The Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone (HRCSL) yesterday Monday 3rd August, 2015 submitted their position paper on the ongoing review of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone to the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) during which the HRCSL made a strong call for the future new constitution to be made to comply with the recommendations of the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission report of the year 2004.
It can be recalled that the Constitutional Review Committee was launched in July 2013 by President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma which commenced the process of reviewing 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone (Act No.6, 1991). HRCSL has been supportive of the work of the CRC as it is represented by one of its Commissioners engaged with four of the eight Sub Committees of the CRC; participated in several expert consultations of sub committees and its regional officers assisted with the CRC’s regional consultations.
Explaining the processes that led to the submission of their position paper, the Chairperson of HRCSL, Brima A Sheriff said an in-house CRC was set up and a Consultant was recruited to produce a position paper in accordance with the Human Rights Commission’s statutory mandate to protect and promote human rights and in particular to, ‘review existing legislation and advise Government concerning compliance by such legislation with the obligations of Sierra Leone under international treaties agreement and to “advise Government concerning draft legislation, which may affect human rights.”.
He also said a symposium of experts was held on 27th May, 2015, to generate a wide range of expert opinion on constitutional issues that have significant human rights dimensions and to focus on forward looking recommendations for consideration by the Commission. The Position Paper was validated on 2nd July 2015, and approved by the Commission on 27th July, 2015.
“Although many of the suggestions and recommendations in this Position Paper have already been raised to the CRC in papers and submissions from other entities and the general public, it is the HRCSL’s responsibility to give its considered stance justifying its positions from the Human Rights Based Approach (HRBA),”. Commissioner Brima A Sheriff stated adding “This current exercise is being described as ‘a review and not a rewrite’ of the Constitution; nevertheless, HRCSL submits that this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to ensure the supreme law of Sierra Leone addresses critical emerging issues that are not in the 1991 Constitution. New issues that have arisen since 1991 must be addressed and included.
Sierra Leone has been through dramatic events and processes since 1990 - civil war and military rule, return to multi-party democracy, the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) - and so has the world”.
The Human Rights Commission position paper made reference to its submission to the Peter Tucker Review Commission (PTRC) in 2007, which makes clear, that there still remain a number of recommendations for constitutional change made by the TRC in its Report of 2004 that are un-fulfilled. The HRCSL recalls that Section17 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act 2000 places an obligation on the Government of Sierra Leone to implement all TRC recommendations for which they submitted and urged that it was an appropriate time for compliance.
“Such compliance would send a strong signal that the Government and people of Sierra Leone are committed to respect the Rule of Law and Accountability,” the HRCSL Chairperson opined.
While the HRCSL acknowledged that the majority view on issues was important and needed to be taken into account, it also reminded the CRC that there are international human rights standards and commitments that the State of Sierra Leone, acting through the GoSL, has already entered into that it ought not to renege on or infringe simply because they do not or do carry majority approval at this time.
“Therefore, whether the reviewed Constitution is slim or bulky, it should be from a human rights based perspective. Respect for universal human rights standards should be the watchword of this review process and its outcomes” Brima Sheriff stated.
Receiving the position paper, CRC Chairperson, Justice Edmond Cowan said they were fulfilling their mandate given to them by Government to review the 1991 Constitution in tandem with the Peter Tucker recommendations. He praised the process to be participatory devoid of party politics interference and assured HRCSL that their position paper will be studied carefully. “We hope that hard work which you have put in this position paper will be captured in the final document” Justice Cowan said.
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