Sierra Leone: Engagement with parliamentarians to protect women

23 July 2009

On Tuesday 21 July 2009 members of the Parliamentary Oversight Committee on Defense and Presidential Affairs held a seminar on Disarm Domestic Violence and the Bill on Arms and Ammunition at the Parliament Building in Freetown.

The seminar was organized by the Sierra Leone Action Network on Small Arms (SLANSA) in collaboration with Action Aid Sierra Leone (AASL).

Giving an overview of the seminar, SLANSA Coordinator, Florella Hazeley said domestic violence in Sierra Leone became a serious human rights issue only during the eleven years civil war.

She added that the issue was raised and discussed by international agencies that were working in internally displaced persons camp and trickled down the to the host communities, and over the years domestic violence eventually became a national concern.

After being entrenched in laws of the land, the police as part of this security restructuring efforts set up the Family Support Unit to deal exclusively with domestic violence, she said.

She also stated that women in Sierra Leone, who are mostly victims of domestic violence, have developed a culture of silence simply because the perpetuators are hardly punished by either the state or the traditional leaders.

To help address issues surrounding Domestic Violence, Mrs. Hazeley said that SLANSA has launched a Disarming Domestic Violence Campaign in Sierra Leone in June 2009.

This campaign is an International Campaign being led by International Action Network on Small Arms and it is the first international campaign aimed at protecting women from gun violence in the home.

The Coordinator noted that in Sierra Leone a survey was done and the result of these show that at the moment Sierra Leoneans do not use firearms in Domestic Violence, except in extreme cases, but they use other weapons like knives, sticks, stones, and machetes.

Even though this is not rampant in Sierra Leone we need to take precautions, she stated, adding that it was in this vein that the campaign is engaging the government to fast track the Arms Ammunition and Explosives Act and establish the National Commission on Small Arms and Light Weapons.

This campaign she noted is pressing for the government to harmonize gun and domestic violence laws and for spouses and partners to be consulted before a gun license is granted an essential measure to protect women.

AASL Focal Person on Human Right Security Zainab Senessie gave a brief background of her organization and explained why they collaborate with SLANSA.
She said that they are working with SLANSA to ensure that the Act is woman friendly.

Zainab called on Parliamentarians to work with them to make sure that the Bill is enacted for the betterment of Sierra Leone.

After deliberations of what should be added as clause in the Bill, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Oversight Committee on Defense and Presidential Affairs Abdul Rahman Kamara assured SLANSA and AASL of their support and asked that more time be given to them in order for them to look at the document before them before putting their recommendations.

Earlier on, in her opening statements, chairperson of the ceremony, Council of Churches Sierra Leone (CCSL) Director for Human Rights and Social Services Ebun James said that SLANSA and AASL wants to make Sierra Leone a safer place especially for women

By Abibatu Kamara

Awoko Newspaper