOs should always update the ERSG on the situation and issues facing the country.

Civil Society Organisations
The under-mentioned were statements by members of the Civil Society Organisations present at the meeting.

Appreciation: CSOs applauded the effort of the UN to bring them together as it underscores the role of the CSOs with its non partisan nature. This engagement is too late to happen or should have started long time ago but is not wrong to start now. There is need for consistency in the engagement. The UN should put together a structure that adequately services the CSOs. There is also need for a separate entity that deals with that. The CSO would want to be part in defining the engagement.

Natural resources: CSOs are concerned with the way the mining sector is been used and continued to be abused. They do not appreciate the approach by the entire UN family to the concerns of the CSOs. The CSOs have on several occasions challenged or questioned government's decision on the sector but no support from the UN. According to the CSOs, the government is abusing their own national laws/acts. The CSOs have challenged Parliament but no support from the UN. The role of the some international institutions in the country is not in the interest of the country. The extractive companies are misbehaving but no one seems to care or show concern to the issues raised by civil society organisations. They believe that to be part of the UN system, the international community has a part to play in not allowing these mishaps and unfortunate situation to continue in the country. There is little or no attention from the UN. There is seemingly an improvement in human right issues in the country but the CSOs believed that the mining sector is the greatest violator of human rights in the country. According to the CSOs, African Mineral in the North, Sierra Rutile in the South and Koidu Holdings in the East are grossly exploiting the country at their benefit. There is continued abuse of CSO workers and no one has come to their aid. The incidences/abuses on CSOs are not accidental but intentional and supported by people of authority, according the CSOs.

Elections: The road to elections is set up but the preparation is in different forms. For policing of elections, there is lack of logistical support. The borders are porous. Police are not well equipped. Participation of women should be improved and enhanced. More women should trained and broaden participation for a violent free elections. There is need to create a level playing field.

Tensions are on the increase among the main political parties. The UN's involvement will definitely ease the tension.

The civil society is divided. The role of the civil society at times is not clear. The civil society is fragmented. There is need to form coalition. There is need to depersonalized the civil society and form synergies. Civil society is an important platform. Civil society organizations should look at their integrity, weigh their responsibilities, be committed to the nation, and be selfless and ready to sacrifice.

The capacity of the PPRC should be built. The Commission needs to be well trained and to be neutral. The UN should call on the PPRC for a dialogue. The position of PPRC to include NDA as a dormant party was unfortunate. PPRC is very difficult to engage.

There is still an issue with the Chairperson of NEC- the opposition will not accept results of elections conducted by Christiana Thorpe. They are against the reappointment of Christiana Thorpe.

Women: Lots of violence in the society. There is rampant sexual assault despite having the laws. The CSOs believe this violence will translate to the elections. Violent has hindered women's participation. Though the UN resolutions on women 1325 and 1820 were adopted, they have not been match with adequate resources. Women are resource trapped. There are still issues of sexual violent victims of the war. There is need to adopt more comprehensive or holistic approach on women's issues. The first batch for reparation is done but the second batch is yet to be assisted. There are still victims yet to be registered. The training of would -be -officers during 2012 elections by INEACE is skewed to male participants. Female cannot meet the cost of Le. 500,000 for the training. There is need for more women to be trained. There is need for the UN to protect civil society. If the UN should protect CSOs, then the CSOs will be ready to do its work based . The Joint Communiqué' still stands as an obligation to be fulfilled by the main political parties in the country that are signatories. The UN has not given full attention to the civil society organisations. If the Joint Communiqué is adhered to, we will see violent free 2012 elections. The CSOs are targeted by the powers that be for raising issues but the UN says nothing. Even when the civil society is threatened, nobody/institution comes to their rescue. They expressed the need to popularise the Joint Communiqué as much has not happen.

Monitoring Elections: CSOs monitor elections but their report are normally not given due consideration or regarded seriously. According to the CSOs, reports from foreign observers were given more recognition than reports from CSOs in the country. The local monitoring reports by CSOs are normally rejected or accepted as credible. There was the issue of NEW in court that received no attention from the UN.

The CSO appreciated the successes of UNAMSIL but the CSOs played a part in that success. Twenty two activists died during the May 8, 2000 encounter between CSOs and the rebel leader, Foday Sankoh. The 22 people that died due to gun and grenade shoots had not received any recognition from even the UN and no assistance has been provided for dependents.

The UN needs to be updated frequently on national issues and work of the CSOs. The CSOs appreciated the diversity among themselves. There is a case in which the UNDP-CSO forum has set up structures but the structures have collapsed due to funding. The UN does not have real structure to engage CSOs. There is need for sustained engagement with CSOs.

CSOs want to be part of the engagement with the ERSG/UN. Agencies are very worried about what will happen next year. The issues that lead to the war are now reoccurring. There is need for the international community to help address the issues. The CSOs should speak right.

A serious tension is imminent in Kholifa Rowala Chiefdon, Tonkolili District. The process of dethroning the elected Paramount Chief remains a question. Instances can be cited to the situation of Biriwa Chiefdom. These issues are paving the way for violence in 2012.

According to the CSOs, some media houses are aiding violence. Some private radio stations are engaged in political propaganda. The main political parties are mobilizing political marshals. Youths are on the firing line. Youths are used by politicians. There is still evidence of elections based on tribal and regional factors. The government and main opposition are embarked on tribal propaganda. The UN has failed to come up front to make a position on the Victor Foe's press release and the opposition position of not accepting the outcome of 2012 elections if conducted by Christiana Thorpe.

The UN has contributed in creating parallel CSOs rather than building the already established civil societies. The CSOs stated that the Independent Media Commission (IMC) is not doing well. Who is monitoring the SLBC? The two civil society members of the SLBC board were not chosen by the CSOs. There are few radio stations not registered with the IMC or NATCOM. These radio stations are broadcasting negative political propaganda new items. There is need for the UN engage the media as it is currently a 'fire setting' mechanism. The police election and gender strategies have a lot of gaps. A lot of preparation has taken place and in process but it is mostly on logistics.

Response from the ERSG
In response to the above issues and recommendations, the ERSG stated that there is a change in the PR of the UN. The UN has pulled back. There is need for the civil society organisations and the country not to depend on outside institutions. The UN has embarked on programmes to build the capacity of democratic national institutions to be effective and work towards achieving their mandates. He stressed the need to institutionalised engagement with CSOs. He announced the availability of funding for Non-State Actors. The Election support programme implementation for Non-Sate Actor Project of Election support is divided into seven programme clusters by target group such as Political parties (APPWA and APPYA, religious communities, traditional societies, academia, civil society, outreach (media and artists) and Sierra Leone Conference. The project should have a national outlook. There is need for an impartial network. The CSOs have always been challenged of quality- who can really implement? Who is there? The UNIPSIL has already identify a focal point person to work on the civil society thematic area. There is need for the CSOs to strategise on how to structure the meetings.

Action points
The CSOs agreed to have the monthly ERSG-CSO Engagement meetings on the 1st Wednesday. But for September 2011, the meeting is slated for the 2nd Wednesday.