By Amin Kef (Ranger)
The Human Rights Defenders Network-SL, on the 6th August, 2022, highlighted that the rule of law affirms that the people have a right to know what their Government does and how State institutions relate with each other.
It added that peaceful assembly and association in society have definitive watchdog qualities, which itself requires that human rights defenders (professional and non-professional human rights workers, volunteers, journalists, lawyers, etc.) enjoy free space for association, assembly, and access to information, especially public information, to advocate and report accurately and fairly.
Referencing Chapter III of the 1991 Constitution, which guarantees the enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms, and Articles 10, 11, 19 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, which also guarantee the enjoyment and freedom to association, assemble and equality in the rule of law, the Human Rights Defenders Network-SL pointed out that the rule of law demands an acceptance of diversity of opinion, association and assembly, and when realized in society, it ensures equality before the law and guarantees to all equal protection of the law.
According to the Network, the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, defines a human rights defender as anyone working for the promotion and protection of human rights.
This broad definition, it continued, encompasses professional as well as non-professional human rights workers, volunteers, journalists, lawyers, and anyone else carrying out, even on an occasional basis, a human rights activist.
In addition, the Network claims that the Declaration articulates existing human rights in a way that makes it easier to apply them to the situation of human rights defenders specifying how the rights contained in the major MOTTO: “Defending the Defender” including the right to freedom of expression, association and assembly, apply to defenders. It also outlines the specific duties of States and the responsibility of everyone with regard to defending human rights.
The Human Rights Defenders Network-SL pointed out that it believes that every citizen has the rights to freely associate, assemble and express his or her opinion.
It stated how it has been following with grave concerns rumors of demonstration going round social media with no clear institution taking the responsibility of organizing such an assembly adding that it is with the opinion that every organized peaceful assembly or association has leadership that will ensure that their peaceful association and assembly will not affect the rights of other citizens and or undermine the security of other citizens.
“We believe that the proposed peaceful assembly and association (demonstration) did not only undermine the enjoyment of civic space by human rights defenders but also created panic and insecurity of peaceful citizens,” the Network maintained.
Against that backdrop the Network called for the following actions: The Sierra Leone Police should create an enabling environment to engage would be leaders of any proposed assembly and association, guarantee the protection of organizers of any form of peaceful assembly and association and ensure the safety and protection of other citizens not involved in whatever peaceful assembly and association.
To leaders of proposed peaceful Assembly and Association, to fulfill their responsibility for a peaceful assembly and association, ensure that they respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of other citizens.
The Human Rights Defenders Network Sierra Leone (HRDN-SL) is a coalition of Civil Society Organizations and individuals working to promote and protect human rights with specific focus on defending human rights defenders.