Her Excellency, Dr. Ebun Strasser-King, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation is attending the 25th Session of the Human Rights Council taking place from 3 – 28 March 2014.
Dr. Strasser-King spoke at the High-Level Session on Wednesday 5th March 2014 at 11.30am during which she highlighted some of the developments in Sierra Leone. She began by commending the High Commissioner for her hard work and outstanding leadership and was pleased to report that the United Nations integrated peacebuilding office in Sierra Leone would successfully complete its mandate at the end of the current session.
Dr. Strasser-King also welcomed the nomination of the new independent expert on the Central African Republic and commended the efforts of the African Union and the United Nations multidimensional integrated mission to Mali for their work in the Central African Republic and Mali. Sierra Leone had developed policies and worked with stakeholders to fight poverty and improve access to healthcare, and it appreciated support from civil society. Dr. Strasser-King said it was vital to respect for territorial sovereignty in the context of conflict resolution efforts in Africa and recalled that Sierra Leone had ratified the majority of human rights instruments, many of whose provisions had been included in the 1991 Constitution. She spoke about Sierra Leone’s efforts in promoting economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights, enhancing women’s participation, and addressing violence against women, the rights of children and access to education.
On the 4th of March 2014, Dr. Strasser-King also gave speeches during the High-Level Panel on Human Rights Mainstreaming and asked pertinent questions on the future role of the United Nations during the High-Level Dialogue on the Promotion of Preventative Approaches within the United Nations System.
STATEMENT OF THE DEPUTY MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION
H.E. DR. EBUN STRASSER-KING
HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL
HIGH LEVEL SESSION
5th March 2014
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great honour and privilege to address this High-Level Session of the Human Rights Council today. Let me start by pledging the continued support and commitment of the Government and people of Sierra Leone to the promotion and protection of human rights throughout the world.
Allow me at the outset to congratulate you, Ambassador Baudelaire Ndong Ella and the members of the Bureau on your election to guide the work of this august body. We wish you every success in the year to come.
My delegation would also like to express its appreciation for the hard work and outstanding leadership shown by Ms. Navi Pillay throughout her mandate and we commend her team for their dedication in promulgating fundamental freedoms worldwide.
History has shown us, time and again, that the promotion and protection of human rights are best served through open dialogue. Sierra Leone actively supports the universal respect and promotion of human rights which we believe form the central pillars of our constitutional principles and the rule of law.
We are happy to report that at the closure of today’s session, the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSL) would have successfully completed its mandate in my country. Their work has been transferred to the United Nations Country Team (UNCT) which will continue to work with the Government of Sierra Leone blueprint document, the “Agenda for Prosperity”.
We believe in the mechanism of the Universal Periodic Review as it continues to add an essential element and value to the human rights work of the United Nations, and in particular, to the role of the Human Rights Council.
Sierra Leone submitted its Universal Periodic Review in 2011, and during this first cycle, we accepted 126 of the 129 recommendations. As a member of the Human Rights Council, Sierra Leone has also been actively participating in the UPR Troika.
We will continue to contribute to the ongoing work of the Council and other mechanisms of the human rights treaty bodies. We are also working closely with the special procedures mechanisms of the Council and hope to invite various Special Rapporteurs to visit Sierra Leone.
Most recently, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief visited our country in 2013 to consider the situation on the ground, and during his visit, he called Sierra Leone “a blessed nation” as regards our religious diversity and tolerance. Sierra Leone is currently in the process of implementing the recommendations in his report. In terms of the widespread religious tolerance, to date, our country holds the greatest track record.
Equally, we believe that it is important for countries to respect our cultural practices and sensitivities. The international world should take into consideration our culture, traditions and beliefs which form integral parts of the patchwork that makes us the nation we are today. While we accept that certain cultural practices might be harmful, forcibly imposing on others foreign belief systems or norms can be counterproductive.
Consensus can only occur as a result of education and intensive awareness-raising. But this requires time.
While the world continues to face many serious human rights challenges at this time, perhaps more than ever, we continue to believe in the work of the United Nations in addressing situations of human rights violations. The Council is the purveyor of human rights norms and has proven its vital role in finding solutions to difficult situations, providing a sustainable platform for dialogue, and for seeking comprehensive solutions to real issues and challenges.
In this regard, we welcome the nomination of the new Independent Expert on the Central African Republic and we hope that peace and stability will form an integral part of the future discussions on the situation in Bangui, as well as in other parts of the African continent.
We commend the efforts of the African Union and the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission to Mali for their work in the Central African Republic (CAR) and in Mali. In particular, for their peacebuilding efforts and for supporting transitional authorities and protecting those who without their presence, would live in constant fear for their lives, property and human integrity.
