A group of Commissioners in various Human Rights Institutions across Africa have expressed dismay over the move by President Bio and his government to advertise the position of the Human Rights Commissioners while their tenure still subsist. They have vehemently expressed that if the government of Sierra Leone proceeds to sack their colleague Commissioners in Sierra Leone, they will not hesitate to bring legal actions against President Bio and his government in the ECOWAS Court of Justice.
Chief among those that are in the lead to undertake this move are Commissioners from South Africa, Kenya, Rwanda, Ghana, Cameroon and Ethiopia Human Rights Institutions . One of the Commissioners remarked that ‘they are doing this to not only guarantee the independence of the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone but also to prevent other Heads of State in Africa from following the bad precedent of President Bio’.
These Commissioners as a first step have written a protest letter to the President of Sierra Leone and other dignitaries through their regional body known as NANHRI ( Network of African National Human Rights Institutions) calling on the government to respect the independence of the Commission and to refrain from dismissing its commissioners without regard to due process.
But with the bold step already taken early this month by the Attorney General to advertise the position of the Human Rights Commissioners, it is apparent that the Bio government is determined to act otherwise even if it meant violating the 1991 Constitution or bringing the state to disrepute at the UN level or battling with legal actions at regional judicial mechanisms.
A particular Commissioner from one of the renown Human Rights Commissions in the continent, upon hearing that an advert has been made, opined that ‘he will lobby other colleagues from Human Rights institutions across Africa to put a strong case to the UN for Sierra Leone’s Grade A Human right status to be downgraded’.
Sierra Leone presently enjoys a Grade A human right status and it has maintained this status since 2011. If it ends up losing its Grade A status, such might have serious implications for direct foreign investment into the country.
It is also important to note that the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone is an independent institution that was established by an Act of Parliament in 2004 to promote and protect the rights of everyone in Sierra Leone. Its establishment came about as a result of recommendations proffered by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) after the war.
The Commission’s 2004 Act provides for 5 commissioners to superintend over the affairs of the Commission . They enjoy a fixed tenure of 5 years and can be further renewed for another 5 years period subject to satisfactory performance. The commissioners are not board members but employees of the Commission and work full time. The current sets of Commissioners have only taken about one year in office since their appointment. There is vacancy for two more Commissioners in the Commission that is yet to be filled out by the government.
Critics of the Bio regime have called upon him to fill out the two vacancies and leave the other 3 Commissioners to enjoy their 5 years tenure at the very least. They expressed that this was exactly what the former president, Dr Ernest Bai Koroma did when he met Human Rights Commissioners appointed by his Predecessor. He allowed them to finish their tenure as required by the Act and 1991 Constitution. The Sierra Leone Bar Association and Civil Society Organizations have also called on the government to respect the independence of the Human Rights Commission.
The Procedures for removing or dismissing the Human Rights Commissioners are enshrined under section 4 (3) (g) of the 2004 Human rights commission Act and section 137 (7) of the 1991 constitution respectively. According to section 4 (3) (g) of the 2004 Act, the Commissioners can only be removed or dismissed by the procedures as set out in section 137 (7) of the 1991 constitution.
Section 137 (7) of the 1991 Constitution requires that, before dismissal, commissioners must be sent to a tribunal hearing and recommendations for removal by the Tribunal must secure two thirds approval from members of Parliament before the President can remove any commissioner. The Commissioners of the Human Rights Commission enjoys the same secured protection in office like that of a judge in the High court in Sierra Leone.
Any attempt therefore to remove or dismiss them illegally would amount to a violation of not only international law but also section 4 (3) (g) of the 2004 Human rights commission Act and section 137 (7) of the 1991 constitution respectively.
Based on the above sentiments that have been widely expressed across the world on this attempted illegal sacking of the Human Right Commissioners of Sierra Leone, it will be in the best interest of President Bio and his new direction government to quickly intervene and protect the independence of the Human Rights Commission so as to prevent a plethora of litigations against his government at the ECOWAS COURT and AFRICA COURT by International NGO’s, Civil Society bodies and Commissioners from National Human Rights Institutions across Africa.
*Consortium for Human Rights, Good Governance and Democracy* *(CHRGGD- SL)*