BUSINESS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Sierra Leone is party to numerous international and regional human rights treaties which may be relevant in the commercial context, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Chapter III of the Constitution concerns the “Recognition and Protection of Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms of the Individual”.
Human rights concerns have been identified in a number of areas, including in relation to gender equality and rights relating to sexual orientation, labour rights and land acquisition along with sector-specific concerns such as mining conditions. In March 2016 President Ernest Bai Koroma refused to sign a bill legalising abortion, saying it should be put to a referendum.
However, steps have been taken to enhance human rights protection, with steady improvement being seen since the civil war ended in 2002, including through the establishment of the Commission in 2004 with a mandate to protect and promote human rights across the country. The Commission is accredited by the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and has been active in investigating human rights concerns. The Commission advises the GoSL on draft legislation which may impact human rights. It has also played an active role in the constitutional review process launched in July 2013. Individuals may report concerns of human rights violations directly to the Commission.
In 2013, following a public inquiry into human rights concerns, the Commission partnered with human rights institutions in Denmark and Ireland to develop Guidelines for Monitoring Human Rights and Business in Sierra Leone. The Guidelines are intended to be used by the GoSL, District Human Rights Commissions and civil society to promote respect for human rights in business activities. The Commission submitted the country’s eighth edition of the annual report to the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review in October 2015.
In addition, the National Commission for Social Action has been active in promoting the rights of those with disabilities in Sierra Leone, providing rehabilitation grants to over one thousand conflict victims, including amputees. Legislative reforms include the Persons with Disability Act 2011, which transposed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into domestic law, gender justice laws and the Child Rights Act 2007.
It is important to note that irrespective of the number of new rules adopted to combat corruption and promote human rights, it will be the degree to which those rules are applied and enforced which will determine the GoSL’s success in these areas.