500 young people in the Western area were engaged by the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone (HRCSL) on the 17th and 19th May, 2023 on “Human Rights, Elections and Non-violence.”
The Commission noted that as the country heads to the polls on the 24th June, it has identified youths on the edge as potential risks to the enjoyment of human rights during the electioneering period. It continued that these vulnerable youths are often used by politicians to create disturbances during elections.
Targeting youths from Ghettos, Car Wash points, Hook-up Girls, Bike Riders, Cliques and Ataya Bases, the engagement was geared towards understanding the issues igniting the participation of youths in election violence and establishing Human Rights Non-violence Ambassadors.
It was also availed the opportunity for the Commission to undertake one of its functions, ‘awareness raising’, among youths who according to the current statistical data form one-third of the country’s population among which 70% are either underemployed or unemployed and 50% are illiterate. The Commission stated that such underpins the fact why these groups of persons are being misled which eventually leads to their involvement in crime-related acts.
According to the Commission’s monitoring reports, this group forms the greatest number of people in detention. The Commission, therefore, considers it a duty to engage this set of persons to create awareness among them, particularly to avoid violence during the upcoming election.
Chairperson of HRCSL, Patricia Narsu Ndanema, pointed out that the Commission’s mandate is to ‘protect and promote’ human rights of all in Sierra Leone adding that one can only enjoy human rights when you have freedom. She disclosed how the Commission decided to engage young people in non-violence because it wants to prevent a situation where in the action of a few people will affect the rights of the majority. “The Commission believes and trust in youths present here, we don’t want any violence in the elections,” she said.
National Youth President, Tejan Z. Kelleh, thanked the Commission for bringing youths together to talk about peace and non-violence in elections. He said this has been the best engagement so far by the Commission with young people. Addressing his colleagues, Kelleh said, “We all have roles and responsibilities, and as youths, it is our right to go out and vote on Election Day. But we should also ensure there’s no violence during and after the polls.” He added that youth should be law-abiding if they want their rights to be respected. He urged participants to be ambassadors of peace and non-violence in their respective communities and hangouts.
Bike Riders in Sierra Leone form a huge community among the youth population. They have been identified among the youth category as a critical group that can be used to engage in violence.
According to the Bike Riders Association (BRA) President Umaru Talie Bah, they have one thousand, two hundred and fifty-six (1,256,000) registered riders across the country. He thanked the Commission for including them in the engagement and committed to ensuring that Bike Riders do not engage in violence during the elections and after the elections.
The BRA East District representative, Mohamed S. Turay, stated during the engagement that, “The peace of this country is in the hands of Bike Riders. We have had a lot of criticism over the years but I want to say we are the most peaceful in society. Bike riders suffer the most when there is no peace in a country and our responsibility is to serve as ambassadors of peace,” he said.
Assistant Inspector General of Police ,Sylvester Koroma, Regional Commander-West spoke on the responsibility of the police which is to maintain law and order. “Our message to you is simple, enjoy your rights as much as you can and stay away from violence during and after the elections. It is our work to ensure that citizens enjoy the peace and no one will take that entitlement away from them,” he stated.
Youth leaders from the various targeted groups made a commitment pledge not to involve in violence before, during, and after the elections and also educate their colleagues.
The Commission unveiled its human rights and non-violence in elections theme song done by the youths.