Overview of the human rights and democracy situation: Sierra Leone has achieved remarkable progress in human rights and democracy since the end of the civil war. However, challenges persist, largely due to poverty, governance issues and entrenched traditional practices. The human rights legal framework is satisfactory, while the main issue continues to be implementation. Presidential, parliamentary and local elections took place in March/April 2018 and yielded a peaceful transition of power to Julius Maada Bio in May 2018. President Bio’s commitment to human rights was reaffirmed at State Opening of Parliament in May 2018. Limited progress on the human rights agenda has been achieved so far. The launch in December of a National Strategy for the Reduction of Adolescent Pregnancy and Child Marriage is a welcome development. Since the new Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) has relieved the previous Commissioners of The Sierra Leone Human Rights Commission (SLHRC) of their duties in 2018, the appointment of new Commissioners is pending and the process has been challenged.
The new administration has significantly stepped up efforts to curb corruption, with tangible results, but in 2018 efforts appeared to focus on the past administration. Several high-level appointments and the replacement of significant numbers of state employees raised concerns with regard to due process and inclusive governance. Violent clashes between supporters of opposing parties in September 2018 during the Kambia by-elections have not been publicly condemned by the GoSL and an official investigation report is still pending. In December 2018, a draft Development Cooperation Framework was presented, in which the role of NGOs is largely restricted. Furthermore, the Constitutional Review Process, aimed to increase inclusive democracy and national cohesion and to align the Constitution to international human rights norms, came to a standstill in the wake of the change of government. Further efforts are needed in the areas of consolidating the rule of law and the separation of powers in Sierra Leone.
EU action – key focus areas: EU activities in Sierra Leone in the area of human rights and democracy in 2018 focussed on promoting gender equality and woman's rights, support to electoral processes, improving detention conditions, working with civil society, support to freedom of expression, abolition of the death penalty, enforcement of legislation against child labour and exploitation, rights of persons with disabilities, fight against corruption and improved access to justice, health and education.
EU bilateral political engagement: In the framework of the political dialogue, the EU and Member States invited the GoSL to make further progress in the areas of transparency, rules-based decision making and disclosure, implementation of the recommendations issued by the EU Election Observation Mission (EOM), women's and children's rights, repealing criminal libel law and the abolition of the death penalty. They expressed support to the GoSL in its efforts to minimise corruption but underlined that the Commission of Inquiry should apply the highest levels of transparency, integrity and independence. They also conveyed concerns regarding the new NGO policy, which might possibly lead to a de facto restriction of civil society space. Many of these points were also discussed during the visit of President Bio to the EU in November 2018.
In partnership with UN Women, the EU Delegation held a major awareness raising event in November 2018 to mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. For the 16 Days of Activism Campaign, EU produced a video with strong messages from gender ambassadors in Sierra Leone, including from President Bio. The video was aired on national TV and during a National Gender Based Violence Policy Dialogue conference. The EU and Member States continued to advocate for the elimination of FGM, focusing in 2018 on the approval of a National Strategy for the Reduction of FGM and supporting sensitisation efforts. On Human Rights Day, a video from the EU Human Rights Defenders Campaign was projected. International partners continued to advocate with GoSL for the repeal of criminal libel and the abolition of the death penalty.
EU financial engagement: The EU and Member States actively supported the UN-led process of assisting Sierra Leone in holding credible, inclusive and transparent elections in 2018, by being constantly engaged in the strategic and technical steering structures of the process. An EU EOM was deployed to assess the entire electoral process and presented its 29 recommendations to the GoSL and election stakeholders. Under its governance programme, the EU provided technical assistance to the National Electoral Commission (NEC) for EOM follow-up and to Parliament to facilitate the legislative process for corresponding legal instruments. Another technical assistance team worked within the National Civil Registration Authority on legal and technical issues to create future voter registers. A multi-donor UNDP electoral assistance programme brought together the EU, UK and Ireland (and also Canada) in financially supporting the NEC, including post-electoral activities till end 2018. The EU also supported National Elections Watch (NEW), an umbrella CSO with over 300 member organizations, as well as the NGO Search for Common Ground to improve overall citizens' involvement and participation in governance processes in six selected districts. A project under the African Peace Facility, implemented by ECOWAS, assisted with the prevention, management and resolution of conflicts around the time of elections and had a concrete positive impact on the 2018 elections process. Support for the work of the NEC funded by the UK, Ireland and EU included a priority focus on participation of people with disabilities.
The EU supported the local NGO Prison Watch, which works on improving the human rights situation in detention centres. A number of projects signed in 2018 under the EU's Civil Society Organisations/Local Authorities (CSO/LA) budget line work towards empowerment of women and their participation in policy making, as well as strengthening of rural CSOs to enable them to participate in development and decision making processes. A project funded under the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), led by the international NGO GOAL in collaboration with World Hope International and the Sierra Leone Labour Congress, has been addressing trafficking in human beings, child labour and decent work issues. The EU worked with local authorities and CSOs to support quality learning and education service delivery. Several projects across the country are aimed at increasing access of especially the girl child to education, improving the quality of teaching and teaching facilities and educational infrastructure. The EU also supported projects for improved access to quality education for children with disabilities in two districts.
Multilateral context: The EU and the Member States followed up on the implementation of recommendations made in the framework of Sierra Leone’s 2nd cycle Universal Periodic Review (UPR) held in January 2016.
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