Human Right Commission releases reports on the Makeni riot, and called for professionalism by the Police in responding to a riot
Sulaiman Stom Koroma
On the 17th and 18th July 2020 an incident that will claim six lives, some to this incident.
However, before the riot, the government and other stakeholders were thinking of relocating an unused generator plant to Lungi International Airport which had electricity supply challenges. The main reason for this was to get the Airport ready for its reopening after it was closed because of the Corona Pandemic. But an initial attempt triggered a riot by youths of the Makeni Township early on Saturday.The angry protesters attacked shops, buildings, and the office of Sierra Leone Peoples Party in Makeni. In response eyewitnesses said, police fired live rounds and tear gas against the protesters.
After the riot, six people were reported dead and over 50 others were arrested and transferred to Freetown for further investigation. A twenty-four hours curfew was also imposed as a way of calming down the situation. The township was also promised that they will continue to receive power supply from the nearby hydroelectric plant.
After the riot, many people and institutions have been calling for an independent investigation into the matter and the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone was charged with the responsibility to conduct this investigation. On the 18th of August 2020, they have made their findings and recommendation accessible to the public.
In the preamble of the report, the Commission stated where the problem actually emanated from. “In the meeting, there were discussions around the signing of an MOU between Makeni stakeholders and the Ministry of Energy for the generator to be relocated and returned within a period of two months. At this meeting, the mayor agreed with Ministry officials based on the justification provided for the relocation of generator but requested for one week to consult further with other stakeholders and community people on the subject and then provide feedback to the Ministry within a period of one week. INTRODUCTION BACKGROUND THE OBSERVATION AND FACT FINDING TEAM MEMBERS 3 Unfortunately as stated by the Mayor, information to other stakeholders and community people was not provided as promised by the Mayor neither was feedback provided to the Ministry of Energy as the Mayor fell ill a day after the meeting and did not recover until after six weeks. The Ministry also did not make a follow up with the Makeni team on the delayed feedback until almost a month after the meeting. Rumors about the relocation of the generator and that Makeni will be left in total darkness following the relocation of the generator filtered into the community on the night of the 17th of July, reportedly left youth dissatisfied. The planned relocation of the generator plant on 17th July subsequently led to a confrontation between security forces and an uncountable number of youth who took to the streets of Makeni after the national curfew hours began at 11 pm”.
Among their findings, the commission confirmed that indeed there was a meeting between the government and the Mayor of Makeni. Because the mayor was ill the negotiations stopped and nobody was in place to continue it, some offices were destroyed by youth protesters, law enforcement body uses teargas on market women, youths, and children and killed five people, among other observations.
Meanwhile, the commission noted that the Right to live, unnecessary use of force within the market community, right to freedom of movement were violated and abused by the security personals. Also, the protesters committed some Human Rights Abuses like a restriction to the right of movement and destruction of property.
Therefore the Human Right Commission recommended the following:
Going forward, the police should stop taking firearms containing live rounds at scenes of protests/demonstrations except where it is extremely necessary; they should instead use rubber bullets and other lawful devices and means to dispersing protesters or quelling down protests.
II. The Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) should make provision that will better equip the police with riot safety gears and devices that will enable them to professionally respond to riots and protests without the loss of lives from both sides- the protesters and the police themselves.
III. The Law Enforcement Officials should speedily conclude investigations into the incident and identify that person who may have killed citizens, dismiss them from the force (s), prosecute them in a court of law, or in the court-martial as the case may be. Take appropriate actions.
IV. The police should swiftly investigate and prosecute individuals who caused damage to property during the riot and other forms of violent conduct.
V. The police should cease co-opting the military at every given opportunity during protests unless and until the circumstance truly demands military aid to the civil power.
VI. Youth should endeavor at all times to engage their representatives and other community leaders in a bid to channel their grievances rather than resort to lawlessness.
VII. That the Central Government should support the Municipality to conduct an Institutional Capacity Audit in order to address the striking administrative challenges.
VIII. The Independent Police Partnership Board (IPCB) should timeously investigate the discharge of firearms which may have led to the death of civilians.
IX. GoSL should bear the medical cost of injured victims.
X. Both the central government and the local government should do more to open up the communication lines by frequently engaging each other so that issues could be easily addressed and progress made.
XI. Similarly, both central government and local councils should frequently engage their beneficiaries/residents informing them about how governance works and how they themselves as the beneficiaries should contribute to the process. The National Council for Civic Education and Development should take the lead in this.
XII. The Law Enforcement Officials should recruit citizens of good moral standing and temperament and engage the forces on standard human rights training especially in dealing with riots.
Sadly, the report did not say where the government or the Mayor went wrong. The writer needs answers to the following: