LAB to cement Post-Election Divisions in communities

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As part of the post-election campaign coupled with being one of the lead agencies in implementing Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS), the Legal Aid Board and partners have met with community and civil society leaders in the Western Area to look at issues undermining peace and cohesion in communities following the March 2018 Elections.
To discuss and explore solutions to these issues, the Board met with five hundred and twenty (520) Community and Civil Society Leaders at the Atlantic Hall, National Stadium in Freetown on the 4 April 2019.
The participants were drawn from over 30 Community Based and Civil Society Organizations including Ataya Base Union, Traders Council, Disabled Groups, Car Wash, National Bakers Union, Orjeh Council, Hair Dressers Union, Fishermen’s Union, Ordaelay, Stone Miners, Union of Artist and Vehicle Maintenance Association.
The meeting is the first in a series to be held across the country to complement these efforts. The meetings are intended to have the community leaders to take the lead in reconciling their members and promoting peaceful coexistence.
Prior to and after the March 2018 Elections, the Board has been addressing elections related disputes through its Alternative Dispute Resolution, community and school outreach programmes.
‘We should not allow the politicians to divide us. This is why you should reconcile with those on the opposite side and focus on developing yourselves, your family, community and country,’ The Executive Director of the Legal Aid Board, Ms. Fatmata Claire Carlton-Hanciles said by way of setting the tone for the meetings.
Ms. Carlton-Hanciles said the Board is aware the elections divided spouses, families, friends, organizations and communities. ‘We see evidence of this on a daily bases in our offices across the country and this is why we have called this meeting for you to know that belonging to a political party of your choice is a right and nobody should be denied that right regardless of status in the family or community,’ she stressed. ‘It is perfectly normal for husband and wife to belong to different political parties of their choice and this should not be a life and death affair,’ she added.
Ms. Carlton-Hanciles told the participants that they know the issues dividing their respective communities and organizations and therefore better placed to handle them before they get out of proportion. She said the elections are over as such winners and losers should embrace each other.
Ms. Carlton-Hanciles had a strong message for fathers and men who have abdicated their obligations because their wives or partners belong to a different political party from theirs. ‘You cannot use this as an excuse not to pay child or wife maintenance,’ she said. ‘This is why, I would like you to know that we have a Chief Justice who is defence minded and therefore stands ready to give the Board all the support to ensure these men take their responsibility seriously.’
Ms. Carlton-Hanciles said sexual penetration is now a national emergency which demands collective action to put a stop to it. ‘It is not an excuse to claim you do not know the age of the child,’ she warned.
The Minister of Political Affairs, Foday Yumkella said there are lots of examples to copy regarding political tolerance. He said his relationship with his younger brother Dr. Kandeh Yumkella is cordial even though he did not support him in the Presidential Election last year.
Also, the relationship between President Bio and Dr. Kandeh Yumkella is cordial. He added that the President Bio included Dr. Yumkella in his entourage for the inauguration of President Macky Sall of Senegal.
He said despite the heated and sometimes acrimonious debates in the well of Parliament, Parliamentarians are civil to each other or even friends outside the well. He noted that elections always bring differences but they should not break down families and homes. ‘The problem we have is that some people have their differences but wait until there are elections to settle scores,’ he said.
He spoke on the efforts by government to unite the country. He said the government will be organizing a national conference, Bintumani Three in a few months’ time to promote national cohesion.
He added that government scholarships are awarded to students who have the grades and not based on connections. Also. the government is ensuring the law works for everybody regardless of status.
The Executive Director of the Center for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI), Abdul Fatorma underscored the importance of access to justice, noting that without access to justice, we will not be able to hold politicians to account. Also, there will be no peace without access to justice.
He lauded the Legal Aid Board for following up on a report his organization published in 2016 regarding 187 inmates in prisons without indictments and ensuring that indictments were served on hundreds of inmates. He lamented that some of the inmates had spent over seven years in detention for stealing items like mobile phones.
He called on the government to support the Board to be able to build on its successes.
Mr. Fatorma said there is no point killing opponents because of political difference, noting that politicians will come and go. He stressed the role of chiefs and traditional leaders in ensuring peaceful coexistence. ‘When we are divided, we will not be able to hold politicians to account or agitate for what is due us,’ he said.
The President of the Temne Council, Issa Catco Kamara, called on politicians to seek the views of ordinary people on national issues. He noted that everybody has a role to play in the development of the country. He added that people should love the country by contributing to its development.
Other speakers include the President of the Sierra Leone Labour Congress, Mr. Jennnings Wright, the Coordinator of Civil Society Movement – Sierra Leone, Ms. Juliet Anderson, Head of the Community Relations Department for the Sierra Leone Police, Assistant Superintendent of Police, Hawa Momoh and the Mende Tribal Headman, Andrew Gibao Young.
The meeting was climaxed with questions and contributions from participants which bother on friction between village head and tribal headmen, access to justice for victims of domestic violence, land disputes, election of tribal head for the Kru Community and increase in crime rate in Waterloo among others.

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