For nearly ten years, Sierra Leone was ravaged by a violent and brutal conflict characterized by massive violations of human rights. Through the intervention of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), peace and stability were restored. However, an assessment conducted prior to the termination of the mandate of UNAMSIL revealed that the situation in the country was still fragile, that many of the root causes of the conflict have not been fully addressed, and that a number of human rights challenges continue to prevent the consolidation of peace. To create an enabling environment for economic development, the Security Council established the United Nations Integrated Office in Sierra Leone to assist the Government in establishing a national human rights commission, formulating a national action plan for human rights, expediting the implementation of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and strengthening the rule of law, including by promoting independence of the judiciary and enhancing the capacity of the police and the correction system. A stakeholders’ conference, held in December 2005, identified capacity building, legal reform, institutional development and the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations as prerequisites for the consolidation of peace.
A human rights commission was established and is now becoming operational. The capacity of civil society, government institutions and the UN Country Team has been built through training and collaborative activities. Sustained monitoring, increased advocacy and sensitization have resulted in improved respect for women and children’s rights and the passage of three gender bills and a child rights bill, as recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. A country report under CEDAW has been submitted, thus opening the way for constructive engagement with the international community on women’s rights. Some progress has been made in the justice sector through coordination of interventions, capacity building of key institutions and technical support. The Section’s nationwide assessment of prison conditions and the training provided for prison officers throughout the country have helped build the capacity of prisons to respect detention standards. Considerable progress has also been made in national reconciliation. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report has been widely distributed, and sensitization and consultative meetings with relevant stakeholders have been held to discuss the findings and recommendations.
As UNIOSIL phases out in 2008, the Section will accelerate its efforts to strengthen national capacity, in particular that of the national human rights commission, to assume full responsibility for the promotion and protection of human rights. It will also develop the independence and capacity of the judiciary, the police and corrections system, as the justice system continues to be characterized by delays in trials, prolonged pre-trial detentions, poor prison conditions, and weak prosecutorial capacity. The implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations will also be a focus of UNIOSIL’s work, as it is a crucial step towards the consolidation of peace. OHCHR will actively explore options for a human rights presence in Sierra Leone following UNIOSIL’s withdrawal.