On January 27, 2016, Sierra Leone underwent its second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the UN Human Rights Council. The UPR is a process through which UN Member States make recommendations to the state under review to improve its human rights situation.
Before Sierra Leone’s review, the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) made a stakeholder submission highlighting free expression and press freedom concerns on Sierra Leone and urged states to make recommendations for Sierra Leone to improve on its press freedom and freedom of expression situation. The MFWA had particularly emphasised excessive use of force against free expression actors by police; the continued existence and application of the criminal libel law; and impunity for crimes against journalists.
During its UPR, Sierra Leone received many recommendations on freedom of expression and combating impunity. The country has until June 2016 to decide whether to accept or reject the recommendations. The MFWA urges the Sierra Leonean authorities to accept and implement the following recommendations from the UPR:
General Recommendations on Freedom of Expression
111.158. Develop and enhance laws to protect the freedom of belief, freedom of expression and freedom of the press (by Lebanon).
111.159. Take concrete steps to ensure the full enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression for all, including journalists and human rights defenders, and strengthen protection of journalists and human rights defenders against harassment and persecution (by Czech Republic).
111.160. Uphold the right to freedom of expression, including journalists and human rights defenders, in particular taking steps to ensure that defamation charges are not used to undermine the right to freedom of expression (by the UK).
111.162. Refrain from arbitrary arrest and the use of criminal libel laws against and harassment of journalists and opposition members (by the USA).
Specific Recommendations on Police’s Excessive Use of Force Against Free Expression Actors
111.151. Ensure that all police officers are aware of and abide by international human rights standards on police use of force (by Germany).
111.152. Take prompt action to prevent harassment by police officers of members of the national Human Rights Commission, human rights defenders and citizens (by Japan).
111.191. Move forward training programmes on human rights for the security forces, and prevent, investigate and sanction cases of violence committed by law enforcement officials (by Costa Rica).
Specific Recommendations on the Application of the Criminal Libel Law
111.161. Refrain from criminalizing the legitimate activities of human rights defenders and journalists and repeal or amend all laws and policies which restrict their activities and rights (by Netherlands).
111.163. Repeal or revise the Public Order Act and Criminal and Seditious Libel laws, and guarantee freedom of expression for journalists (by Ireland).
111.164. Decriminalize defamation in order to make it a civil offense (by Belgium).
111.165. Take steps to fully and effectively implement the 2013 Freedom of Information Act, including by repealing criminal libel laws and the 1965 Public Order Act (Canada).
Specific Recommendations on Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists
111.139. Support the independence of judiciary and combat impunity (by Oman).
111.140. Fight against impunity of the perpetrators of human rights violations, particularly those perpetrated during the civil war which have not been judged by the Special Tribunal for Sierra Leone, as well as those perpetrated by members of the law enforcement agencies (by France).
111.148. Combat impunity by ensuring prompt, thorough and transparent investigations of all violations against human rights defenders, and the prosecution of perpetrators (by Canada).
The MFWA made a stakeholder submission to Sierra Leone’s UPR in June 2015, which is available here. The Draft Report of the Working Group on Sierra Leone’s UPR, including UN Member States’ recommendations, is available here.