Since the first peace operation in Sierra Leone, the UN had stressed the importance of strengthening the national human rights protection mechanism and promoting a culture of human rights in order to ensure long-term peace and stability in the country. Thus, the Human Rights Section (HRS) of successive missions had been engaged since 1998 in building Sierra Leone’s capacity to monitor, protect and promote human rights as well as enhancing the implementation of justice and reconciliation. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had been involved throughout all this process and the Head of the HRS also acted as the representative of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the country. This practice, which aims at promoting a coherent approach to human rights across the political mission, was formalized into the OHCHR/DPKO/DPA/DFS Policy on Human Rights in United Nations Peace Operations and Political Missions (1 September 2011).
The UN Security Council Resolution 2005 (2011) tasked the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL) with the mandate to provide assistance to the government in promoting good governance, the rule of law and human rights and well as to support the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone. It also called on UNIPSIL to support the government in implementing the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Sierra Leone’s Universal Periodic Review. In meeting its mandate, UNIPSIL HRS/OHCHR provided technical and financial support to key state and non state actors working on human rights.
Activities, Results and Challenges
With the support of international partners, Sierra Leone made progress in building its capacity for the promotion and protection of human rights. An active multi-party democracy evolved and the enactment of crucial laws in the area of women and children rights and person with disabilities improved the legal framework to protect vulnerable categories.
UNIPSIL HRS’ support actively contributed to the achievements of the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone (HRCSL), which in 2011 completed its first 5-years term and was awarded ‘A’ status by the International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions (ICC) recognizing its full compliance with the Paris Principles that set out the minimum standards to be met by national Human Rights Institutions. Some of the successes included the establishment of a Monitoring and Research Directorate, the holding of its first tribunal hearing inaugurating its quasi-judicial capacity and the outstanding role played in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Sierra Leone, a state-driven process which involved a review of the human rights records of all 192 UN Member States once every four years.
The Human Rights Section was essential in ensuring an active participation of all relevant actors in the UPR process and the Government of Sierra Leone was commended for its performance. UNIPSIL HRS’ commitment continued after the adoption of the UPR report with the organization of a National Conference to review the outcome of the process. On that occasion, the President of Sierra Leone declared his commitment to the implementation of the UPR recommendations and short after the Conference directed all relevant Ministries to follow up on this pledge.
UNIPSIL HRS provided technical support to the Government in meeting its reporting obligations towards international human rights treaty bodies and in mainstreaming human rights in development. The Section was also assisting the Parliament in promoting human rights legislation and provided technical and logistical support to the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee. The Section engaged in training and advocacy activities with a wide range of stakeholders including justice sector institutions, Sierra Leonean peacekeepers, journalists and civil society organizations. Logistical and technical support was also instrumental in building the capacity of networks of civil society grouped in District Human Rights Committees, and triggered the establishment of Chiefdom Human Rights Subcommittees to promote and protect human rights in the most rural communities. Finally, UNIPSIL HRS promoted the establishment of the Human Rights Working Group (HRWG) to enhance coordination of technical assistance to human rights related activities and co-chairs it with the HRCSL.
The HRS monitored the respect of international standards on civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights in the country, and reports on the human rights situation in Sierra Leone are prepared for both internal and public use. The Section, for instance, published a report on the rights of persons with disabilities in December 2011 with the aim of supporting the Government in the implementation of the recently enacted Persons with Disability Act. The Government responded positively to some of the recommendations, in particular fast-tracking the establishment of a National Commission for Persons with Disability.
In response to monitoring findings, UNIPSIL HRS also put in place new successful strategies. Since March 2011, the HRS promoted district Human Rights Justice fora to provide a platform for justice sector stakeholders to discuss human rights concerns and devise practical strategies to improve justice delivery. Tangible successes included the improvement of detention conditions, the release of juveniles detained with adults and of other people arbitrarily arrested, the fast-tracking of cases blocked in court and the reduction of the delay in charging SGBV cases to court. In the area of justice, an important focus of UNIPSIL HRS activities were improving access of women to justice through awareness raising on the three Gender Justice Laws of 2007 and training to a vast range of actors on sexual and gender based violence (SGBV). Support groups were created to disseminate this knowledge in their respective communities and provide support to victims wishing to access justice.
Joint Newsletter of the UN Joint Vision Programme 2 on Access to Justice and Human Rights
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Opening minds to rights behind bars
Department of Peacekeeping Operations - Sustainable Peace through Justice and Security
Click here for a Report on The Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Sierra Leone.
Click here for The 2009 Annual Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on Assistance in Sierra Leone in the Field of Human Rights.
Click here for The 2008 Annual Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on Assistance in Sierra Leone in the Field of Human Rights.