*THE HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF SIERRA LEONE(HRCSL)*
The Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone (HRCSL) in fulfillment of its mandate to protect and promote human rights and in a bid to ensuring a culture of respect for human rights in Sierra Leone, played a pivotal role in the electoral processes leading to 31st March runoff elections.
The Commission among many other things engaged communities and raised public awareness on the need to respect human rights for peaceful elections. The undermentioned issues were the focus of the monitoring exercises during polling day:
*Opening of polling stations*
The Commission observed that a large number of polling stations across the country opened on time as prescribed by the National Electoral Commission (NEC). However, there were delays in few areas due to administrative and logistical challenges but these did not affect the conduct of the elections in those areas.
Generally, voter turnout was encouraging nationwide but in some areas it was low in contrast to the 7th March 2018 elections; women and youth formed a greater majority of the voters.
*Security of the Elections*
The Military Aid to Civil Power (MAC-P) was raised to level 2 to help provide additional security throughout the country.
The presence of security personnel was visible in almost all polling centres. In addition to the Sierra Leone Police there were other security sector agencies such as the RSLAF, Sierra Leone Correctional Service, the National Fire Force and the Metropolitan/Local Council Police.Generally, the security forces were professional in the manner they conducted themselves. However, the presence of armed military personnel appeared to be intimidating to some voters.
*The right to life*
HRCSL monitors did not observe any infringement on the right to life on polling day nationwide.
*Freedom of movement*
Vehicular restrictions were enforced by the SLP. The Government of Sierra Leone provided100 buses to enable persons access polling stations. However in some areas buses were insufficient and there were some delays in accessing polling centres. Tri-cycles (Kehkehs) and vehicles carrying the old, infirmed and the disabled to polling centres were allowed to ply the route without accreditations.
*Exercise of the right to vote and be voted for*
In general, the right to vote and be voted for, was enjoyed by the majority of registered citizens. Even though it was a presidential runoff election, NEC conducted outstanding local council elections in Bonthe, Pujehun and Kenema and parliamentary elections in Freetown on the same day, thereby guaranteeing the right to participation in the electoral process.
*Accessibility of polling stations by vulnerable groups and provision of assistive devices*
Vulnerable groups such as Persons with disabilities, lactating mothers, pregnant women and the aged were largely given priority to exercise their franchise. Although NEC provided board ramps, there were polling centers that were not easily accessible to persons with disabilities particularly those on wheelchairs or crutches. Tactile ballot guides were available in all polling stations to aid the visually impaired.
*Right to privacy*
The elections were to be done by secret ballot. This was achieved by the general lay out of the polling booths and effective queue control by the security forces and polling staff.
*Freedom of Expression and the Press*
Generally, there was no report of censorship of the press and social media. Media houses including television and radio stations were very much in active discussion on topical issues during Election Day. There was also no report of arrest of any media personnel. However, there were reports of alleged intimidation and assault of some journalists in Freetown which is currently being investigated.
*Freedom from arbitrary arrests and security of the person*
There were no reports of arbitrary arrests on polling day. However, a few arrests were made by the police on polling day on allegations of Public Order and Electoral Offences.
*Presence of international, Domestic observers and party agents*
Party agents of the All People’s Congress (APC) and the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) were presentin allthe polling stations; in some areas, two per each party. In some polling centres monitored, party agents from both parties were seen working together to resolve electoral issues.
Domestic observers such as National Elections Watch (NEW), Council of Churches in Sierra Leone (CCSL), Justice and Peace Commission (JPC), Sierra Leone Red Cross(SLRC), Women’s Situation Room and District Human Rights Committees (DHRCs) were seen in most polling centres around the country.
International observers such as the American Embassy, the European Union (EU), the African Union (AU), Mano River Union (MRU), ECOWAS and the Commonwealth were on circuit observation of the polling process across the country.
*Comportment of voters*
Voters largely comported themselves by adhering to the rules and regulations of NEC.For instance, they respected the prohibition on party colours and symbols on Election Day. However, in many areas monitored, voters were reluctant to return home immediately after voting.
*Management of the* elections by the National Electoral Commission (NEC)
HRCSL commends the professionalism of NEC in the conduct of the elections and its openness, accountability and prompt response in handling some of the challenges that emerged on polling day.
Monitors did not observe long queues during the runoff which was attributed to better organization and understanding of the voting process by the electorate.
HRCSL noted the following challenges during its monitoring:
Some polling stations were not disable friendly;
Late opening of some polling stations;
Absence of some NEC personnel in certain polling stations;
Inadequate government buses to mitigate the impact of the vehicular ban
Too many polling stations crowded under one roof;
The posture of armed security forces seemed intimidating to some voters at polling centres.
The Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone congratulates all Sierra Leoneans who participated in the electoral process and for the peaceful manner in which they conducted themselves during voting on 31st March. The Commission is particularly impressed by the orderliness and tranquility that prevailed during polling day. Sierra Leoneans clearly demonstrated their overriding desire for development and the consolidation of democracy, human rights, rule of law, peace and stability.
The Commission acknowledges the work of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), the security forces and all other stakeholders who helped to ensure the successful conduct of the runoff election.
The Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone calls on the general public to continue to maintain the peace and respect human rights and the rule of law as we await the final and official pronouncement of the results by NEC.
This is an initial report from the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone on its monitoring of the March 31st runoff Election. A detailed report documenting key findings and recommendations in the pre, during and post-election periods will be released to the public soon.
*Rev. Dr. Usman Jesse Fornah*
*(FOR AND ON-BEHALF OF COMMISSIONERS AND STAFF OF THE HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF SIERRA LEONE)*