Community peace and security, and stopping COVID-19: UNDP engages Police and Human Rights Commission in Sierra Leone

Trainings on human rights protection have been ongoing as part of the peacebuilding project which seeks maintain, enhance and foster sustainable social relationships within fragile communities and between those communities and large-scale investment companies mainly in the agriculture and mining sectors. The recently renewed PBF project has now incorporated COVID-19 components in its implementation to help mitigate COVID-19-related human rights abuses that are seen to be on the increase globally. In this regard, UNDP moved to organize series of training workshops for police officers, Local Police Partnership Boards (LPPBs) and Community Stakeholders across the country.

Solomon Koroma is an Assistant Superintendent of Sierra Leone Police (SLP) based at the Police Head Quarters who attended the trainings in Moyamba district. He believes the trainings are necessary because “…as keepers of law and order, we have been reminded of the importance of showing kindness and understanding to citizens especially during this difficult time of the corona virus. People are already suffering; we should not add to that.”

Meanwhile, Richard Tamba M’bayo works with the Human Rights Commission Sierra Leone (HRCSL) and he reiterated that, “the trainings are a continuation of the work UNDP has been supporting us to implement. They aim at building the capacity of the security sector at local and national level in adhering to human rights, managing conflicts, sustaining peace and security and as of recent, to raise awareness on the COVID-19 pandemic and the role of the sector in the fight.” Richard and his team facilitated the trainings.

Community peace, security and Corona Virus

With less than 13% of Sierra Leone’s total population accessing electricity and only 16% accessing internet and with these lucky few being urban-based, physical trainings and workshops as part of the COVID-19 response activities are unavoidable. Therefore, as part of the training component, adequate measures were taken by the UNDP project team to ensure safety and preventative measures including hand-washing points, temperature checks, face masks and maintaining distance for Corona virus were provided at every training location. Following WHO guidelines, only 25 participants were allowed per training.

Hawanatu Konteh was one of the two female Police Officers who attended the training. She is from Rutile, Upper and Lower Banta, in Moyamba – a remote district in the South of Sierra Leone. She found the trainings useful to her and her community which is a major mining area that is often characterized by resource-based conflicts and tensions between the communities and mining companies, and among the communities including with their local leadership. Therefore, UNDP through its Peacebuilding fund (PBF) is supporting Community policing and dialogues for peace and social cohesion among conflicting in Moyamba and Pujehun distircts.

Continuation of the Peacebuilding activities in the wake of COVID-19 were necessary.  Hawanatu revealed that there had been a confirmed COVID-19 case associated to one of the workers from the mining company in their area and that this had brewed some tensions among the people.

“…we asked many questions about human rights, the role of police to civilians and vice versa, we talked about cordial relationships with people as we do our job. The information about the corona virus was very import as many people in my community did not know about the disease. There has also been a challenge because some people were not convinced that the disease is real but we who have gone through this three-days training we are now convinced… especially after some people in the mining company were quarantined…people are scared…before that time the sickness was far from us but now that it is with us, they are convinced. I am going to tell them that they should prevent themselves, wash hands frequently with soap, and about social distancing. I will start with my family.” Hawanatu Conteh, Police Officer, Rutile, Moyamba.

Follow-ups will be done after training to establish whether the knowledge is being put to practical use.

The Sierra Leone Police are playing a crucial role in enforcing community adherence to COVID-19 mitigation measures, so it is important that they are aware of the human rights issues and that they are well informed and equipped with the right information” Patrick Johnny, PBF Assistant Project Manager (a.i.), UNDP.

Sierra Leone recorded a confirmed COVID-19 case on March 31, 2020 but within a month, confirmed cases rose to over 100 and those in quarantine are over 1000. Sierra Leone suffered the devastating Ebola virus outbreak only five years ago with a year of lock-down. It was at the verge full recovery from that shock and other shocks including the 2017 landslides and collapse in the prices of iron ore-the country’s main earner of foreign exchange, not to mention the continuous impact of the civil war. UNDP as part of the UN family in Sierra Leone and other partners are working hand-in-hand with the Government to contain COVID-19 and address its impact.

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