Through their efforts, we have seen that there is only one effective way to end conflict and that is through open and inclusive political dialogue and social inclusion.
The outbreak of internal conflict in many parts of the world demonstrates the importance of prevention. We are interested in further discussions aimed at human rights mainstreaming and the promotion of preventative approaches within the United Nations system. It is necessary to strengthen and develop the legal framework of the human rights mechanism.
Furthermore, we believe that in order to be effective, consolidated endeavours to promoting and protecting human rights should be undertaken in compliance with the universally recognised norms and within the framework of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Charter.
In the fight against poverty and improving access to healthcare, my Government has been developing various policies, and at the same time, working collaboratively with various stakeholders, including international and local Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) to develop broad-based and inclusive projects.
We appreciate and support the work of civil societies and their continued efforts to engage local communities. The Government also continues to encourage freedom of the press as we believe it will further strengthen national dialogue and the exchange of information in an open and democratic manner. In this vein, the Freedom of Information Law was passed in Parliament in 2013.
Sierra Leone is committed to assuring better parameters for maternal health strategies and to eradicating child mortality, especially within the local and rural communities.
We refer in this context to programmes such as “Every Newborn” under the auspices of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and we call for targeted policies which take into account the women and children who would otherwise have limited access to facilitated healthcare programmes or assistance.
We are proud of our national initiatives such as the “Free Health Care Initiative” (FHI) for pregnant women, lactating mothers and children under five years old which addresses all dimensions related to reproductive health, quality service delivery and access to amenities.
In relation to conflict resolution in countries within the African continent, we welcome the respect of territorial sovereignty and we appreciate the work of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and other agencies of the United Nations for their efforts to protect national integrity.
Sierra Leone has ratified the majority of the existing international human rights instruments. Our country is also a state party to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.
On the national front, our Constitution of 1991 contains a number of human rights provisions which safeguards the freedom of religion or belief, as well as protecting other fundamental freedoms of its people.
On 30th July 2013, the President launched the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) which is charged with the task of revising the Constitution. The CRC is mandated, over a period of two years and through a broad-based participatory approach, to overhaul and streamline governance principles.
In this context, my Government is similarly committed to political reform. Since the end of the conflict Sierra Leone has held three democratic multi-party elections.
There have been several notable development in the area of economic, civil and political rights promotion. We have established measures to improve human rights standards and access to education for children. In Sierra Leone, basic education is free and girls are encouraged to seek further education beyond the basic level.
A growing number of women are participating in the political and administrative sectors of the Government. As part of the constitutional review, it is envisaged that 30% of the seats in national government will be reserved for female candidates.
Today, I am proud to inform you that women occupy a number of key positions. Our Commissioner General of the National Revenue Authority, Administrator and Registrar General, Director General of the Sierra Leone Roads Authority, Solicitor General, Auditor General, the Chief Justice, Brigadier General, Chairperson for Environmental Protection Agency, Head of Electoral Commission and several more as chairpersons of various parastatals are women.
Listening to all the statements that have been made over the course of the last three days, it is evident that we are not alone in the quest to uphold the highest standards of human rights promotion. We are keen to learn about best practices and developments in governance practices.
To this end, we believe in long term strategies aimed at improving normative standards. Sometimes, these may also require seeking technical assistance and cooperation, especially in implementing sustainable action which takes into account the specific needs of our country.
The protection of women against violence is a top priority for my Government. I quote here H.E. President Koroma who on the 8th of March 2013, stated that “Violence against women is violence against the State.”
To name a few of the already existing legislation; the Domestic Violence Act has been in force since 2007, the Sexual Offences Act was enacted in 2012, and in 2013, a National Action Plan on Gender-Based Violence was launched.
The Government has been reporting regularly on developments relating to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Committee on the Elimination of Violence against Women (CEDAW).
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention of the Rights of the Child. We must continue to support and promulgate inclusive and more accessible education, especially for girls living in rural communities. We support measures aimed at promoting the role of women in society and indeed, Sierra Leone continues to push forward various policies and strategies at the national level in this regard.
We firmly believe in the right to development. Our new framework document, the ‘Agenda for Prosperity’ highlights this strong commitment as well as our hopes for a future Sierra Leone that is inclusive, a middle-income country where socially and politically empowered women continually contribute to our national development, and over 80% of our population lives above the poverty line, We believe that with each passing day and given our staunch commitment to national development and human rights promotion, that moment is approaching faster than ever before.
Thank you, Mr President.