By Ishmael Sallieu Koroma
Christian Lawyers Centre, popularly known as Legal Link, a non -profit legal advocacy group has in a letter to the Chairman, Independent Police Complaint Board (IPCB) has on Wednesday 7th August , called on the board to mount up an independent, robust, credible and speedy investigations into allegations of Police brutality and to determine the veracity or the lack thereof of the incident which happened at the Njala University.
According to Legal Link, as an organization that defends the rights of vulnerable groups in society including students, they take the greatest exception to the unprofessional conduct of the Sierra Leone Police with respect to their handling of the entire incident at the Njala University in Bo, Southern Sierra Leone.
‘’Surprisingly also, despite the increased condemnation and outcry from the public over the video clips showcasing brutal and excessive force by the SLP, LEGAL LINK notes with utter dismay, the apparent reticence or the lack thereof by the top Management of the SLP to officially condemn this barbaric and unprofessional behaviour of subordinates over their execution of brutal and excessive force to harmless students that were merely trying to pursue a career path for a better life and future,’’ Legal Link said, adding that this outright complicity at the top is not only worrying but reveals without doubt, the degree of impunity and non-accountability that prevails within the law enforcement architecture in Sierra Leone.
Legal Link further said that Such complicity they further maintain, invites a possibility for the applicability of the principle of Command Responsibility on the leadership of the SLP to be held vicariously liable for the atrocious acts of subordinate officers against vulnerable students on that fateful day citing that various specialized trainings on the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials have been organized in time pasts by the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone and the Independent Police Complaints Board to help the SLP understand how to manage such riotous situations including their application of the use of force to restore law and order.
‘’As had always been emphasized, the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials dictates that, even when provoked, the ‘repelling force to be used must be equal, reasonable, proportionate and necessary in the given circumstances. Against this backdrop, while we condemn the acts of the few disgruntled university students who reacted in uncivilized ways during the protests, we vehemently and unequivocally condemn the over-reaction of the Sierra Leone Police in unleashing brutal and excessive force over unarmed protesting students,’’ the right group noted.
The Right Group further noted that, even when the tensions had de-escalated, the callousness and unprofessionalism of the SLP became much more apparent stating that Video clips recorded by on lookers at the scene of crime show complicity and a conspicuous pattern of torture and brutal display of force even on female students.
‘’LEGAL LINK therefore wants it to be known by the government and leadership of the SLP that the right to freedom of torture as provided under the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT) to which Sierra Leone is a signatory is a non-derogable right (Edgaromnes) and a per-emptory norm of Customary International Law. This means that under no circumstances can it be justified to torture any human being in a democratic society needless to talk about women’’
The Right Group believed that all the police were mandated and required to do by law on that fateful day at Njala University was to effect arrest on all alleged rioters, investigate and charge perpetrators to court for public order offences as enshrined under the Public Order Act of 1965 for which the police decided to engage on a frolic of their own and acted outside the remits of the law by overtly torturing and executing brutal and excessive force on harmless university students, in such scale and magnitude, amounts to a violation of not only the UN Convention Against Torture, but also the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, among other human rights instruments
‘’Even though Chapter 2 of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone does not recognize education as a legal and justiciable right, all the above international, regional and domestic instruments nonetheless puts obligation on Sierra Leone in ensuring that the right to education is fully guaranteed within her jurisdiction. Any infraction or limitation towards the access of; and the enjoyment of this right will therefore amount to a violation of both international and domestic law’’
The group however urged the leadership of the SLP and the government of Sierra Leone (GOSL) to take full responsibility for the excesses that have occurred, and to ensure the unconditional release of all student detainees and hold constructive dialogue with the student leadership and administration of Njala University so as to determine how victims can be medically treated and or compensated for violations of their fundamental human rights.
The Lobbying group lamented that going forward, LEGAL LINK commits itself to be publishing a quarterly Newsletter titled: ‘POLICE WATCH’ to help showcase not only the excesses within the SLP but also the good developments and success stories within the security architecture of Sierra Leone.
‘’In sum, whilst we heartily welcome the efforts of the BIO led government in prioritizing education under the New Direction agenda, we equally call on the government to show leadership by ensuring that the rights of the beneficiaries of its education agenda are protected and guaranteed within the state. This is the case because, education is an empowerment right; and no society can develop or progress beyond the level of the educational investment it accords to its citizens,’’