The Independent Police Complaints Board (IPCB), with funding from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on Monday 9th July, 2018 commenced its first round of Countrywide Focus Group Discussions at district level, starting in Tikonko Town, Tikonko Chiefdom, Bo District.
According to the Communications Officer, Amadu Femoh Sesay the aim of the FGD was to sensitize and raise awareness regarding the existence and provisions of the Luanda Guidelines, a Right-based Approach to Arrest and Pre-trial Detention in Africa and its implementation in Sierra Leone; Democratic Policing; and functions and role of the IPCB. He informed the gathering that the IPCB had developed a 5 Year Strategic Plan for the Implementation of the Luanda Guidelines in Sierra Leone, which it believed will help to strengthen human rights and the rule of law in the country.
He pointed out that these set of outreach activities at District level form the fifth stage in the IPCB’s public outreach following the formal launch on 20th October, 2015, the Regional launches and Town Hall Meetings in Makeni, Bo and Kenema in November, 2015; and the Town Hall Meetings and Youth Engagements in Bo, Kenema and Makeni in November last year.
Speaking on the Luanda Guidelines, the Communications Officer noted that since the end of the 11 year civil war, the government of Sierra Leone and its development partners have immensely invested in the Security and Justice Reform processes, but a number of challenges still remain – there are still human rights implications, which also led to the congestion of detention facilities and prisons all over the country.
The Regional Outreach Officer South, Mustapha Musa pointed out that the concerns expressed above are similar to those in other African countries. He added that in its efforts to address the above concerns, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) developed the Guidelines for the Conditions of Arrest, Police Custody and Pre-Trial Detention in Africa and adopted it during the Commission’s 55th Ordinary Session in Luanda, Angola in May 2014.
These Guidelines provide procedures that Sierra Leone and other State Parties to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights should take to uphold, promote and protect the rights of people in an arrest, police custody and pre-trial detention environment. These procedures seek to mitigate arbitrary arrests and encourage State Parties to ensure that their security and justice sector actors provide rational and tangible reasons for arrests and detention done.
In her introductory statement, the Board Secretary, Emerlin George informed the participants that the IPCB is an independent civilian oversight agency for the Sierra Leone Police (SLP). Mrs. George stated that the main components of its activities rely on receiving and investigating complaints from the public throughout the country.
She said the functions of the Board set out in Section 3 (1&2) of the IPCB Regulations, 2013 provide the Board with a broad mandate to not only receive and investigate complaints on specific cases of police abuses, but also to advise the SLP on ways in which incidents involving the police as provided in the Regulations may be avoided or eliminated.
The Board Secretary added that the IPCB in order to deliver on its mandate sees itself as not only a ‘listening organization’, but also a ‘bridge builder’ working towards bringing the police and the community closer.
In his welcome statement, the representative of Hon. Paramount Chief Joseph K. Macavorey iii and acting Town Chief, Augustine L. Moiwo referred to this engagement as IPCB’s maiden visit in the Chiefdom, adding that they were very pleased to have the Board and its participants in their mist. He told the gathering that the creation of the IPCB was a laudable initiative, adding that there was need for government to strengthen the capacity of the Board.
The FGD was characterized by frank and open discussion in a two- hour highly interactive session centered on the theme, ‘IPCB as trust and confidence builder and, how to ensure justice for all’. The focus of the discussions was on the ‘Role and Functions of the IPCB, Luanda Guidelines and Democratic Policing and its Benefits to Society’.
The discussion revealed that many of the participants were not aware of the existence of the IPCB and the provisions in the Luanda Guidelines. They highlighted the unhealthy relationship existing between some members of the community and the SLP as a result of perceived heavy handedness in police dealings. They see the IPCB as a means through which justice and fairness will hopefully prevail in matters involving them and the police.
The engagement attracted 30 participants selected from within the community, including Women’s group, Civil Society Organizations, NGOs, Traditional Rulers, Farmers, ONS, Inter-Religious Council, SLP, Traders, Okada Riders Association, Drivers’ Union, Teachers, Schools, among others.
The session was immediately followed by a live radio discussion programme involving some IPCB staff and a participant. This was an opportunity for the Board to convey the issues discussed and open up further discussion involving the public through phone-in.
The next Focus Group Discussion for this round will take place at Bandajuma Sowa, Pujehun District on Tuesday 10th July, 2018, followed by Njala Mokonde, Moyamba District on Thursday 12th July, 2018 and Tihun in Bonthe District on Friday 13th July, 2018.
The second round starts on Tuesday 17th July, 2018 in the Eastern Region followed by the third round on Tuesday 24th July, 2018 in the Northern Region and will conclude with sessions in the Western Rural and Urban Areas starting on Tuesday 28th August, 2018.