“Section 16(b) of the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone Act (the Law) excludes the HRCSL from investigating any matter involving human rights violations that occurred before the coming into operation of the Law. The SCA acknowledges the response by the HRCSL that in principle it can intervene in cases of alleged human rights violations that are continuous in nature.
However, the SCA notes that this provision limits its mandate to investigate human rights violations. The SCA acknowledges efforts of the HRCSL to ensure that it is able to access places of detention without prior notice. However, it notes reports that the HRCSL has been denied access to places of detention which has impacted on its ability to fully monitor, investigate, and report on the human rights situation of persons deprived of liberty.
Section 7(2)(a) of the Law empowers the HRCSL to investigate or inquire into any allegations of human rights violations and to report in writing. Section 1 of the Law provides a restrictive definition of human rights violations as ‘contravention, negation, and neglect or negligence by a public officer in the prevention of violations’.
The SCA notes that this definition limits the ability of the HRCSL to address acts and omissions of private entities. The SCA acknowledges that in practice, the HRCSL has been addressing allegations of human rights abuse by non-state actors.
The SCA also acknowledges that the HRCSL has been advocating for amendment to its enabling Law to address this issue. An NHRI’s mandate should be interpreted in a broad, liberal, and purposive manner to promote a progressive definition of human rights which includes all rights set out in international, regional, and domestic instruments, including economic social and cultural rights specifically, the mandate should:
- extend to the acts or omissions of both public and private actors;
- vest the NHRI with the competence to freely address public opinion;
- raise public awareness on human rights issues;
- carry out education and training programs;
- provide the authority to address recommendations to public authorities to analyse human rights situation in the country and to obtain statements or documents in order to assess situations raising human rights issues;
- authorize unannounced and free access to inspect and examine any public premises, documents, equipment, and assets without prior written notice; and
- authorize the full investigation into alleged human rights violations, including the military, police, and security officers.
The SCA recommends that the HRCSL continue to interpret its mandate broadly to address all human rights violations including ongoing violations that arise from events that occurred before the coming into force of the Law. The SCA also recommends the HRCSL to continue its efforts to secure unfettered access to all places of deprivation of liberty. The SCA also recommends that the HRCSL continue to advocate for amendments to the Law to include the ability to address human rights violations resulting from the acts and omissions of private individuals and entities.”