Sunday, April 22, 2007

U.S. Ambassador to Sierra Leone urges Parliament to be Responsive: Sierra Leone News

The United States Ambassador to Sierra Leone, His Excellency Thomas N. Hull, has urged members of Sierra Leone’s Parliament to be responsive to the human rights issues of the country by ensuring that they pass legislations that enhance the country’s status as an observer of human rights. He reminded Members of Parliament about government’s commitment to international human rights treaties which it has signed and promised to uphold.

Ambassador Hull made these remarks on Wednesday, 18th April 2007 while delivering his address on his country’s perspective on the Human Rights situation in Sierra Leone to the Parliamentary Consultative Meeting held in Parliament.

According to Ambassador Hull, the Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2006, released by the United States Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labour on the 6th March 2007, is not intended to be "a comprehensive compendium of human rights violations, but that it follows a prescribed format that makes such reports from throughout the world consistent in their presentation. "The examples we cite are intended as illustrative," Ambassador Hull remarked.

He recalled that human rights have defined the United States of America for 230 years, dating back to her declaration of independence from Great Britain in 1776, which he noted, decreed the rights of all people to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." The history of the United States, he further noted, has been, in large measure, "an effort to create a more perfect society consistent with those goals and that effort continues in human rights to this day," he said.

The US Ambassador went on to disclose that human rights officially became part of US foreign policy in 1976 when a law was passed requiring the Secretary of State to transmit to Congress by February of each year "a full and complete report regarding the status of human rights," he said, pointing out that since the first human right report in 1977 which covered conditions in 82 countries, the scope of the reports has expanded, bringing the total to 196 countries including Sierra Leone.

The report, Ambassador Hull maintained details records of countries performance on protecting and promoting human rights as enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights. In this regard, the report, according to the Ambassador is prepared in six categories namely; the integrity of the person, respect for civil liberties, respect for political rights, the government’s attitude toward outside investigations of alleged human rights violations, discrimination, societal abuse and trafficking in persons and workers’ rights. He explained that the American Embassy compiles information on these from various sources including government officials, journalists, human rights organizations, academics and activists.

Sierra Leone, the Ambassador noted, has consistently received high marks for religious freedom and on trafficking of persons, he also noted, Sierra Leone has also improved. He however indicated that although the human rights report cites many deficiencies, "it also highlights positive aspects of Sierra Leone’s efforts to protect human rights," he said. He went on to applaud the country for its passage of certain laws which promote human rights and the setting up of the National Commission on Human Rights as "notable".

"I call on Parliament to continue to pass legislation that will bring Sierra Leone up to the international human rights standards that you have already committed to by treaty," Ambassador Hull called.

Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights, Hon. Dr. Alusine Fofanah, in his welcome remarks earlier stated that the reason for holding the meeting was to provide MPs the opportunity of understanding the human rights situation in the country so as to motivate them to do more as a way of enhancing the country’s status. He observed that there are still grey areas in the country’s efforts to protect and promote human rights but assured that in the last few weeks of the life of the current Parliament efforts would be made at passing what ever law there is that is to enhance the country’s human rights record. He therefore encouraged his colleagues to review the US Report "thoroughly and critically" in order to ascertain whether "it is accurate and goes along with what obtains in the country."

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