Interestingly, while Sierra Leone was engaged in the UPR process, the country also stood for HRC elections. Based on its pre-election pledges, Sierra Leone became a member of the 47 nations strong Council in 2013, for a period of three years. With its membership expiring, at the end of 2015, it is time to evaluate Sierra Leone’s performance in the HRC.
The formulation of the UPR is based on the extent of the member-state’s respect for its human rights obligations, contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the various human rights treaties that the state is a part of, and the voluntary pledges made by the country prior to its election to the HRC.
The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative’s (CHRI) latest report, Easier Said Than Done, is a compilation of the performance of Commonwealth countries’ at the HRC, and also their compliance with domestic and international human rights obligations. This year’s edition, which reports on India, Pakistan, Botswana, Namibia and Sierra Leone is particularly well timed as it coincides with the end of Sierra Leone’s last UPR working group.
Prior to its election to the HRC, Sierra Leone had pledged its commitment to constructively engage in the meetings of the Council domestically promote and protect human rights , and cooperate with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the special procedures and the treaty bodies. The country affirmed its commitment to the UPR process and vowed to implement acceptable recommendations, and strengthen the country’s justice sector.
Overall, based on CHRI’s assessment, Sierra Leone was an active participant in the work of the Council. It was particularly active in panel discussions, taking part in more than 55 per cent of them, but also maintained a relatively high participation rate in interactive dialogues and general debates. Equally commendable is the fact that Sierra Leone accepted recommendations from its first UPR cycle and followed it up by enacting the Right to Access Information Act in 2013. To contextualise Sierra Leone’s UPR, it must be acknowledged that during the time of its review, the country was battling one of its greatest public health challenges in the form of the Ebola Virus Disease. It started out as an outbreak, which soon assumed epidemic proportions, resulting in almost 4000 deaths. Despite such a tremendous setback, Sierra Leone managed to stick to its development agenda to a great extent.
It maintained its abolitionist stance and was one of the few Commonwealth countries on the Council to vote in favour of resolutions urging the implementation of moratoriums on, and eventual abolition of, the death penalty. During UPR sessions, it consistently urged countries that had not done so to implement moratoriums on the practice. However, despite its announcements at the HRC, Sierra Leone is yet to ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In a bid to strengthen its justice sector, the country, has enacted laws such as the Legal Aid Act 2012 and the Corrections Act 2014. Nonetheless, as Amnesty International noted in its Stakeholder submission to the UPR on Sierra Leone, conditions in prisons and detention centres continue to be appalling and well below international standards. Keeping in view the suggestions on exploring alternatives to detention and ameliorating its penal system, Sierra Leone would do well to take steps towards implementing the Ouagadougou Declaration and Plan of Action on Accelerating Prisons and Penal Reforms in Africa.
By the time Sierra Leone’s UPR outcome report gets tabled at the HRC in June 2016, the country would have embarked on its third UPR cycle. The recommendations from the outcome report will become the basis for the country’s next UPR cycle, which will last until January 2021. In these ensuing years, Sierra Leone must work towards greater compliance with its human rights obligations, including its pending submissions which are due for the Committee on the Elimination of racial Discrimination (CERD), Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) and the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).
By taking on the recommendations of the HRC and the political will to see them through, Sierra Leone has the opportunity to turn back the years marred by civil strife and move towards a justice and equity.